Coronavirus Column: Experiencing COVID-19 without contracting it

News Editor Regina Holloway details the effects of COVID-19, without having the virus at all.

Illustration+by+Michelle+Rodriguez.

Illustration by Michelle Rodriguez.

Regina Holloway, News Editor

At the beginning of all this, I selfishly hated the fact that I had to leave my new home. I was unbearably excited for the end of my first year as a college student. It was a roller coaster high I had never had before and the rush of the last bit of track was ripped from under me. 

 

 

I sat in the passenger seat of my car with frustrated tears in my eyes as my mom drove us onto the 95. “It’s going to be fine,” my mom pleaded with me. “It’s only going to be two weeks, everything will go back to normal in two weeks.” 

 

As dramatic as it feels, everything did not go back to normal.

 

Although I sympathized with those that had already lost their loved ones to the virus, I was crossing my fingers that this would all be a bad dream, and I could go back to having fun in a month or so. 

 

I am a young, relatively healthy person, with just about nothing to fear except my summer plans being ruined. I didn’t realize how dangerous this virus was. I thought I had nothing to lose. But I have now had three instances of the coronavirus affecting those around me. All three had different causes and outcomes, and yet all three taught me the value of life and family during these unprecedented times.

 

Before the coronavirus even started razing our country, I was in New York City on a university-sponsored trip to a journalism conference. Although the fear of not being able to return home was one I will never forget, the realization that I could be an asymptomatic carrier amassed that feeling tenfold. 

 

The virus showed itself in my uncle, who lived with me at the time, when he was taken to the hospital two days after I returned home. He was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia after he medically crashed when arriving in his hospital room. Although I knew that it takes two weeks for COVID-19 symptoms to appear in its host, the four hours of radio silence was enough for me to convince myself that I gave him the virus. By 6 a.m., we were told he was stable and with a diagnosis, and two days later his coronavirus test came back negative.

 

My mom and I had quarantined ourselves to her room as soon as we had returned from Boca, but once two weeks passed, we were on the move yet again. 

 

My house was too small, and with my uncle, aunt and younger cousin also staying there, there was too much of a risk that anyone could get ill, let alone stir crazy with being stuck in such close quarters. 

 

My family in Maryland, however, have a home with a bedroom for every person, and the six of us all stay together there during the summer and winter holidays on a normal year.

 

Seeking asylum from Florida’s growing cases was the smartest option, we just didn’t anticipate that we couldn’t outrun or outlast a virus.

 

During the height of quarantine, my mental health declined the more isolated we all became. Although my uncle in Florida was glaringly susceptible, my family in Maryland was no better. 

 

My grandmother is in her seventies, my aunt has Hashimoto’s Disease, and my mother has a list a mile long full of respiratory and immune diseases that plague her. With three out of six family members susceptible, the paranoia we felt was palpable. All of this coupled with our abrupt transition to finishing school online felt like an impossible task, and I was struggling with every assignment. For that reason, my mom did not immediately inform me that two new family members of mine had contracted coronavirus. When I found out the next day, I started to spiral.

 

Another uncle and cousin of mine that came down with COVID-19 didn’t have any physical ailments, any respiratory or immune issues, they are a healthy firefighter and a high school student. But they lived in New York City, where the cases were sky high, and my uncle works hard and consistently in the epicenter of traffic and tourism for our country. And although they recovered, the reality still shakes me. 

 

There was nothing wrong with my uncle or my cousin. But despite all the assurance and statistics that we tell ourselves, the virus doesn’t pick favorites. It goes for everyone, even children and especially our front-line workers. 

 

After hearing that my uncle and cousin in New York were in a stable condition, that calmed some of my anxiety, but there was one more family member that was going to be placed in a perilous situation due to COVID-19. Funnily enough, I had to go back home to Florida to find out. 

 

With FAU arranging for students to get their things from dorms, and my mother needing to pack up her classroom, I had to face the music and go back to Jacksonville. 

 

While I was there, I reunited with my best friend of 17 years. Savannah is a senior and was devastated by COVID-19 and its effect on her graduation and other senior year activities. Her family and mine did everything we could to make up for the loss, including taking her with me to stay in Boca for the weekend while I collected my things from campus. But Savannah has Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension, which we informally call a pseudotumor.

 

This condition causes overproduction of spinal fluid in Savannah’s body, which can lead to severe migraines, vision changes and even blindness. This makes the brain react as it would with a tumor, hence the name. Savannah was thirteen years old when she first started getting migraines and her eyes started to move toward each other on their own accord, and needed a spinal tap to release the pressure behind her eyes and in her spine. 

 

Though it was an incredibly painful process, Savannah recovered. She was healthy during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and her only concerns were over how her graduation would be conducted. But when Savannah started to get frequent migraines again, we all knew what was to come.

 

Savannah tried everything she could before finally going to her eye doctor, and I sat in the waiting room as her ophthalmologist explained that the pressure behind her eyes was again, after five years, astronomical. Her head was pulsing when we drove to the appointment, and it was unbearable 24 hours later when she finally went to the hospital, two weeks before she was supposed to have her neuro-ophthalmology appointment.

 

For now, she has no real answers or solutions to her condition. The doctors told Savannah all the same things she’d heard when she was 13. She is not like the average pseudotumor patient, she is healthy, and she was very young when she first contracted the disease. But now, she has a compromising condition in an unparalleled pandemic. She doesn’t know if some symptoms are coming from her disease, side effects of her medicine, or something worse. She lives frustrated and in fear, and that is nothing her family or I can fix for her. 

 

With these four family members, I have learned through these past months that my life isn’t fragile, but the ones around me are. If it isn’t mandated, I wouldn’t need to wear a mask if I didn’t want to, but then I remember my Floridian uncle, and how I thought that I gave him the virus because I couldn’t see the symptoms I had. 

 

When I get frustrated with the theme parks and festivals that are being canceled or having delayed reopenings, I think of my cousin in New York who might have never seen a bright sunny day again or my uncle who has no opportunity to go to resorts, as he still has to save lives even after he contracted a deadly virus. 

 

When I miss my friends and feel uncertain about our fall semester of college, I am reminded of my best friend that is uncertain of her future, and what this disease is going to do to her life and her education. 

 

It is easy to forget that this virus is still alive and growing during the equally important civil rights movement that is taking precedence, but the coronavirus is still taking lives. I implore you to stay vigilant, to wear masks, keep clean and follow social distancing guidelines. If not for yourself, but for those in your family that are vulnerable. For those in your community that are susceptible. It doesn’t matter how healthy you feel, it’s others that are in danger of the virus that can pass through you. I am grateful that my family is strong enough to outlast COVID-19, but many aren’t. It does not have favorites or a bias, it only has an insatiable hunger.

 

Regina Holloway is the news editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email her at [email protected]