What I Was Thinking After My COVID-19 Diagnosis
I wish someone was there to see the shock on my face the day I tested positive for COVID-19. It shouldn’t even be a surprise anymore considering the world has been battling the coronavirus pandemic for what feels like a century now. But when my runny nose and mild headache — common symptoms for me that often developed when the season’s changed — turned out to be the result of a potentially deadly virus that has sickened millions, the expression on my face was warranted.
For months I had been reading every article with “COVID-19” in the headline. Studying the ever-evolving symptoms, following so many patient’s brutal recovery stories and routinely keeping my head down wondering if and when I would become a victim of the virus. I became one of those neurotic germaphobes who Lysoled every surface in my apartment constantly, avoided my mail for days at a time and wiped down my groceries as though I couldn’t trust anything that entered my home. When I did go out, I wore a mask wherever possible, avoided bars, restaurants, shopping malls and anywhere where social distancing was challenging.
I did everything right. Nodding along to Dr. Anthony Fauci’s advice daily on best methods to protect myself from the coronavirus. But even the most careful efforts are no match for this rapidly spreading contagion.
Eventually, I became one of those numbers the Governor of New Jersey reported in his daily briefings of the amount of new coronavirus cases in the state. A statistic that always instilled fear in me as I watched the number of cases and death toll climb to dangerously high levels around me. I didn’t even know at the time that I would have one of the mild cases that everyone prayed for. One of those people who barely felt a change in their health as they went about their days while unknowingly being infected with a respiratory illness. If it wasn’t “COVID Times” I would have continued to go to work with my runny nose and headache and not think anything of it. Like a typical day when I didn’t get enough sleep the night before or have been working too hard causing myself to feel run down or contract a simple cold. Thankfully, my instincts told me to stay home that morning when my symptoms began, and I went for a test the next day out of an abundance of caution. Low and behold, three days later and the words POSITIVE lit up my phone screen, bringing a slew of emotions with it.
Although it had already been five days since the onset of my symptoms, the unknown nature of the virus still had me worrying what was to come. Was I going to wake up tomorrow feeling like I had been hit by a Mack truck? Were the symptoms going to progress to something much much worse? Am I being fooled to believe this is the worst it can get? Although I currently feel fine, is the virus actually attacking my respiratory system while I am casually eating mac and cheese on the couch watching Christmas movies? And believe me, I Googled most of these questions, desperately searching for answers that no one seemed to have over a year since the first case of COVID-19 was identified.
I had put a lot of trust in these doctors and scientists on the front lines searching for a cure but I was starting to doubt that the world would ever regain control. All this talk of vaccines surfacing the internet with high success rates from notable pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Moderna and somehow I still managed to get sick. Stuck home for two weeks in total isolation while I watched my friends on social media irresponsibly gathering in groups and still healthy as ever. Why was I the one that had to get sick when I followed all the rules, never letting my guard down?
The night before I started experiencing symptoms was the first time I had reconnected with friends in-person in a while. Go figure. For weeks, I had relied on apps like FaceTime and House Party to communicate with friends if only to keep part of my sanity intact. But the one time I decided to spend a few hours with friends, baking cookies and watching Chris Brown belt out in song in the movie “This Christmas,” I had secretly been harboring a contagious illness, making everyone in the room now vulnerable to getting it. Luckily, my friends were all cleared with negative test results, ridding some of my guilt for potentially exposing them.
And the cycle continued. Me thinking of every place I had gone in the two weeks leading up to my diagnosis. Everyone I had come in contact with. Becoming my own personal contact tracer trying to avoid a super spreader event infecting anyone that stood within six feet of me. While still, I had no idea how I contracted the virus, let alone who I might have passed it on to, making my fears that much greater.
The first few days, I was receiving calls and texts from friends and family asking me how I was feeling, until those abruptly stopped. It was like no one was concerned about the girl with a cold even if this illness is secretly attacking her respiratory system. I was physically feeling fine despite feeling a little drowsy and foggy headed, but mostly it was my ego that was deflated. I thought more people would have cared about me. Sending me care packages or offering to deliver chicken noodle soup to my door. Checking in frequently to see if I needed anything or simply just to talk since I had no one but my dog to communicate with for the next 14 days. But most days, the silence was deafening. I was convinced that my friends were annoyed with me for almost getting them sick. Like I deliberately invited the virus to our hangout without concerns for anyone else’s health and safety in mind. It seemed like the only people genuinely concerned were my parents who insisted on regular FaceTime calls to see for themselves how I was fairing from the virus.
When Day 14 arrived, I was relieved to finally be able to leave my apartment besides the few walks a day I was taking with my dog. It wasn’t like I could go anywhere or do much with such tight restrictions still in place on businesses, but I felt like I redeemed a little bit of my freedom again. Most of my friends were terrified to be anywhere near me being Christmas was only a few days away, understandably so. So, I continued to keep to myself. Coincidentally my parents came down with the coronavirus right after I recovered. We hadn’t seen each other so I knew they didn’t catch it from me, but they had traveled recently which was most likely the culprit. But unfortunately, they weren’t as lucky as I was and got much more severe cases of the virus landing them both in the hospital for a few days. Once again, my anxieties and worries set in and the open-ended questions kept floating through my brain with no one to answer them and calm my fears.
Are they going to be OK? Will they experience any long-term effects? Will my father ever be able to return to work? Will the financial trouble be too much for them to bear? How do I help them when I can’t be near them? Will they be better by the New Year? Will they ever recover? My mind was racing with question after question. Although my sisters and I were communicating, we were all equally helpless in the situation. And my friends, still wrapped up in their own COVID anxieties, weren’t being much of a shoulder to lean on even in the figurative sense. It didn’t hit me until then how alone I really was.
I never shared this with my friends. I think they genuinely thought I enjoyed the solitude, and oftentimes I did. In the beginning, my introverted self adored the alone time spent crossing books off my reading list and catching up on various writing projects. But even the seasoned introvert couldn’t bear to be alone 24/7 without much contact with the outside world, and it was definitely starting to take its toll on me.
It’s been one month since I first developed symptoms. One month since that nagging headache turned out to be the most fearful diagnosis of my life. One month since I had seen most of my friends, or even talked to some of them. It turned out, getting diagnosed with COVID-19 was more of a detriment than I had bargained for. It cost me to feel even lonelier than ever. People distanced themselves from me even more than before, blaming the pandemic for their lack of communication or care for my needs. But now is the time we need each other more than ever. Now is the time we should be reaching out to one another. Because mental health is just as much of a priority as physical health and should never be ignored. To every COVID-19 survivor: I understand what you’re feeling and you are not alone.
Getty image via gmast3r