It started with a simple sore throat. I normally would have paid little to no attention to this symptom any other year, at any other time, but it’s 2020, so I assumed the worst. And I was right. The next morning I woke up with muscle aches, fever and chills. I spent the better part of that day trying to convince myself I had come down with a case of the flu or strep and that it wasn’t COVID-19. It didn’t work.
I made the responsible decision to get tested the next day and then sit at home and patiently awaited the inevitable. As the Wellness Center nurse was swirling the Q-tip in my nose — not the most pleasant experience of my life — I was trying to discern how I could have caught COVID-19. I had been careful and worn a mask, I hadn’t gone to any large gatherings, and I had rarely been out of the house other than for work or class on-campus, but I got it nonetheless.
I wasn’t really actively trying to find where I got it to warn others, rather I was seeking a person to blame. Someone I could use as a scapegoat. I first looked at my roommates as possible culprits for my illness. I couldn’t know every person they had come in contact with. Then I began thinking of people in classes, attempting to recall every time one of my fellow Bearcats decided to pull their mask off or got closer than 6 feet to me.
I spent the whole day playing the lead of “CSI: Coronavirus,” and then I got the call from the nurse telling me I was in fact positive. My heart sank.
I barely heard the rest of the conversation as she asked me about my symptoms and told me how the process would work. I wasn’t really worried about myself, health-wise. I was in relatively good shape — I’m sure I don’t eat healthy enough, but what college student does? — and had no preexisting conditions. That’s not to say that this disease that has killed close to 210,000 people in the U.S. isn’t serious, it’s just not where my head was.
My frantic search for someone to blame had turned to guilt. I felt personally responsible for disrupting the lives of the people I’m around every day. My friends that I had come in contact with in the last week, the people that would be contact traced from my classes and told to quarantine and my fellow staff at the Missourian that would have to pick up some of the slack since I couldn’t perform all my duties remotely. I wasn’t reckless; I didn’t try and catch the coronavirus to “get it out of the way.”
It makes sense why people would suppress that they have it. It’s certainly a moronic and dangerous decision, but if I have learned anything about humans, it’s that we will do anything to avoid being social pariahs. Nobody wants to be the bad guy that gets in-person classes shut down, and because I had tested positive, I felt like I had contributed to that.
Eventually, I worked through that and began attempting to see the bright side of my isolation. I would have plenty of time to do homework, people were offering to bring me food — I then lost my ability to smell and taste so that part was kinda depressing — and I already had resources to help me with my classwork.
I got pretty lucky. I had relatively mild symptoms. I had a stockpile of food and entertainment. I had a loving family that constantly checked in on me and I had a system in place to help me for the 10 days I was in isolation. However, many people are not so lucky. Thousands don’t have the proper resources to deal with extended absences from work, access to proper healthcare if they have more serious symptoms or a dedicated support network.
So for the friendly PSA of the column, do your part and reach out to those in isolation, and you’re not a bad person if you get COVID-19.