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Senior man on phone, stressed, as he waits to hear from his loved ones during the pandemic COVID-19

How Heart Failure Prepared Me for a Pandemic

Reading time | 6 mins

It’s hard to believe we were locked in our homes for over a year.

For many of us, our mental and physical health has suffered because we’re social beings. We need interaction, we crave positive relationships, and we live for each other.

Grateful to be relatively unscathed by the pandemic, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about living through it with heart failure and many chronic illnesses.

Yes, there have been low moments. On the flip side, there have also been pockets of joy.

It may sound odd, but the lockdowns weren't that much of a shock to me, and I have heart failure to thank for that!

I was prepared for the pandemic.

Thinking about pre-pandemic life, I realise not much changed for me during the lockdown.

I’ve worked from home for seven years. I was forced to give up my career when my wife, Bridget, became seriously ill, so I’d already made the transition. I’m used to not going to the office, communicating via video call, and working in my pyjamas.

We’ve already been doing online shopping for years.  Not much changed in that regard, except that things sometimes got a bit close to the wire – especially when it came to toilet roll.

We travel infrequently and spend most of our time at home. We’re used to spending 24 hours a day together, so it wasn’t a shock for us like it was for many.

Over the last four years, heart failure and chronic illness have meant we’ve navigated life much like one would during a lockdown. You could say we had a trial run for the pandemic.

I’m sicker than I thought

I knew I was ill. I even knew that heart failure, chronic kidney disease and asthma were not the ideal conditions to have with this virus.

But I didn’t appreciate the severity of my conditions. It came as a bit of a surprise when the NHS shielded me.

It would seem, according to the criteria, that I’m extremely clinically vulnerable. And so is Bridget. Rheumatoid arthritis has killed off her immune system, so we were grounded together.

It was scary and did hit home how precarious our situation was.

Having said that, I think when you live in poor health for as long as I have, you learn to take it in your stride - most of the time.

I’m mentally stronger than I give myself credit

I’m not going to lie. When the virus first took hold in the UK, and we were ordered to stay at home, I did have the odd wobble and freaked out a little bit.

When I say freaked out, I mean I was terrified!

Not for me, but for Bridget, my sons and our elderly parents. I wasn’t ready mentally to deal with what potentially could happen to them.

But I was able to calm myself down by thinking it through. This is a technique I learned after being diagnosed with heart failure.

Some situations are beyond my control. I knew as long as I followed the rules and reduced my risk of exposure, I’d at least have a chance of avoiding infection.

I know there are no guarantees, but it did help manage my anxiety.

I love my family more than I realised

Of course, I love my family, and I make sure they know it.

But, like everyone else, when I was told I couldn’t meet them, I was devastated.

I’ve never let anything stand in the way of seeing my boys and my parents before. So, when we were told separation was best for them and us, it broke my heart.

I decided to break the rules many times, only to come to my senses and remain separated. I was glad when the universities had to close, and the boys had to return home. At least, that way, I could protect them.

The last time I had such an intense yearning for my family was when I was diagnosed with heart failure. At that moment, I was consumed by the thought of leaving them too early and the pandemic conjured up the same emotions.

I learned to live with heart failure and cherish the time I have. This gave me the strength to get through the last 12 months because I know we’ll get through it and be together again.

I’m more sociable than I thought

I have always enjoyed my own company. I'm not anti-social, but I keep a small circle of friends with no desire to expand it. Or, at least, that's how I thought I felt.

After a while, like many of you, I’m sure, I craved social interaction. I even missed simple things, like casual chats in a shop or a morning nod to my neighbour.

At first, I found it quite satisfying when people went out of their way to avoid chatting, getting too close, or having any interaction at all, for that matter. But, after a while, the situation became more and more uncomfortable. I longed for everyone to be able to socialise again.

It made me think about how isolated I have become since being diagnosed with conditions. It wasn’t an intentional decision, more of a meander into isolation.

Going forward, this is certainly an aspect of my life that I fully intend to change. Being denied the opportunity has made me realise I am, in fact, more sociable than I realised.

I appreciate life more than ever

I know we’re not out of the woods yet, but I appreciate how lucky we’ve been to come through this unscathed.

I am heartbroken by people’s loss, with so many leaving us before their time. No matter how hard I try not to, I can’t help but think how lucky I am.

I don’t mean that selfishly. More in an appreciative sense and as a reminder that life is fragile.

I already knew how precious life is and why I should count every day as a blessing. Never has this been true more so than now and going forward.

For the second time in my life, I've been forced to think about my mortality. And, for the second time in my life, I'm overflowing with thanks. Thanks that I still have the chance to make the most of every day going forward.

We couldn’t have got through this without the medical community

I want to save my last point for the heroes who got us through.

Often maligned, we owe our lives to the scientific, pharmaceutical and health communities. Without them, I’m scared to think where we’d be today.

In the past, I, for one, had taken them for granted and expected them to be there when I needed them.

I never want to assume the worst about these communities ever again. My life will always be in their debt, and so will the lives of many others after me.

The takeaway

We’ve been subjected to abnormal circumstances. We’ve been exposed in the cruellest possible way to how fragile life is.

We’ve been forced to face our most basic instinct, and that is survival. And, in many cases, we’ve been forced to face it alone.

I was lucky because heart failure prepared me and eased my fears. It set me up to handle extreme emotions and always know there is hope.

In my opinion, we should all show gratitude to the heroes who saved us. Every loss is a tragedy, and we will never forget any of them.

We should also never forget the efforts of every volunteer, key worker, scientist and medical professional. We thank them for their sacrifice, their care and their humanity.

NPS-IE-NP-00310 July 2021