Getting sick sucks. Getting sick during the pandemic hurts more because the world right now does not like sick people. They are the ones who party, who go to large gatherings. They choose not to wear masks, not to stay six feet apart. Their punishment is the virus crippling their bodies. They deserve this.
At least, that is what I thought before I got sick.
The week before fall quarter started, my beau shattered a ceramic bowl, which filled my ears with a ringing sensation. The next day, I was somehow bedridden with fatigue. My head ached. I felt like I had the squeaky back of someone 40 years old. A frog had lodged itself in my throat and I had trouble holding down food. Chills arrested me. COVID symptoms, my housemates and I thought.
My mind flickered to grocery shopping trips, pinching the N95 mask to prevent glasses fog, overestimating six feet while standing in line, drowning my hands in sanitizer in the parking lot.
I am not sick. I couldn’t be. I don’t go to large parties.
Back then, we had to call Student Health to schedule an appointment to get tested. Only students with symptoms could schedule a COVID test. Our fate rested within my results.
I biked to the tents set up in the Student Health parking lot. The nurses made me swap my cloth mask for a disposable one. They asked, “What symptoms? Yeah, we’ve seen patients who looked like they had COVID, but it was just the flu or cold.” They took my temperature and gave me a disposable thermometer. They wriggled a swab up my nostril and then the other. I sneezed. Then, within a span of about five minutes, I went home. Easy.
In a few days, they would message me the results through my student portal. Meanwhile, I was required to quarantine. The university offered temporary housing, but I had a bedroom and bathroom to myself due to my roommate choosing not to come back. I was also required to take weekly surveys on their portal, documenting my changes.
During that weekend of waiting for results, I cried hearty tears — the first tears I produced in 2020. My mind blurred with questions; I threw them at my beau, a machine gun of woes. “Should I tell my friends, the ones I interacted with for the past two weeks, the situation? Should I wait until the results come?”
I felt like I was being erased. My identity would only be immortalized as data for this pandemic.
And it is all their fault: the people who ignored health guidelines and attended large social gatherings, risking their lives to party in Florida. Their actions disgusted me. Wearing masks as chin diapers, not social distancing — I thought of them as dirty. I would not want to be associated with them because their choices showed how selfish and inconsiderate they were. Just because they may not have been at high risk, I did not think they should create an environment in which to spread the virus for their own pleasure. These are the kind of people that made me assume all COVID victims ought to be avoided.
Finding myself bedridden with COVID symptoms, I was scared. I did not want to be grouped with these immorals. I did not want to be reduced to them.
I understand that not everyone who’s COVID positive risks their health and the health of the people around them. There are essential workers who feel this fear every day, but perhaps to a greater extent. Some people could not choose to stay at home: healthcare workers, grocery workers, etc. The world does not freeze during a pandemic. These same people could have families — children to care for. Bills need to be paid. They might be the only income source for their family. They could follow all the COVID guidelines in the world and still contract the virus.
Letting my friends know is a better decision than keeping them in the dark. Hours over FaceTime, in what we called the “Feelings Corner,” we debriefed the situation. I told them my symptoms, my plan of action. Having any relationship, there is an unspoken contract to communicate events like this. They deserved to know, no matter how bad I feel. By telling them the truth, they could choose how to take the next step.
I am blessed that my results came back negative. Now, my housemates and I sign up for weekly COVID tests on the Student Health portal. A simple five minutes at the Loma Pelona Center each week has been a good investment into making our social interactions more certain and comfortable. We understand the limitations of these tests, while accepting that doing this is better than nothing.
Celine Pun is an Isla Vista veteran emotionally ready for the pandemic to end.