The pandemic from a different perspective

Many people have grown tired of practicing the methods that prevent COVID-19 infection: physical distancing, mask wearing, never hugging their friends, never rubbing shoulders at social venues.

But Stephanie Hansen wants to tell us all to keep up the hard work. She has been watching the COVID-19 pandemic from an unusual vantage point – she has been practicing physical distancing since she was three years old.

Walk past Hansen in the grocery store and you’d never know she has a compromised immune system. But she’ll likely smile and make sure she makes a wide circle around you.

Hansen, 30, has cystic fibrosis, which makes her especially vulnerable to respiratory infections, and she’s made more trips to the hospital than she’d like when it gets hard to breathe. In January, she was at University Hospital recovering from a serious infection caused by a cold, when she saw on the news that a new virus was making people very sick in Wuhan, China

Train wreck in slow motion

The next time she went online to put in her standard order of masks, they were sold out.

“I realized then that this was going to be a really big deal,” Hansen said. “At that point I started preparing.”

And she watched others not preparing.

“I had that sense of impending doom. I just knew it was coming,” she said. “It was like this crazy slow-moving train.”

A lifetime of practice

Hansen is a patient at the Cystic Fibrosis Center at University Health System, where Dr. Holly Keyt leads the adult CF program.

“People with CF are pros when it comes to wearing a mask, hand washing and physical distancing,” said Dr. Keyt, a pulmonary disease and critical care specialist and assistant professor with UT Health San Antonio. “During this pandemic we should all practice the skills they use every day to stay healthy and keep germs away.”

As positivity rates and hospitalizations spike in San Antonio, Hansen said she understands that people are tired of doing the things she’s had to do to stay alive ever since she can remember.

“It doesn’t come to us overnight. This isn’t a natural thing, to distance from people you love,” she said. “It would be so nice to have a hug from my best friend right now.”

“It’s really easy to not wash your hands after you touch a doorknob. It’s really easy to forget your mask when you leave the house. It’s very easy to become complacent and not stay vigilant. But it’s not just about you, it’s about everybody,” Hansen added.

“We’re learning to care for each other in a way that we never have before.”