Living with a medical condition during the pandemic is difficult

Shantell Mullings is a student at FAMU. Photo courtesy Mullings

Students have already begun to feel the pressure of this semester with classes becoming more demanding and grades becoming a priority. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has added the responsibility of ensuring our own safety and the safety of others by following strict rules and regulations.

Many can agree that these are stressful times, but for Shantell Mullings it has been almost impossible.

Mullings, a biology pre-medical student, was diagnosed with a rare gastrointestinal condition in 2014 when she was just 13 years old. Her condition is so rare that over the course of six years and countless doctors’ consultations, medical professionals have not been able to name it or find a cure.

Her condition also makes her susceptible to other illnesses like the common cold, flu and now coronavirus. If Mullings were to obtain the virus, it would manifest itself in strong surges of abdominal pain that would render her weak and sickly.

“Basically, I have these episodes,” Mullings said. “And it causes me to not be able to eat or have to be in the hospital for long periods of time. Even though COVID has nothing to do with the stomach, I know I would end up being in the hospital because everything [in my body] is connected.”

For the first time since being diagnosed, Mullings was forced to stay in the hospital without assistance or visitation from her family or friends. Due to the high numbers of coronavirus cases, patients admitted to the hospital that are not minors or disabled are not allowed to have visitors.

“There was actually this really bad experience where the nurses thought I was faking my condition,” Mullings said. “So, they actually kicked me out of my hospital room for some unknown reason and left me crying outside in pain until my parents arrived.”

The pandemic had left Mullings alone in the hospital during a vulnerable time in which she was not able to fend for herself, forced to sign copious documents that her parents would normally handle and have complicated conversations with medical professionals.

“That was something I never wanted to go through again but I have had to stay in the hospital alone three times since then,” Mullings said.

After that experience, Mullings knew that the coronavirus had created a new norm and she had to adjust in order to cope.

Living with a gastrointestinal condition was already difficult for Mullings because there were so few answers about her health and lack of resources and medicines available. Now, she must be even more careful because her health is at risk.

“When COVID first started I wasn’t allowed out of the house and I was so used to having a life,” Mullings said. “I have had to say no to hanging around my friends because I know they’re probably not being as safe or they always have to wear a mask around me.”

Mullings has a small group of friends who get tested for COVID regularly in order to come around her and her family.

In addition to having to monitor who she is around, her doctors’ appointments have changed as well to adapt to COVID precautions.

“It’s so weird and different because they are all either virtual or all far away,” Mullings said. “I’m now having to travel more to see my doctors.”

Mullings will now have to travel back and forth to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville every week. Traveling adds an extra risk because it increases the amount of exposure to COVID, but the risk is necessary in order for Mullings to remain healthy.

This pandemic has been a major change for Mullings and she has had to make huge lifestyle changes to ensure her safety. But she has made the best of the situation even stating she has gotten addicted to Netflix.

With cases in Leon County now on the rise, Mullings is concerned but continues to take every necessary precaution — and then some — to stay safe.