Living Live with a Compromised Immune System during a Global Pandemic

Erin Clanton

Imagine living a life where the common cold could kill you. That is the kind of life I live. I have Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder that runs my life.

I was diagnosed Feb. 14, 2007, when I was 6 years old. I remember sitting on the couch watching cartoons after school when my mother came in with the news. I had been in and out of Riley Hospital for a year for testing to find out why I had been so sick and becoming malnourished even though I was eating plenty of food. The diagnosis: Celiac Disease and the most severe form of it at that.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to see gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, as a virus. The immune system then attacks the villi in your small intestine, small finger-like bumps that absorb nutrients, and causes them to flatten, making it hard for the villi to absorb the nutrients. It is a genetic disease that is passed on hereditarily, meaning parents will pass it on to their children, and varies on its severity by what genes you may have.

I happen to have the two rare genes that causes my Celiac to severely affect me. Celiac can develop at any age, if you have the genes, and said genes can be activated due to trauma to the body such as birth, surgery, pregnancy, and even mental trauma.

According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, 1 in 100 people worldwide have Celiac and 2.5 million Americans are undiagnosed. They also said that if you have a first-degree relative, meaning parents, siblings or children, that has Celiac, you have a 1 in 10 chance of developing it too.

Celiac disease causes me to have a weakened immune system, so I get sick extremely easily. A cold is like the flu, the flu is like the plague, and anything else could be death. If I were to get Covid-19, the grim reaper would be standing at my door with a signed warrant for my life. It is terrifying to be living in a pandemic when you know that it would kill you in a heartbeat, even for someone who is perfectly healthy.

For me, I am petrified of catching it. I am scared to be trapped in the hospital with this disease because I don’t know if I would survive it or even make a full recovery. I will even enforce some of the safety rules that are in place because what seems like an inconvenience could save a life in the end. You will never catch me without my mask or a bottle of hand sanitizer or in a large group more than I absolutely have to be.

I understand that the rules are annoying and that they seem like they will not help, but they do. I know that the masks and hand sanitizer is bothersome, but there are ways of making it more enjoyable. Get masks that you like from an online store or match them to your clothes to make them feel more normal or even make your own masks with fabrics or patterns that you like. Get nice smelling hand sanitizer or hand soap so you do not smell medicinal. There are so many ways of making things more enjoyable.

Covid-19 is a huge deal but take a deep breath and relax. We will get through it. Take every day one step at a time and find ways of making every day a little more enjoyable. Take it from someone with a compromised immune system.