In mid-July, I decided to drive down from my family home in Chicago to St. Louis to visit a few of my friends from school. This decision would ultimately prove to be costly. The day I was supposed to drive back to Chicago, I came down with a low-grade fever, body aches, and chills. I immediately knew that something was wrong. Who gets the flu in July? I called my parents in a bit of a panic, knowing that I had probably been infected with the coronavirus. While my parents were justifiably concerned about me, it was decided that the best course of action to keep my family safe would be for me to go into isolation and get a test done.
That afternoon, after a sickly four-and-a-half hour drive from St. Louis to Chicago’s suburbia, I headed to urgent care to voluntarily submit myself for a coronavirus swab test. I squirmed in discomfort as the nurse nonchalantly twisted and turned the long q-tip at the base of my nostril. After leaving the urgent care, I headed to the apartment in which my sister was planning on living for the upcoming school year. Since she’d already signed a lease for the space and was not yet living there, it was the perfect place for me to stay while I quarantined. By this point, I had convinced myself that I probably didn’t have COVID. After all, only a very small percentage of the U.S. population had been infected with the virus, and I had only been around a few select friends. What were the chances that I had somehow been exposed to this life-threatening disease during my 5-day stay in St. Louis?
Those hopes buoyed happiness for the next few days as I awaited my test results. As I quarantined, I kept myself occupied by watching movies I’d had on Netflix list for forever, and by playing video games with my friends via online multiplayer. Three days after getting my test done, I finally got the call I had been anxiously awaiting: my test results were in.
“Hello, is this Mr. Van Santen?” a man with a thick accent said after I picked up. “Sure is!” I anxiously replied, knowing this was the call I had been waiting for. After confirming my date of birth, the man simply sighed and said, “You’ve tested positive for COVID-19. Stay isolated for 10 days after your symptoms appeared, and for at least 3 days fever-free. If you develop any alarming symptoms, go to the emergency room.” In the moment, I remember feeling more numb than anything.
Positive? For coronavirus? How is this possible? I thought to myself as I struggled to process what the lab technician on the phone said. After hanging up, reality began to set in: I’d have to be completely alone for at least 10 days. My heart sank. Those first few days had been easy to get through, but another week? Yikes.
After notifying my family and employer, I called my friends in St. Louis to let them know about my diagnosis. Turns out, many of them had started experiencing symptoms and one had even gotten a rapid test that came back positive the same day I got my results. Despite feeling alone, I was glad to know that my friends and I were all fighting this together.
After my fever and body aches disappeared in the first day or so, I noticed that I couldn’t really taste or smell anything. Taking a walk from room to room in the apartment took my breath away. At night, the muscles in my chest were tender and sore, causing pain when I moved or readjusted myself. A cough lingered. These symptoms persisted for about a week and a half. Towards the end of my second week in quarantine, I finally started being able to move about with ease. Plus, I started being able to taste all the gourmet sandwiches I was making.
I couldn’t have made it through my time in isolation without the help of my friends and family. My parents set up my living arrangements and dropped food off at the apartment, my grandpa called me daily, and I played hours and hours of video games with my infected friends to keep my spirits up. Ultimately, I stayed in quarantine for a total of 14 days, just to ensure that my family, especially my 83-year-old grandmother, stayed safe. All-in-all, it was easy to see how this illness could prove lethal for someone with a compromised immune system or a preexisting condition. If anything, catching COVID has made me more conscientious about wearing a mask around others, because such an act isn’t about protecting yourself, but rather the people around you.
Don’t end up like me. Isolation is no fun. Plus, every case is different. You just don’t know if you’ll make it out of COVID-19 alive. Take this virus seriously. Keep your loved ones close, and hold each other accountable. And, most of all, take care of others, even if they’re strangers to you. We truly are all in this together, and we all have a role to play in defeating the coronavirus.