Only the Vulnerable


Around this time last year the news was breaking of a new virus spreading across China. Although it sounded a little strange I don’t think anyone had any idea of what lay ahead.

Fast forward to one year and the world as we knew it has completely changed. Over night we went from traveling, hugging, socialising to living behind closed doors in bubbles.

There hasnt been anyone untouched by this past year. Even those who have made millions, who have thrived in the pandemic will have still felt the impact of the lack of human connection the past 12 months.

The thing that has personally stood our for me, however, is the position of the ‘vulnerable’ in society. I have had an autoimmune disease for the past 13 years. I know what it is to take weeks or months to fight off a basic common cold. It took me a year, countless antibiotics and a hospital stay to fight off pneumonia five years ago and I am still living with the long term damage. I am very much Vulnerable.

In February when it started to become apparent that this new virus was spreading, one of the first things we heard was how the vulnerable where the people who would need to be cautious. I remember sitting in my March Infusion and talking with the nurses about how we would need to be cautious around people, just like we have to be every single winter with the flu as we are all aware how dangerous something that is seemingly straight forward for a healthy person can be for immune compromised people. We are not a group of people who use the term ‘only the flu’ as the flu is life threatening, but we were certainly using ‘the same as the flu’. There was already a buzz around how it was only certain people would be effected, that kind of talk is something i’m used to, I have the discussions every year with my own family about how I need them to get the flu jab to protect me and I know only too well how it falls on deaf ears. None of this was new.

March is when the tone changed. When things began to get serious and the tides began to turn. As soon as restrictions began to get put in place the ‘only the vulnerable’ narrative grew stronger. I watched, hurt and horrified as social media filled with anger of how the people who are scared should just stay inside. How the healthy should be allowed to get on with their lives. As the death tole rose I watched as each human being, mother, son, grandparent, parent, was reduced to a ‘person with under lying health issues’. You see its true, the majority of deaths are people with under lying health issues. That does not make that life of less value.

My condition means that I have had my life altered and my life limited. It is most lightly that I will die because of an issue connected to my Rheumatoid Arthritis or the medication I have to take to control it. It is unlikely I will live to 100 and I am ok with that. It is however very unlikely that I would die now, at age 34 without getting to see my children get through school. It is also likely that if I caught coronavirus I would, as the shielding letter put it ‘not have a positive outcome’. However if that did happen I would simply be someone with underlying conditions because ‘only the vulberable’ are really at risk.

You see since I was 21 I have been adapting my life. I am never going to run a marathon, I cant have a career in the Army or the police or be a paramedic, (id have never done any of these things anyways). I had to give up a job I loved, I cant run with me kids or play football, or even bounce on a trampoline. My life was derailed the moment I became ‘vulnerable’. Every winter I already drilled into my kids about washing their hands in school and home, (yes they washed their hands all the time too). I was always anxious about colds and flu and chicken pox being carried home but again we adapted. I picked myself up, looked at what I could do instead of what I couldn’t. I found a way to study, to get qualified, to volunteer. I found hobbies and things I loved and made firm friends. I even run my own business with my husband. My life is full, its fun, its relevant. Yet there are these people who still maintain ‘only the vulnerable’ as if they are the least of society, the irrelevant.

The hardest thing I read during the pandemic was when an a person died, they were elderly but doing well. Someone pciked up on the fact that years prior this person had had a stroke, people were out in force with the ‘they were ill’, ‘underlying health issues’ and ‘vulberable’. The thing that stood out about that incident to me was that this person had battled a stroke and won, was recovered and living their life, then they caught this virus and to many their life became irrelevant because to recognise that their life mattered and was equal to everyone else’s would mean a recognition of the need for a community effort to tackle this virus. A sacrifice from everyone to keep all people safe.

In creating the ‘only the vulnerable’ narrative, the government almost created a common enemy, a scape goat. A group of people to be angry at. You cant see a virus and all the wishing in the world doesn’t make it go away. I mean you can even deny it all you like and insist its fictional but while the hospitals continue to be beyond capacity and people continue to die, restrictions aren’t going to change for those opinions. This lead to the just keep the vulnerable at home attitude. Now what amused me about this was that I saw so many people who have their own illnesses but where outside of the shielding group shouting for people just to stay inside and let the world get on with what they where doing. Now I get the logic, I really do. Shielding brought numbers down, restrictions could ease, deaths lessened. However staying in for 1 to 2 years is going to damage anyone’s mental health but aside from that, those of us who are vulnerable aren’t all elderly immobile people with no responsibilities. 4 million people had to shield, lots of those people are parents who have children who need to go to school, employees who had to go to work, patients who need to go to hospital. I know the most mobile active 80 year olds who still have to do their shopping and banking and live their lives. Its not as simple as locking us all away because you miss going to the pub or the cinema or going to Spain with your mates. Guess what we miss that too but we’d miss being alive even more.

This might feel like a massive rant instead of a blog but really we – the clinically extremely vulnerable, need you to see the people and not the statistics. We play a part in this society, we are parents and grandparents, we are sons and daughters, we are educators and health workers and friends and family. We matter as much as you do. We play our part we protect ourselves as much as we possibly can but we need you to play your part too. This sucks, for everyone, for some this has taken more than it has for others. Life must always be our priority. I in no way diminish the loss of a business, peoples declining mental health or the devastation of broken dreams, vulnerable people are experiencing those horrible situations too and they all need addressing. Please just don’t dismiss the vulnerable, remember we are more than a label, one day you might suddenly find yourself in this category and you will realise an illness didn’t steal your identity but society did.

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