My Thoughts on Returning to Work (and this “New Normal”)

We all know that 2020 hasn’t exactly gone to plan so far, largely thanks to COVID-19.

In a word, the last 8-10 weeks or so have been…weird. Collectively, the world experienced a lot of things: shock, rapid-fire adjustments, loss, and more than anything else, change.

It goes without saying that I’ve been very fortunate given the circumstances. I’ve had my job throughout this whole ordeal, and I’ve had experience working from home before which arguably made my transition to full-time remote work a little easier. While each week has come with its own unique set of challenges and emotions, there’s no denying that I’ve had it pretty good, overall, these last couple of months.

But now, along with everyone else, I’m about to enter a “new normal” (gosh I hate that term) as states begin to re-open. And with this “new normal” comes the possibility of returning to a physical office building each workweek.

I’ll admit that the sheer thought of it simultaneously excites and terrifies me.

My Thoughts on Returning to Work (and this _New Normal_)
My thoughts on re-entering the workplace are…complicated.

On the one hand, I’m yearning to go back to work in an office space. I miss my little cubicle, office camaraderie, and meetings that are held in-person, in conference rooms, as opposed to virtually.

On the other hand, I’ve never felt more anxious about returning to a space that is shared by people other than my family members.

There are a LOT of people that enter and exit my company’s building throughout the typical workday. There are at least a dozen other companies besides mine that occupy the other floors in the building. Tons of deliveries are made to these office suites each day. While there are custodial staff who do their best to keep the building clean, it can be…a challenge, as anyone who has seen our bathrooms can attest to.

Basically, I suppose that I’m feeling incredibly nervous about the exposure to germs that is bound to happen upon my return to the office.

Even if I didn’t have diabetes and wasn’t considered at a higher risk for COVID, I’m sure I’d still feel worried because it’s not just about me: It’s also about the people I live with. I’d never want to bring anything harmful into my family’s home, period, bottom line, end of story. And while the odds are pretty damn high that PPE (personal protective equipment) will become standard when re-entering the workplace, it does little to placate me because I’ve seen firsthand how sloppy people can be when it comes to wearing it or disposing of it properly.

And so, with much still unknown about COVID, it just seems like a giant gamble to resume working in an office environment when I can’t be sure that I won’t be exposed to anything.

As it stands right now, I don’t have a concrete “return to work” date. And I don’t know what exactly it will take in order for me to feel totally comfortable about returning to the office. But I do know that I’m cautiously optimistic for a smooth transition to a “new normal” that is safe for all.

10 Countries, 10 Global COVID-19 Perspectives

This blog post was originally published on the T1International website on April 10, 2020. I am highlighting it here on Hugging the Cactus because 1) I think it sheds a lot of light on the healthcare systems in other countries and 2) it’s a reminder that we’re all in this together.


Hear from ten people living with type 1 diabetes as they share their perspectives about the impact of the coronavirus on their country and their health.

Bolivia – Laura
Things are complicated here, and our health system is already problematic. There are no masks and a lack of other correct equipment to treat patients. The government has been very careful about prevention, and quarantine has been going on for several weeks already. Many people are poor and live day by day with what they earn. The government began to give money and food aid to older people and families who receive other types of government bonds, but not everyone can receive it and many say that they do not have enough money to eat. Based on the numbers on our identification, we know when we can go out to get groceries or medications – only on specific days. Still, there is a lot of ignorance and people are not following instructions. There are 200 cases confirmed, with 15 deaths and it is increasing every day. People who have to travel long distances to get medicine do not have good options. I have a friend who has no blood glucose test strips and her blood sugar keeps going too high, but because she does not have test strips, she doesn’t know it. It is very dangerous.

Costa Rica – Dani
Our small country is on lockdown, with only 10 people in ICU at the moment. The country is making at-risk patients a priority and currently even shipping their medicines to them to prevent them from going to the hospital and getting infected. Families have been given extra insulin for the next two months, and the community is supporting each other if there is an urgent need for support or extra supplies.

Germany – Katarina
Germany has one of the lowest COVID-19 related death rates so far. A lot has been undertaken to prevent the virus from spreading – test centres have opened their doors to the general public, hospitals are increasing their capacities for intensive care and ventilation, and research teams are working hard to improve diagnostics, therapy and find preventative methods. The pandemic is challenging our healthcare system, our economy, and our society, but it also opening new pathways. A lot of diabetes care centres are transitioning to telemedicine, and people with diabetes can get prescriptions and supplies by mail. Being a doctor on the frontline and a high-risk patient at the same time is not easy – I am constantly torn between my profession and my wish to self-isolate and stay safe.

