Life without an immune system

Image via Thinkstock
Image via Thinkstock

What it’s like to be immunocompromised

By Lauren Paulsen, Senior Columnist

Coughing and sneezing—that’s pretty much all I hear from my peers in class right now. It’s autumn, and it’s the beginning of the flu and cold season. When someone near me coughs, sneezes, or indicates in any way that they have a virus, I cringe and try to discreetly move farther away. Most people do. No one likes being sick.

But my case is a little different. You see, if I catch a bug that causes a normal, healthy person to be sick for a few days, I am sick for much, much longer. Probably two weeks, at minimum. Not only that, but I become something like 10 times sicker than most would. This is because I am immunocompromised.

I’m in no way healthy to begin with. I have a serious medical illness that has been plaguing my body since I was four years old. It causes a type of white blood cell in my body to be hypersensitive, and the white blood cells try to attack everything, thinking they’re foreign invaders. This in itself causes problems with my immune system. The medications I am on to suppress it make it even worse. Every year I go through a cycle of constant illness. Winter is particularly bad, and of the four years that I have been at Douglas, I have had to withdraw during every winter semester because I became too sick to continue with my studies. It seems that I am just a magnet for viruses. If someone in the room is sick—heck, they might not even be feeling symptoms—I’ll catch that bug.

I dread flu season. I had someone ask me once if I was a germaphobe. I’m not freaked out by germs, but I have to be hyper aware of everything I touch. I keep my hands away from my face while out in public. I wash my hands over and over again. I follow all of the tips given out every year to keep people from getting sick. Nothing seems to help.

This year, I’m trying something a little different. It was suggested to me that I try using a Vogmask while out in public. A Vogmask isn’t quite the same thing as the blue masks that people wear in the hospital; it is a specially ordered mask that has filters in it that keep allergens and viruses out. The Vogmask kind of acts like the immune system that I’m lacking.

It’s kind of embarrassing wearing the mask out in public because it makes me stand out. I have to keep reminding myself that my health is more important than looking normal. And really, isn’t it?

I hope dearly that this might be the solution I have been looking for. I’m tired of being sick. I want to actually make it through the Winter 2016 semester. That would be wonderful.

So, if you ever come across someone that is immunocompromised, please be courteous and keep your distance if you are sick. And if you see the girl with the mask walking around campus, feel free to smile and wave. The mask isn’t to keep germs in, but to keep them out.