All of my worlds are being brought together in the midst of a national disaster. While the rest of America is hoarding supplies, worrying about physical contact, and experiencing the terrors and loneliness of isolation for the first time, nothing in my life has actually changed that much. In fact, for me, it has always been this way. The world of accommodation and the broken American health care system has always existed, but the American public is only just now starting to experience the full picture.
As an immune-compromised person who has been practicing social distancing and extreme cleanliness for almost two years, watching the rest of the world begin to adjust to my everyday life has been interesting. I first began to notice the change about a month ago when wearing my mask in public started to bring unwanted attention. I’ve been wearing a mask in public every day since July of 2018 without a problem, but suddenly in February people began to take an interest — asking me why I was wearing it, where I got it, and if I was sick every time I left the house. Then the cleaning supplies shortage started. The Clorox and Lysol wipes that I’d been using every day were suddenly either completely gone or overly expensive. The masks that I’d been using regularly slowly became impossible to buy. For the first time, I started to notice that other people were being more careful about handshakes; opting to smile or touch elbows instead.
Today, after COVID-19 has been declared a national emergency, classrooms and workplaces are offering accommodations deemed impossible before. People are talking about Medicare for All and paid sick leave in a way I’ve never seen. It’s as if the entire world has suddenly become immunocompromised just like me. The anxiety of living in a world that is not safe is being discovered by able-bodied people for the very first time as if they’re Columbus discovering America while the Native Americans look on in stunned silence.
I have been living in this world for years. Where have all of you been?
Disabled, sick, and elderly people have always been pushed to the sidelines of American life. We have been told that we are being unreasonable. We have been told that working from home is impossible and the idea that we demand free healthcare is outrageous and unneeded. We have been removed from college classes because it’s just too unreasonable to accommodate our needs. We have been told that asking for better sanitization and wearing a mask when you’re sick is silly. We have been told that our loneliness and social isolation is something to just get over because we are being dramatic and ungrateful.
And yet, here we are, in a pandemic, transforming all of American life to accommodate all of these things for able-bodied people. What I was once ostracised for saying is all over my social media feed; people openly gawking at the failure of American institutions in our time of need. But the truth is that they have been failing people for much longer than the last couple of months. You are only just now noticing.
My time of need started a long time ago, and you have failed me many times before.
Despite the panic and confusion, I am doing quite well at the moment. While all of my friends and family are mid existential crisis about being in isolation and dealing with the constant fear of being touched by the wrong person, I’m not that worried. The current situation is just my everyday life — not going places, not touching people, and wearing a mask. I’ve been attempting my work from home and spending my time inside, reading and writing as always. If anything, the world is finally catching up to me. The much more disturbing realization of the American pandemic is not that things are falling apart, it is that they have always been broken. Nothing has changed, but now you can see.
Welcome to my World.
Kathryn Poe is a freelance writer and community organizer living in Columbus, OH.