Don’t Hesitate- Dennis McCullum and Contracting COVID-19 While Living With SCD
Since March 2020, citizens of the world have lived with much anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While many people have lived cautiously because of both the immediate and long-term effects of the disease, many others — specifically immunocompromised individuals — have heightened concerns.
Sick Cells sat down virtually with Dennis McCullum, 64, who lives with sickle cell (Hgb SS), about his experience surviving COVID-19 and his advice for sickle cell warriors, especially as restrictions and guidelines ease around the U.S.
A Normal Trip to Costco
It all started with a fever in early April 2021 but quickly turned into an emergency room (ER) visit that led to six days in the hospital. After taking what he thought was a normal trip to Costco, Dennis realized he couldn’t catch his breath after a handful of steps. He immediately called his doctor who told him to visit the ER as soon as possible — so that’s what he did. After a nasal swab test, his nurse confirmed that the shortness of breath he was experiencing was because he tested positive for COVID-19.
“I was scared,” said McCullum. From personal experience, anecdotes from friends and family to media coverage, we’re all too familiar with the frightening impacts of COVID-19. And in Dennis’s case, after seeing the disease take his brother in November 2020, it makes sense that a wave of fear rushed over him at the time of his diagnosis.
“They threw the kitchen sink at me,” said McCullum. Meaning, they gave him several treatments to combat the virus right away. After three days in the hospital, he knew he’d survive, but he described the disease as having pneumonia and a sickle cell crisis at the same time — a painful combination.
After staying in the hospital for six days with COVID-19, Dennis was finally able to return home. However, just a few days later, he got out of bed and his legs were in pain and too weak to support him. Dennis was readmitted to the hospital for another six days due to a crisis. “The sickle cell was jealous,” said McCullum.
Thankfully, after his two hospital stays, Dennis is back at home and carefully monitoring himself for any ongoing side effects from contracting the virus. After being advised by his doctor to wait 90 days to get the COVID-19 vaccine after his initial infection, Dennis is spending this time researching his options and gathering as much information to inform the best option for him.
There’s No Time to Linger
Dennis describes himself as an abnormal sickle cell patient since he very rarely visits the hospital with crises, isn’t on Hydroxyurea (or other SCD treatments), and doesn’t receive regular blood transfusions. He knows the way sickle cell impacts him is very different than the way it impacts others, and he has a message for those amid the pandemic: don’t hesitate.
We’ve all been consistently reminded to limit gatherings, wash our hands, practice social distancing, wear a mask and, now, get the vaccine, but Dennis emphasized something else: the importance of not hesitating to respond to any signs or symptoms of the disease. We know that even with precautions, contracting the virus is possible, so as warriors, it’s important to act fast if you think you’ve been exposed — especially if you’re experiencing signs and symptoms.
“Don’t wait if you’re feeling symptoms because COVID will take over so fast,” said McCullum. “As sickle cell warriors, we linger [i.e., not calling the doctor/going to the ER] in hopes for something to break, but nope, COVID works too fast.”
To learn more about COVID-19 and the vaccine, follow @project_scovid on Instagram and Facebook.
The CDC and SCDAA MARAC recommend that all sickle cell warriors receive a COVID-19 vaccination. The vaccines are a safe and effective way to protect someone against COVID-19.