D’krizia Bartlett has had acute chest syndrome, one of the most serious problems that people with sickle cell disease (SCD) can have. She’s had pneumonia, a lung infection that can range from mild to severe. And she’s had MRSA (methicillin staphylococcus aureus), which is tougher to treat than most strains of staph – a type of bacteria – because it’s resistant to some commonly used antibiotics.
Living with sickle cell anemia, Bartlett knows how it feels to have her respiratory system under attack and she is doing everything she can to avoid catching COVID-19, an infectious disease for which there are no specific vaccines or treatments at this time.
“[Pneumonia, MRSA and acute chest syndrome were near death experiences for me because my body … it’s very hard for it to defend itself,” said Bartlett, 25, who was diagnosed with the hereditary sickle cell disease at the age of three.
“I have a compromised immune system. It’s hard for me to fight off different germs and bacteria and viruses like a normal person. It’s extremely hard for me to overcome those challenges because I’ve been there in the past and it’s just not a good feeling – grasping for air, struggling to breathe. I kid you not, it’s very uncomfortable, so at all cost, I just want to avoid that,” she said.
Bartlett has been social distancing and staying home in an effort to remain COVID-19 free. She has been ensconced at home for four weeks.
“If I have to stay here and change my way of life, just so I can survive, I’m going to do that,” said Bartlett.
Because of her diagnosis, Bartlett is always careful and has kept a close watch on the novel coronavirus from its early beginnings in Wuhan, China, where the first cases were detected in December 2019, and as the virus spread around the world, with the United States (U.S.) confirming its first case on January 21, and the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring it a pandemic on January 30.
“When I saw that the virus was in the U.S., I gave my hematologist a call and he basically gave me a rundown of things I should be doing – immune boosting, keeping up with vitamin C and B-12, drinking lots of water and getting an adequate amount of sleep.”
The Bahamas has 49 confirmed cases and eight deaths, with 493 people in quarantine as of Monday, April 13. Worldwide there are 1,904,566 confirmed cases and 118,459 deaths.
Bartlett, who lives with her mother Kayla Smith-Mortimer, stepdad Cayle Mortimer and her siblings Xanthe Smith and Alexander Smith, says she’s fine at home watching the pandemic unfold.
“Of course, I miss going outside. I miss hanging out with my friends. I miss getting my nails done … but I’m not going to sacrifice my well-being. I just don’t think it’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
As an employee of the Ministry of Health in the health information and research department, where she analyzes data, Bartlett says that her work has kept her occupied over the last month as she works remotely from home.
The one and only time she’s ventured out of her house has been for a grocery store run with her mother Kayla Smith-Mortimer, who also has sickle cell anemia. Bartlett described the
experience as chaotic.
“I’ll be honest, I had a panic attack because I don’t think people are adhering to the caution and the rules given by the government. People are bumping into you and not staying three to six feet away and it scares me because you can’t see coronavirus and there’s no way to tell if someone had COVID-19, so it’s just a nerve-wrecking experience and I’m fine with staying home.”
Since Bartlett has been at home she’s suffered a sickle cell crisis.
“It was just scary because at one point I was like wow, I need to go to the doctor; but I was scared to leave my home because I didn’t know if I would be exposed,” she said.
She’s also using her time at home to apply to graduate school. The application process is a goal she hopes to come out of this pandemic completed.
“It can get a little overwhelming, so when that becomes a little overwhelming, I just do the little Netflix and chill with my siblings and catch up on shows. Fortunately, we’re a family-oriented house, so every now and then my mom forces everyone to come out and we sit by the pool and play cards and just have great conversation.”
And the family is a stickler that no one besides the people that reside there enters the home during this time.
Bartlett said as every week goes by, it gets a little challenging and she has to find ways to keep herself grounded. She’s been listening to gospel music and started practicing yoga which she has found to be relaxing and meditative.
“Sometimes I feel refreshed … it’s like pressing a reset button.”
While she encourages people to stay at home, she said she hopes they are using the time to figure out what’s good for them.
“A lot of people say look at business ventures or try achieve a goal or clean out your closet, get something sorted out or achieved during this time and while I agree with that, you must do what’s best for you. Every day I see my mom achieving a new goal and that’s fine, I’m so proud of her, but I’m just not like that. I have to do things when I’m ready to do it, and I just want people to not feel pressured if they’re not doing things everyone else is doing or handling the pandemic in the way everyone else is doing it. It’s important to do things that make you happy – even if that means just laying down every single day and just watching Netflix.”