No one can prepare for realizing that they have symptoms for COVID-19.
After struggling with some normal health issues of mine, I decided the symptoms paralleled a little too close for comfort, so after much thought, I decided to get tested. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry.
To my surprise, I pulled into an empty parking lot at Conway Regional Health System. After navigating my car through a winding path of parking cones with shaky hands on the steering wheel, I reached the awning that had some makeshift tables outside and within the entrance. Although it was not labeled I knew that I had arrived and I was left to wait for assistance. The medical personnel himself came out quickly covered in layers of protective gear, including a mask covered protective face shield matched with a disposable medical scrub cover and gloves, leaving no skin exposed, except his eyes behind the protective screen. Although I would consider him to have one of the hardest jobs at the hospital in the current climate of our nation, he never let anything show on his face other than kindness and encouragement. He joked about the weather, to which I agreed was lovely, with its brooding clouds that were accessorized with a tornado warning and the melody of a warning siren, as to distract me from the anxiety that was easy to fall into for anyone being tested during a pandemic.
After some preparations and a very patient warning from my new friend, I blinked and found a long cotton swab being pressed through my nasal cavity into what felt like my brain. Gripping the steering wheel I focused on staying still as instructed, but just as the pain was processed, it was over within five seconds. With a quick exchange of more information, the medical personnel wished me luck and I was headed back to my dorm room, a place that would become my cave over the next foreseeable future.
What no one tells you about being in isolation is just how isolating it truly is. What seemed so simple to understand was something that became a harsh reality when I entered into my unusually quiet room. Although I live by myself, it is a rare occurrence to find me alone in it. The silence that surrounded me was a harsh contrast from the sounds of laughter that reverberated through the space just hours beforehand.
After settling in my bed I was left with nothing but my thoughts, and they were loud enough to fill the silence. Although I had already told my parents that I was being tested, I was left questioning who to tell. For all I knew it was just my preexisting medical issues, so why tell all my friends and worry them? Furthermore, how quickly would the news spread? What questions would I be faced with at my return from either a short quarantine or a full two weeks if I did test positive? No matter which reality became the truth, I knew that each would have its own challenges and lessons to be learned.
Instead of focusing on the silence, I found myself filling my time with tasks that I had been avoiding such as cleaning the fridge, organizing the cleaning supplies and other menial tasks I imagined would take more time then they did. Although I felt lonely at times, I was blessed enough to have friends who called or texted me with every spare second they had available, in no way did I feel separated from them over the next two days as I waited for the test result.
After over 50 hours, I received a call telling me that my test was negative. The feeling of relief felt as a tidal wave had run over my body. Although I found myself rejoicing, I was aware that there are many who feel differently after being met with a different test result.
It wasn’t until I found myself in a situation of question that I realized the unaddressed stigma surrounding the slightest possibility of COVID-19. If the words “tested for COVID” are mentioned, there is an immediate avoidance, whether intentional or not. Once there is the possibility that someone has the virus, it is a label that is often hard to lose. We need to address the often unintentional and subconscious judgment that creates an environment in which people can be supported no matter where they are coming from.
Those days spent in isolation showed me above all else how important it is to reach out to those around you. Social distancing and isolation may be physically necessary, but that doesn’t mean we have to become emotionally distant.