For most of us, COVID-19 is just a group of statistics. A news headline. We may know of a person who has had it, but it isn’t personal to us. We can’t see a virus, so it doesn’t feel real. Yes, we wear masks and we social distance, but it’s mostly so we can go places and return to some semblance of normal. We think that the people we know don’t have COVID because we know them. They are good people, so they must be safe. We don’t think it could happen to us.
Until it does.
For the last week, I have been quarantining in my house, specifically the spare bedroom and bathroom of my mother’s house, after I tested positive for COVID-19. I haven’t been able to pick up or pet my dog. I have to wear a mask in my kitchen so that I don’t infect my mom. I take walks around my pool for exercise. I stare for hours at my phone as the texts from the people I was around roll in like hourly reports. Negative, negative, negative. I pray it stays that way.
On the morning of Saturday, August 8, I felt fine. I got ready for the day and headed to Starbucks, my reward for working so early on a weekend. While in line, I felt the tiniest tickle in my throat but made nothing of it. I went outside to cough and thought to myself, What a world we live in. I can’t even cough without someone thinking it’s the coronavirus. If I only knew.
At around 10 a.m., I started getting violent stomach pain. Like cramps, but much worse. I figured I must be about to get my period. I started to feel tired, which I attributed to being in the heat for work. I told my boss, but just so she would know I didn’t feel well, not to get out of work or anything. Fifteen minutes later, she told me to go home. Then, looking concerned, she asked if I was okay to drive myself. I thought, Why wouldn’t I be?
I got home, faced the dark circles around my sunken eyes, and thought about what to do. I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to work or go anywhere until I got tested, so I might as well get a same day test—that way I didn’t have to wait around. I found the nearest test center, got painfully swabbed in both nostrils, and was told I would get my results via email in 45 minutes. Simple enough, yet the pain in my stomach began to grow. When I got home, I had diarrhea, and something in me just knew. I knew I had the coronavirus. I didn’t have a fever, congestion, sore throat, or chills, but I knew.
I knew before I got the call. First of all, they don’t call you with a negative test result. They email negative results. They call for positive results. The technician’s voice boomed from my phone: “I am sorry Jennifer, you tested positive.” I honestly can’t remember what else was said. I’m pretty sure I said, “Are you serious?” Other words were spoken, something about getting retested in a couple of weeks, and then I hung up. My mom stood there, waiting with a concerned look on her face, and I said nonchalantly, “I have it.”
Then I burst into tears.
Sobs erupted from my body as my mom rushed to comfort me. I backed away as she came towards me with outstretched arms, waving my arms and half-yelling, half-whispering, “Don’t come near me!” So many thoughts rushed through my mind. Who have I infected? Where did I get it from? How long have I had this? Where have I spread it? I talked to a pregnant lady earlier; did I infect her? Are my parents sick? How can I miss two weeks of work when I just started? People are depending on me. People have trusted me, and I have let them down. How will I tell everyone? Did I infect my clients? Will they hate me? Will the businesses I have visited be shut down? Have I ruined lives and businesses? What if I infect my mom? Where will I go?
Have I killed someone?
Am I going to die?
Slowly, I began to process. I needed to tell people. I had to tell my clients. I had to tell everyone I was in contact with the past two weeks, from my friends to the girl who cut my hair the previous Sunday. I told my boss, and she had to tell everyone I had come into contact with at the business, as well as get it deeply cleaned. My parents, co-workers, clients, and friends all needed to be tested. They were frustrated, I could feel it. I knew their anger was not directed at me. It’s not like I did it on purpose and it could have happened to anyone. Yet I could not help but feel guilty, like I was inconveniencing everyone and betraying their trust.
While all of this was happening, I was having bouts of diarrhea and body aches. Still no fever or congestion, but I felt like I couldn’t move. The shock didn’t help. I didn’t want to eat. I stared at my phone while the texts came in. “Where did you get it from?” was one of the most common. It’s a virus. It’s not visible, like I went into a store without it and came out with it. I had no idea where I got it from, and this just seemed to make people more frustrated. After the initial frustration and fear came the “how are you feeling?” texts. How was I feeling? I was scared. I was worried, mostly for other people, if that makes any sense. I was depressed, guilt-ridden, and embarrassed. I wanted to apologize to everyone, pay for their tests, make up their lost time, and make this all go away. I didn’t want to be another young person contributing to the spread of this thing. I had been responsible. I had done the right things: I wore a mask, stayed socially distant, washed my hands. Why me?
The next day, I woke up and cried. I still had diarrhea. I slept for 10 hours and it still did not feel like enough. My lower back ached and my throat felt scratchy, but I didn’t feel like I usually do when I am sick. It didn’t feel like the flu or even a common cold. Part of me was wondering what all the fuss was about. I was in pain, but I was okay. My mood flip flopped between “I am so grateful these are the worst of my symptoms” and “I am so depressed this is happening to me.” There was no in between. I just wanted a hug.
The next day the joint pain started in my knees and ankles. It felt as if I jumped off the porch steps and landed on my knees. My dad brought me roses and left them on the front porch. My best friend offered to bring me Starbucks. My trainer brought me some stuff I left at the gym. My aunt made me soup and left it outside the door. People showed up for me, even if they physically couldn’t. They called. They texted. They listened. I have never felt both so loved and so alone at the same time. I talked with my mom through the door, both of us still wearing our masks. There wasn’t much to talk about, but I was glad she was there. I just wanted a hug.
The days passed both slowly and quickly. My symptoms never got worse than diarrhea, joint pain, a sore throat, and body aches. I got a lot of sleep, ate a lot of fruits and vegetables, and made sure to get at least 30 minutes of sunshine each day. I still was able to work out outside, making sure to not go too hard because of the joint pain. It actually felt good to work out, as it helped to clear some inflammation and lessened my anxiety. People continued to check up on me, which I continue to be grateful for. I needed the support mentally, even if I was okay physically.
My experience with COVID-19 was a wakeup call, both to myself and the people around me. It made the disease personal; it doesn’t just infect the elderly or at-risk populations. Also, symptoms vary for each person, so it’s better to get tested as soon as you notice something is wrong, even if it is not a typical symptom. Don’t go to work. Don’t give it a few days. Get tested right away, because you truly never know. The same goes for being around friends. You never know who has the virus, so continue to wear a mask, wash your hands, and keep your distance. You never know, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
The biggest lesson I learned, though, is that people show up. People care. People that I don’t talk to often texted me daily to check up on me. People offered to run errands for me or get things for me, and not in the halfhearted, just saying it to be nice way. In a world full of depressing news and darkness, people came and brought me light. People were the light. They showed up with their flashlights and helped me by being what I needed, whether that was by being a source of light or just sitting in the darkness with me. That is what got me through. When modern medicine fails to provide a cure, love will always be there. Love is the cure. Love is everything.