Ghana – Yaa
With the rise in COVID 19 cases in Ghana, the government made it mandatory to close down schools for a month, to limit the number of people to no more than 25 in a social gathering, and to start a two week partial lockdown in contiguous districts (3 regions). This means no one is allowed to go out unless it is to buy food and drugs. Borders are closed, and importation of goods are restricted. For people with type 1 diabetes who get supplies at the government hospital using the national health insurance scheme, they still have to go all the way to the hospital for their supplies. The hospital is a major reservoir of the virus, so it increases the chances of people with type 1 who are already at high risk. The only other option is to go buy from the pharmacies, where there is currently a surge in prices. People with diabetes were asked and encouraged to stock up on their diabetes supplies, but not everyone was able to do this. We fear for the unknown and the long term impacts.

India – Apoorva
As a medical doctor I have been working and seeing new cases, but now my entire department is in isolation. I took steps back to prevent getting sick. Delhi is one of the hotspots, and we had sudden surge in cases. Rural impoverished areas are problematic due to people living in close quarters. Our government initiated a lockdown, but many tried to leave quickly, especially migrant workers who come and go from the city centres because they lost their livelihoods. This caused the virus to spread despite drastic measures taken by the government. Currently, there are no insulin shortages as all medical services and pharmacies are operational, but we have seen a possibility of analogue shortages and hope to try to ensure that does not happen. Our main aim is to support the actions of the government and I plead everyone to stay home and protect their families.

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Kuwait – Mohammad
We have been on lockdown for four weeks, and people who came to Kuwait from other countries were tested. If someone had symptoms, they were put in quarantine. Cases have been contained and so far, there has only been one death. It is interesting that there is now a COVID-19 database that was created rapidly, but there has never been a database of people with type 1 diabetes in Kuwait. Our medications tend to be provided and some are being delivered. Overall, things are OK now, but we are concerned about access to medication and food supply in the long term because most of it is imported.

Lebanon – Cyrine
Our country has been facing tricky political problems for the past five months, since we had a revolution in November. The banks have no money, and there is no money from the government. We can only have access to a specific amount of our money per month. We are facing shortages of medical supplies including ventilators and medical protective equipment. The whole country is in an emergency state now and there are military personnel on the streets. As cases continue to rise, people are only allowed to go out at certain times and we can only walk. I have been on self-quarantine for the past few weeks. What worries me most is the people who already struggled to afford their basic insulin and supplies. With 80% or more of the population having lost their jobs, what are those who cannot afford their insulin doing now? I am trying to help those I know about, but there is no government plan for people with type 1 diabetes. People do not have money anymore, so how can they cover their insulin costs?

South Africa – Estelle
Testing here is slow. On April 2nd, I heard only 46,000 tests had been done, which is not even 1% of the population. It looks like we have small numbers of diagnosed patients but there is so much unknown. Apparently there is enough stock of medication for up to a year. Medical aid, our version of insurance, said they will cover all treatment related to COVID-19, so that is a relief. A large proportion of individuals might not be taking it seriously enough. The biggest concern is keeping the virus out of the rural areas, which are densely populated. If it spreads there, it could be catastrophic because we do not have enough hospitals.

Tanzania – Johnpeter
We only have about twenty cases identified so far. I am currently in Serengeti which means I am far from cities where cases were confirmed and spreading. I am staying put and I had to cancel my doctor appointments and other appointments. I have had to reduce my insulin dose because I cannot get any insulin here in this rural area. I have some insulin in Dar es Salaam that my doctor gave to my brother for me. So right now I am working with my brother to try to find a way to get the insulin. I am not supposed to travel to cities to risk my health, but I am risking my health by staying here without insulin. It is incredibly stressful on top of the challenges I already face accessing and affording my insulin.

USA – Karyn
In Georgia, where I live, we are also on lockdown, with cases increasing every day. The biggest issue is shortages of ventilators and protective equipment for hospital staff. Cost and affordability issues are already a problem in the USA and this will likely be an even bigger challenge now. Due to the broken healthcare system here, it’s uncertain if people will even get tested if they go to the doctor. Some people are getting billed for the test even though it has been said they shouldn’t be. Last year around this time, I went to Canada to buy a year’s supply of insulin. I have a bit more, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do without being able to travel abroad this year. I already struggle a lot with the costs. Many people are losing their jobs, and therefore losing their insurance, which will inevitably also impact their ability to afford essential medicines.

