As we have approached our one-year anniversary of being sent home from Bradley University because of the Coronavirus, I want to share with you my COVID experience. It has been a very difficult year, and I hope that you all are able to feel like you are not alone in these hard times.
When we were first sent home, I did not even believe or understand the potential of the virus. When my mom came to pick me up from school, she explained to me that there was no more toilet paper, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, paper towels or bleach at home. I had a hard time believing her because I was convinced we had all those things in Peoria. She drove to our Walmart before heading home, and to my disbelief, it looked like there was an apocalypse going on. To this day, the fact that I had no idea what was going on outside of Bradley, still confuses me. After all, everyone was just calling it a “spicy flu”, so I didn’t think there was anything to worry about. But oh boy, was I wrong.
During the time we were at home for winter break, I became a CNA at my local hospital. I saw firsthand how the doctors and nurses underwent long, hard, and tiring hours every day. Whenever someone had to enter a COVID room, you put on a mandatory gown, glasses and gloves, along with optional shoe covers and a hair net. Not to mention the N95 mask under a medical mask. Needless to say, when I got home after my eight-hour shift, I was ready for a long slumber. There were moments at work where I felt like I was going to pass out because of wearing the double masks all while running around the floor. If you know anyone who is a doctor, nurse or another healthcare worker, say thank you because their work, unfortunately, goes unappreciated at times.
In addition to being a CNA and taking care of COVID patients, I had COVID myself during the fall semester. Believe me when I tell you it is not an enjoyable experience. Being sick and isolated for two weeks was, of course, awful in itself, but the after-effects were what really affected me. It has been a little more than six months since I got the virus, and I still do not have my taste or smell. One week everything will smell awful, another week I smell absolutely nothing, or sometimes everything smells the exact same. Also, everything I taste is bland and never as satisfying as it once was to me. At first, I didn’t think it was that bad because I assumed it would come back. Now, six months later, it has really affected me mentally. It has gotten to the point where I don’t even remember what certain things smell or taste like. My favorite lotions, perfumes and oils are just things that I use out of habit now. Losing my smell isn’t all bad, though, because I can’t smell burnt food, sweaty people, and the yeast or fish scent of Peoria in the morning.
In addition to my taste and smell loss, I have suffered from memory cognition issues. My school performance after the virus was less than satisfying. From this struggle, I have since had more anxiety, stress, the feeling of depression and overall loneliness because sometimes I feel no one truly understands. I have specifically gone to a neurologist to see if he could help, and have tried different medications to aid my memory cognition performance, but unfortunately have had little to no success. Eventually, I accepted the fact that I have to study and work harder in school than I did before. Since my appointment, though, my neurologist said to me that there has been a lot of patients that have reached out to him with the same issues. Knowing this made me feel better because now there is a group of doctors working together to try to figure out how to help the effects COVID has on an individual’s memories. I have had to practice more self-care activities to lessen my stress and anxiety while in school. Hopefully, our “normal” will be back soon.
COVID-19 has taught me to appreciate everything I have. We can take for granted simple things, such as our working memory, and it can be taken away by some invisible force before we know it. After seeing my grandparents develop symptoms of depression from not being able to leave their house to see their children and grandchildren, I have learned that seeing my friends and family is a daily blessing. I try my best not to be ignorant of the things the world has given me, but it is hard for me to do so with everything I want at my fingertips. I hope that after reading about my COVID experience, you understand why young, healthy individuals such as college students need to wear masks. Masks and social distancing may be inconvenient to you, but losing your taste, smell, spending money to go to a neurologist for tests, taking medications and doing everything you can to remember what your favorite candle smells like is not worth the one time you do not wear your mask. Please consider receiving the vaccine if it is available because you are not only protecting yourself but others around you so they do not have to go through what I did.