It’s hard to believe that it’s March, again. For the last year, time somehow both barrelled forward and moved at a glacial pace, and here we are, a year into a global pandemic. 15.3% of the U.S. population is now vaccinated, per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and I don’t think I’m alone when I say for the first time in a year, I’m feeling optimistic. While we all want to look forward and put this heartbreaking and hard year behind us, it’s important to not forget the stories of those whose lives were and continue to be affected by COVID.
We spoke with Madeline Delp — who was in a car accident at the age of ten that left her paralyzed from the waist down — about what it was like to have COVID as a disabled person. She talks with us about the experience of having COVID, how she stays positive, and how to balance a sense of independence with knowing when to ask for help and still follow your dreams no matter what. Spoiler alert — in early March, Madeline placed in the Top 5 at the Miss NC USA competition, breaking her previous record of Top 10 (We took this interview earlier.). This officially makes her the first woman in a wheelchair to ever make the Top 5 in a Miss USA state pageant.
Sunday Edit: What was it like for you to have COVID?
Madeline Delp: The night before Christmas Eve, I was about to eat my favorite takeout dish while I snuggled on the couch. When I went to eat the food, I realized that I had no appetite whatsoever. Then I thought about all of the activities I had planned the next day and I started crying. I realized that I felt so bad that I couldn’t fathom the idea of driving around to visit friends and family. When I woke up the next morning and physically didn’t have the energy to get out of bed, I knew that I probably wasn’t going anywhere for a long time.
I figured that the chances I had COVID were high because of my sore throat, cough, headache, nausea, lack of smell, fever, body aches, and indescribable exhaustion (so much so I didn’t even feel like opening Christmas presents!), but I didn’t end up getting tested for a whole two weeks later. You are probably asking why it took so long? Well, the honest answer is that it felt physically impossible for me to leave my apartment. When I finally asked my mom to take me to the doctor, I was not surprised at all to find out that I indeed did have COVID.
SE: How did you get your needs met as a high-risk individual during COVID?
MD: Regarding my medical issues, there was an ironic shift that happened once COVID hit. Hospitals were making changes to protect people from getting sick, yet I found that these changes ended up being detrimental to my health. Several times last year I had to go to the hospital for medical concerns (which is not unusual due to my injury), and there were times when I was denied treatment because of COVID policies. I even had an experience where I was left in the hallway in a stretcher the entire time that I was in the ER.
I believe the unfortunate truth is that many COVID-related policies were made to affect the majority without taking into consideration the minority.
Both members of my family, who act as caregivers when I need help, happen to work in medicine, and that is how I ended up eventually getting COVID.
SE: In what ways do you think the pandemic highlighted the work that needs to be done in meeting the needs of individuals with disabilities?
MD: COVID seems to really highlight injustices: everything that has been brewing under the surface for years in our country has suddenly become larger than life. So many people who don’t have access to critical care because of discriminatory practices are speaking up about it — and others are finally listening!
For example, many people with disabilities who usually have full-time caregivers no longer have access to the same level of help. Can you imagine being completely dependent on other people to do basic activities like brushing your teeth, dressing and eating and then suddenly not having them anymore? It is these kinds of stories that make all kinds of people want to change the system.
SE: How do you maintain a sense of independence while still depending on others?
MD: I have fallen on both ends of the spectrum on this one. There was a time in my life when I was too dependent because I didn’t have the belief in myself that I could do things alone. Then I went into the stage of trying to be so independent that I didn’t need to ask anyone for help. As you can imagine, that didn’t always go so well…
The way that I have come to terms with it is by realizing this: we all have to depend on people in one way or another, while at the same time, there are people who depend on us. By seeing that everyone has weaknesses and that everyone needs help in some ways, I realized that I was not alone. I just needed help with more unique things that others didn’t.
The solution was deciding to work interdependently with others. I could focus on maximizing my strengths to help others while allowing them to help me with my weaknesses. By doing this, we end up being much more effective than if we tried to do things alone!
SE: How do you find the line between being independent and asking for help?
MD: I always go into things with the mindset, “What are the absolute most that I can do in this situation? (without hurting myself of course – something I have done several times before when trying to push myself too hard)” When I get my answer, I will put my efforts toward completing that task to the best of my ability until I have to ask for help.
One thing that has really helped me gain more independence is my bladder control products from Aeroflow Urology. With these products, I’m able to continue to travel and compete in pageants knowing I’m fully protected. I can’t even begin to describe how much weight is lifted off of my shoulders knowing I don’t have to worry about accidents.
SE: How do you keep positive even during hard times?
MD: I had to retrain the way that I looked at hard times. They were not things I should look at as “unfair punishments” or even bad days, but rather training. These challenges were making me better, stronger and more confident if I used them the right way. Every hardship I faced had the seed of something useful inside of it, and if I looked at it like a game or a puzzle I had to figure it out, then I would dramatically change the results I got out of every hard situation.
This is definitely not always easy! So, on the path toward training yourself to think the same way, remember that it won’t come immediately. When you are in a really rough time, think of the next best thing that you can do at that moment, do it, and visualize how it will feel to achieve all the good things you are working towards!
SE: Can you speak a little on your decision to run for Miss USA?
MD: I am competing again for my third and final year, and I couldn’t be more excited. The process of competing in pageantry has pushed me to become the best that I can be and has made me question a lot of those beliefs of things I thought that I couldn’t do myself. It has pushed me toward new career opportunities and helped to show me a confidence in myself that I never knew existed.
I also have seen how it has affected so many other people around me. People who didn’t think that they could be seen or see themselves as beautiful, now realize that their confidence in themselves is what demonstrates true beauty. Through a partnership with Aeroflow Urology during my preparation, I have also been able to work toward destigmatizing the issue of incontinence on a national scale. My goal of winning the title of Miss North Carolina USA is to spread these ideas on a larger scale and help people with disabilities nationwide and around the world see that they can be and do anything they set their minds to!