A Problematic Post

I am not the kind of person who scrolls through social media looking for posts that will make me angry. And I’m certainly not the kind of person who likes the idea of calling someone out on their perceived wrongs via social media (or any other medium) because I think that it’s usually not constructive.

But I am the kind of person who thinks that word choice matters. So when I saw Autumn Calabrese, a celebrity fitness and nutrition expert, post the following text on Instagram, I got pretty upset. (Click photos to see them more clearly).

I’m not going to lie, I was pretty upset by this post. I’ve followed Autumn on Instagram for almost two and a half years now, ever since I subscribed to the popular Beachbody workout app. I really like her 21 Day Fix workout program because it kicks my butt every time in just 30 minutes. She comes across as a fun person who is really passionate about her job and enjoys the opportunity to help others, which is why I decided to follow her Instagram profile. Normally, I enjoy her posts because they’re filled with motivating fitness and eating tips that promote a healthier lifestyle. She definitely knows what she’s talking about when it comes to exercise and eating properly.

But after seeing this post, I think that Autumn – and people like her who are not educated in the minutiae chronic conditions like diabetes – needs to step off her soapbox.

She is using her post to say that diabetes – mind you, just generic “diabetes”, there’s no mention of any of the many types – is a lifestyle killer. She says that “the worst part about it is that you are 100% in control of if it happens to you.”

OMG. No, no, NO.

Forget that she was using the current coronavirus outbreak to promote her healthy eating plan (which in itself is a pretty weird way to advertise something) – she came after the diabetes community with this post. Now, I’ll never know what her true intent was, and I don’t care if Autumn was talking about a specific type of diabetes here. That doesn’t make a damn difference. The problem with this post is that she is perpetuating diabetes stigma and alluding to a myth that an individual has control over whether or not they get diabetes. Posts like this are the reason why there is so much confusion and misunderstanding when it comes to all types of diabetes, and I think she should be ashamed of herself for putting this on her profile.

It’s even more upsetting that she immediately got defensive when people started writing comments under her post, trying to inform and educate her. I was one of those people, and I think that I kindly and respectfully directed her to learn more by visiting beyondtype1.org so she could be better informed on all types of diabetes and maybe find out why what she wrote was harmful. Sadly, I never got a response, and her post remains on her profile, unchanged.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. You can also unfollow a person on social media and write a blog post to get your feelings out there, so that’s just what I’ll do here.

 

COVID-19, Chronic Conditions, and…Telecommuting?

First, let me apologize for adding to what seems like a never-ending cycle of news and media about COVID-19, a.k.a. the coronavirus. But I wanted to write this post because a friend of mine works for a company that sent out a communication about it that I found…interesting, to say the least.

The email in question was about the company’s current coronavirus protocol. The following is an excerpt from the email, provided by my friend:

If you have or live with someone who has a medical condition that the WHO has highlighted as being at higher risk for complications from the virus (elderly, immunocompromised state, chronic conditions such as diabetes, chronic lung disease, and cardiovascular disease), you are strongly urged to work from home if possible with your job function. If you cannot work from home, please consult with your manager.

So…the wording of this email struck me as a little odd for a few reasons. If I worked for this company, I’d wonder: 1) Just because I have one of the named chronic conditions, does this mean I must seriously reconsider my present working environment even though nobody in my office travels internationally? 2) What exactly does “strongly urged” mean, anyways? and 3) What is a manager expected to do if someone cannot work from home, for whatever reason? Make up their own set of rules? Force someone to come in or not come in? And if the latter is the case…would a paycheck have to be forfeited?

hugging the cactus - a t1d blog
I’m absolutely amazed that I managed to find a stock image that wasn’t terrifying for this particular blog post and topic…

As I pondered the answers to these questions, I also started to think that there was a chance I was overreacting to the wording of the email. So I asked other friends how they felt about it and they reacted the same way I did. Everyone was generally confused by the message that this was saying (or not saying) about people living with chronic conditions and how they should handle a situation like this.

Plus, I can’t shake the feeling that emails like this just add to all the hype/panic that we’re already being inundated with, and if I were to receive something like this, it certainly wouldn’t do anything to ease my normally-anxious mind. It’s getting more and more challenging to tune it all out…

…but on the bright side, at least I know how to properly wash my hands and sneeze/cough into my elbow. So I’ll continue those common-sense practices every day, and when I’m doing my own work, I’ll be glad it’s from the comfort of my own cubicle.