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‘I live it day-to-day:’ COVID-19 practices just everyday life for the immunocompromised

"It'll hopefully just click in that they don't necessarily need to reach out their hand to shake hands or just be mindful [to] cough in their sleeves because [people are] immuno-suppressed," said Marie Lerminiaux
Marie Lerminiaux
Marie Lerminiaux is an organ transplant recipient, and she feels hopeful that the pandemic measures people are getting used to could change the way they behave around immunocompromised people in the community even after the outbreak is over. (supplied)

For Rockglen resident Marie Lerminiaux, carrying hand sanitizer in her purse to use after handshakes isn’t a practice she has had trouble adjusting to amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The recommended and mandated social distancing practices have certainly made changes in many people’s lives, some on a large scale. People have been left scrambling to track down disinfectant wipes and bottles of hand sanitizer, and are lamenting the restrictions on gatherings larger than 10. 

But for Lerminiaux, not much has really changed in her life because, as an immunocompromised individual, she started doing all of these things several years ago.

“It bothers me, what's happening in the world, but for my own safety and my own sanitation and all that, I have no fear because I live it day-to-day,” said Lerminiaux. “I feel like I'm doing everything I possibly can already because it's my daily regime.”

Lerminiaux received a kidney transplant in 2018 after being on dialysis, and because of her transplant, her immune system has been left weakened and more susceptible to infections and diseases. 

“It is a whole new world because I obviously feel awesome and great, but it's a lot of care, right, and a lot of new normals,” said Lerminiaux about her transplant. “There’s all of these things we have to be aware of and be clean about.”

Lerminiaux, and everyone in her life, had to begin practicing “social distancing” long before the pandemic made it a widespread lifestyle. She has always thought about how many people have touched that jug of milk in the grocery store and used sanitizer after shaking hands with other people.

She takes care to avoid crowds, especially during flu season and keeps Lysol wipes in every room of her house for visitors. 

“It's our normal, like every day, and it's a very good thing, but it's hard for others to comprehend,” said Lerminiaux. 

For immunocompromised people like Lerminiaux, something as simple as catching a cold is a big concern because her immune system is less capable of fighting illnesses.

“A cold or flu to a healthy normal person might last one to two weeks, right, where for an immunosuppressed person [it could take] a month to six weeks to get rid of,” said Lerminiaux, recalling a recent experience of her own.

And Lerminiaux isn’t the only person who lives with these daily concerns.

HIV/AIDS patients and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments are immunocompromised, as well as people with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, lupus, diabetes, and lung disease. There’s also a number of rare genetic disorders that leave people immunocompromised, as does malnutrition, some medications, and plenty of other factors.

“For myself, it's because I have an organ transplant. To somebody else, it could be something different,” said Lerminiaux.

The current pandemic has only thrown that feeling into a spotlight, as the whole population is now facing the same reality that immunocompromised people face every day. 

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is continually warning individuals who are immunocompromised to be careful about who they come into contact with, and to practice strong infection prevention to avoid contracting COVID-19. 

“Patients whose immune system are compromised because of pre-existing conditions or medications that suppress the immune system might be at increased risk of complications from COVID-19,” said the SHA, in an email. 

For Lerminiaux, seeing the whole province take on widespread sanitation practices due to the coronavirus feels like a perfect opportunity for everyone to understand the daily experience of immunocompromised individuals like herself.

Lerminiaux’s hope is that even after the provincial mandates are lifted, people will continue to be aware of how their daily routine can affect immunocompromised people, even indirectly, through germ transmission. 

“I think I can speak for many that it's not just [important during] this pandemic. I want it to be like an 'aha' moment,” said Lerminiaux. “I think the positive spin on all this is maybe people will just be mindful, after [it’s over], for their own health and safety.”

Things as simple as respecting people’s space in public, coughing into a sleeve, and staying home when sick with a cold or the flu would help not just people like Lerminiaux but everyone maintain their health.

She hopes that while people are regularly doing things like wiping down grocery cart handles and avoiding touching surfaces in public spaces because of the coronavirus right now, they will also continue to do these things even after the outbreak is over.

“We have to be mindful of the pandemic, but in essence, we're also helping everybody else that might be [immunocompromised],” said Lerminiaux.