Why disability advocate Chelsie Hill documented her COVID-19 symptoms, recovery on TikTok

Kerry Justich
·4 min read
Chelsie Hill talks about her experience with the coronavirus. (Photo: Getty Images)
Chelsie Hill talks about her experience with the coronavirus. (Photo: Getty Images)

Chelsie Hill lives most of her life like an open book, sharing her experiences as a woman who uses a wheelchair to get around after suffering a spinal cord injury during a car accident that left her unable to walk. But even after sharing the highs and lows of everyday life with a disability, Hill tells Yahoo Life that she was reluctant to tell her community that she had the coronavirus after testing positive following a work trip with her fiancé.

“When I first realized that I was getting sick, I was a little hesitant [to post]. I was like, ‘Oh man, I just went on a trip. I'm gonna get backlash,’” she explains. “But I try and always just use every opportunity to educate and be open with what's going on.”

With the coronavirus at the forefront of everyone’s minds, Hill admits that talking openly about it is controversial. But while other public figures on social media might go dark instead of sharing certain life experiences, Hill explains that she isn’t one to shy away from those difficult conversations.

“I was paralyzed in a drunk driving accident when I was 17 and right away I wanted to Skype my school while I was still in the hospital,” Hill recalls. “I want my school, I want my classmates to know that the girl that was once running around made a mistake of getting in the car with a drunk driver. And now I'm paralyzed.”

Since the accident that changed her life, Hill has adopted the “mentality” of using her own life experience to educate others. “If I can educate someone, especially about something like drinking and driving, then maybe I could save someone from making the same mistake I did,” she shares.

During her bout with COVID-19, her thought process was the same.

“I did everything that the CDC said to do if and when traveling and I still got it,” Hill says of contracting the virus. “So I was like, if this happened to me then I want to share my experience with people to maybe answer some questions that they're having, or maybe someone's going through it as well.”

Living through the pandemic with a disability added to Hill’s outlook, as she’s made extra efforts to further connect with her community through protocols that have made it nearly impossible. “With disabilities, we already feel so isolated from the world because we are different and people don't see that as a good thing,” she explains. “It's definitely been really sad to see.”

As the founder of the Rollettes — an L.A.-based wheelchair dance team — Hill has been adamant about making sure that her team stays active during the pandemic, and has done so by transitioning their regular in-person rehearsals into ones that take place through Zoom. She’s also taught virtual dance classes to connect with the larger disability community interested in dance and movement. And although she didn’t plan to get the virus herself, she admits that speaking up about her experience has also proven to be a means of connection to those who can relate — as evidenced by the 15 million people who watched a TikTok video of Hill attempting to get her sense of taste back through a remedy recommended by followers.

“I'm very thankful that I was so open on social media about it because I was able to connect with other people and everyone was giving me these other remedies,” she said, noting that while some of the suggestions were fun to try, or even seemed hopeful, Hill only has about 95 percent of her taste back, and 25 percent of her smell.

She also assures Yahoo Life that having contracted the coronavirus is “not something that I take lightly.”

“I'm thankful that I didn't have to go to the hospital. There are cases of people that don't go to the hospital, but what we're seeing are people literally dying,” she says. Fortunately for her, the most predominant symptom was fatigue. And while she went through her illness without a fever, the impact on her body still challenged her mobility. “I think the one thing that really inhibited me was actually mustering up the strength within my arms to pull my body onto the shower bench or the bed or the couch,” she explains. “I literally sat there for a good minute before I transferred any time.”

Now, nearly one month from when Hill tested positive for COVID-19, she’s slowly getting back to feeling like her normal self, teaching virtual dance classes and connecting with her online community, which has only grown from this experience.

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