Friday, October 15, 2021

COLUMN: My experience getting COVID-19 while living on campus

October 5, 2021
Outside of Hubbard Hall on Aug. 11, 2020.
Outside of Hubbard Hall on Aug. 11, 2020. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News
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On Sept. 6, I returned to campus around 1 p.m. after spending Labor Day weekend at home in Grand Rapids feeling strangely sick.

The only real symptom I felt was a slight sore throat, yet I still overwhelmingly felt that something in my body was amiss, but I chalked it up to numerous possible causes like dust, allergies, exhaustion or anxiety and then I simply continued on with my day.

It wasn’t until later that night during dinner when I received a confidential email from the Registrar’s Office that the possibility of COVID-19 even crossed my mind. 

When I got the email notification, my heart sank — as soon as I opened the message, I discovered that a student in my in-person math class had tested positive for COVID-19 and that I was exposed on Wednesday, Sept. 1.

I immediately screenshotted the message, sending it to everyone I had been in contact with since Wednesday, and left the dining hall to get a Spartan Spit test. 

Suddenly, my sick feeling started to feel a lot less unexplainable. But I didn't think I had COVID-19.

I had been fully vaccinated since March and took the pandemic seriously since the beginning. Sure, in recent times, I had been socializing maskless with new people without a second thought, but everyone has been.

Immediately after completing the Spartan Spit test, I received another message from the Registrar’s office stating that a student in my only other in-person class had tested positive and that again, I had been exposed on Wednesday, Sept. 1. 

My friends said they themselves had been feeling a bit ill, but it wasn’t COVID-19.

We wore our masks. We washed our hands. We socially distanced. And most importantly, we were all fully vaccinated. There was no way any of us had COVID-19. 

We had all heard stories of students on campus who had been showing symptoms that were eerily similar to COVID-19, but had tested negative for COVID-19 itself. We assumed it was the same case for us.

Despite our deepest worry, we all convinced ourselves it could not possibly be COVID-19 and we continued on with life as usual, despite being out of breath from our walks to class, severely exhausted and suffering from uncontrollable coughing. 

It was Thursday, Sept. 9, and I still hadn’t heard about my Spartan Spit test, despite the website stating that results will be received within 36-48 hours.

I was on my way to The State News office for my weekly office hours and halfway through my thirty-minute walk when I received a text message from one of my friends that had also been showing symptoms that she had just tested positive for COVID-19 after going to urgent care back in Grand Rapids for a test, as the school still had not gotten back to us.

I immediately froze. Worrying thoughts began to fill my mind.

Why had we not been notified by MSU yet? How many people had I exposed? Is my unvaccinated immuno-compromised father, who I had been in close contact with the previous weekend, going to die?

After texting my editor that I would not make it into the office as originally planned, I turned around and began the walk back to my dorm.

A few minutes after our other friend tested positive, my friend sent me a link that she had found (after a lot of searching) to view our Spartan Spit test results. She was positive, and so was I.

I stayed on hold with the Triage line for two hours, pacing, crying and coughing before finally being connected with someone.

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I explained that I had just tested positive for COVID-19 and the man I spoke to told me that they wanted me off campus until the 16th. When I refused to leave, as I was not too fond of the idea of going home and exposing my family any more than I already had, he told me that RHS would call me.

RHS never called me. I waited two and a half hours before calling them myself. The lady I spoke to apologized for not calling me and explained that I would need to gather my belongings and go to South Hubbard to live in isolation for the week.

They provided bedding but said I should bring chargers, a fan and anything else that I may need myself. Normally, there would be a shuttle, but since it was so late, my roommate and I had to get there ourselves.

With three bags each and no energy whatsoever, my roommate and I trekked the thirty minutes, coughing and out of breath from Holden to South Hubbard to begin our isolation.

Upon arrival, we were given a key to our rooms and an access card to the building. We were told that we should stay in our rooms by ourselves as much as possible, but if we needed to leave our rooms or the building, we could, no one would be there to watch us.

Finally, we were told that our food had to be ordered by 10 a.m. every morning, and then we were sent on our way.

My room was bordering above inhabitable. It was dirty and hot, with a broken sink and broken bed.

The sheets and blankets were scratchy and paper-like. The walls were covered with weird brown drip stains that I was never able to figure out the cause of. The surfaces and floors were covered with dirt and dust. Paint chips from the door frame fell on my head when I would open and close the door.

This was my home for the next week. 

My COVID-19 symptoms had worsened from the walk. The entire time in the dorm, I was having extreme difficulty breathing. I tried to ignore it, but as the night progressed, I was unable to. I was light-headed, confused, and just about gasping for air while trying to complete my Spanish homework that was due the following morning. 

I looked on the paper they provided us with information on our isolation living for any medical contact and was surprised to not find any mention whatsoever about what to do in the case of severe COVID symptoms. Essentially, I was left to fend for myself medically-wise. 

I called Olin’s 24/7 phone nurse to make sure I was okay. When I first called, the call disconnected. On my second call, I was connected to a nurse who advised me to go to urgent care. When I told her I wouldn’t take an ambulance due to financial reasons, she gave me the number of local taxi service. They sent me to voicemail and never called me back.

So, with no other options, I went to sleep and prayed that I would wake up in the morning. 

My days at South Hubbard all blended together. I spent much of my time asleep and the few hours I was awake were spent frantically attempting to catch up on my schoolwork, completing my in-person classes in online formats.

I wanted nothing more than to just rest but feared falling behind on my schoolwork. Doing school in my condition was miserable. I could barely breathe and would have to take breaks writing and typing every few minutes to blow my nose. Every waking hour was horrible. 

What made my sickness worse was the environment. I was so uncomfortable all of the time. The room was bleak, empty and depressing.

The food was fine, but as I try to eat plant-based and am naturally quite picky, I found myself left with the same option of a variety of roasted vegetables as the main course for every meal. 

The weirdest part, however, was being completely removed from life on campus as a whole.

I have never wanted to simply run into someone in the hallway or exchange a quick conversation on the way to class so badly, things so simple I never thought I would miss them.

I missed walking over to the dining hall, studying at the Union, seeing the preachers by the Red Cedar River. The smallest things I never thought mattered.

Now, I have been out of isolation for nearly a week, and readjusting has been hard. I was expected to jump back into my old life without missing a beat, yet I still am not fully recovered.

I still cough, I still spend most of my time asleep, and I still can barely make it across campus without losing my breath. I cannot even begin to imagine what COVID-19 would’ve been like for me had I not been vaccinated—It is still hard to grasp how it managed to hit me so hard.

The week was painful, to say the least.

Catching up on all my coursework that I was unable to complete, on top of trying to complete my new coursework borders on impossible. I cannot go out with my friends on the weekend, I cannot go out to events for clubs I'm in, and I barely found the time and energy to write this very piece.

However, I am still extremely grateful to be out of isolation.

It is so nice to be able to walk on campus again, attend events and simply talk to other people. While I would've preferred to have never gotten sick, in some ways, COVID-19 made me more appreciative of the things I took for granted such as campus life, in-person classes, and my health in general.

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