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“I feel isolated and tossed aside”

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A 27-year-old Sydney woman shares what it is like navigating the pandemic when you are immunocompromised

As COVID-19 case numbers have soared across the country, some politicians have warned that everyone will eventually be infected with the virus. For 27-year-old Natalie Fornasier, who lives in Sydney where case numbers have surpassed expert predictions, a COVID-19 infection could be life threatening due to her stage IV metastatic cancer.

As an immunocompromised person, Natalie is at a significantly higher risk of serious illness if she were to contract the virus. 

“There is such a great divide between the disabled and the non-disabled right now,” she tells TDA.

“My community can’t afford to get COVID-19. I know I can’t, because it will require hospitalisation… For the chronically ill and disabled community, it isn’t something we can simply ‘schedule’ into our social calendars.”

Natalie explains: “I feel isolated and tossed aside – like my life is worthless because I’m a part of a minority. “The narrative that COVID is ‘inevitable’ and we should just ‘let it rip’ so we can get over the pandemic quicker – well it’s eugenics and ableism at its finest.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has encouraged Australians to “push through” this latest variant, however, Natalie’s concern is that this is at the expense of Australia’s more vulnerable population. “I know so many in my community who are exhausted by the need to justify our existence to those who endorse the ‘let it rip’ mentality. We deserve to live too.”

“It saddens me that the worthiness of our lives is always contested, and the onus falls onto us to defend it, because our leaders don’t,” Natalie says. “We know we’re not less worthy because we belong to this community, and yet that’s how all of us feel because nobody seems to care.”

Whilst there is no official lockdown, Natalie explains she has been in a “self-imposed lockdown” since she had a tumour removed in December. At the moment, she is focused on avoiding any form of socialisation, because she knows coming into contact with the virus could be life-threatening for her. 

“I’ve barely seen my family and friends,” she explains. “I’ve lived my life in the shadow of this pandemic, and as someone who genuinely does not know how much time she has left, it’s extremely upsetting and anxiety fuelling…This isn’t to say, ‘pity me’. I don’t want that. It’s more about understanding what people like me have been dealing with, and standing in solidarity.”

The 27-year-old’s concern is not only for herself and her community, but also for frontline healthcare workers. As Natalie says, she relies on the health system to survive. But the health system is currently overwhelmed. Across most states and territories in Australia, there are reports of overwhelmed hospitals due to a shortage of healthcare workers and a surge in the number of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalisation. 

The shortage has affected first-responders, too – something Natalie had first-hand experience with four months ago, during the lockdown that was caused by the delta variant in NSW. 

“I had to lie unconscious, waiting two hours for an ambulance due to a condition called hypoadrenalism. If I’m not treated quickly, it can become fatal. Two hours is too long to wait, but I got lucky. Next time, I may not…

“If our health systems were already in such a state four months ago, I can’t even begin to imagine what they’re like now.”

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