Almost a year after the United States shut down indefinitely and went into pandemic mode, the future still seems bleak and uncertain. The politicization of crisis response and a fledgling vaccine response makes it’s hard to remember what normal once was. For some, things like mask mandates and social distancing guidelines are nothing more than nuisances that prevent them from living their best lives. For others however, myself included, it is a reality that highlights what our system lacks.
COVID-19 does not discriminate. You can do everything “right,” –– wearing your mask, social distancing, sanitizing, and only going out for necessities––while others choose to disregard these precautions in favor of their own self-interests. I was in the first group; my mother is a healthcare worker so I always took the virus seriously, even when we didn’t know much about it. I thought I was lucky getting through the mess of 2020 without being infected (despite living in the South where wearing a mask is akin to being an idiotic sheep), until right at the start of the new year. Then I started feeling symptoms.
I did not immediately post about my diagnosis, so only my closest friends and family knew. I’m not sure why I was afraid of publicizing it, because now I wish I would have documented things fully to raise awareness. And yes, I also wouldn’t have minded getting a few sympathy points.
One thing I will say is that while everyone’s experience is different, it is every bit as bad as everything says it is.
I was privileged enough to be able to both take off work and quarantine at my apartment with my boyfriend, as our bills had been paid for the month and our roommates were able to stay with their parents. But I was not prepared for things like being afraid to post about my experience for fear of conspiracy theorists undermining my very real pain, fielding questions from people more concerned about their own well-being (having been in contact with me before my diagnosis) over how I was doing, or racists blaming me and my whole race for ‘bringing it over’. I remember with sadness how my mother had been shouted at and harassed at a grocery store for trying to provide for her family after a shift at the hospital, still wearing her scrubs.
There were other things too, like the fact that even though we were very certain that my boyfriend was also infected (through his close contact with me), his boss still tried to make him come into work until his test results came back positive. He managed to get paid sick leave but I did not.
I honestly relied on my job to keep track of when my quarantine was due to be over, because I knew for a fact they would not risk another second of me being out. Then came the complications of asking myself, ‘do I need a negative test to work?’ Some people can test positive months after they’re no longer contagious, so my job risked having me out again.
Next came the issue of my health problems following being sick, which I still suffer from today. I have chronic dyspnea (shortness of breath), and tasks like walking from my apartment to the car in the parking lot or grocery shopping wear me out. I explained this to my workplace and unfortunately, they did not accept it. They kept pushing me to my physical limits. I had to quit, and I now struggle finding employment due to my lingering health problem from COVID-19.
What pains me the most about the experience is the fact that I was relatively healthy (never drank, smoked, etc.) and able to do a lot of physical activities (former marching band kid here). Now I have a wheeze and get tired much more easily. I will be affected for the rest of my life due possibly to someone else’s carelessness and callousness; their refusal to wear a mask or distance from me while at work or the grocery store. I am still unsure of where I was infected, but work seems like the likely culprit.
I remember when I first started feeling symptoms, begging to go home (already over an hour past when I was scheduled to be off), and I was told to keep doing prep. I complied indignantly, only to be told later that everything I’d prepped had to be thrown out. One other coworker was also infected, and it is likely we got it from one another.
My job’s response also highlights the difference in how some states handle times of crisis. My aunt in Oregon told me recently that she was able to get her rent and groceries covered by the government, while I struggled even getting the time off to quarantine without risking my job. I had no aid, and only got by thanks to the kindness of my family and friends.
As we go into the second year of pandemic life and the vaccines start rolling out (which, I will say, are not a free ticket to discard masking up or social distance), I urge everyone to be cautious not just for themselves, but for the people around them too. May my story be a warning and reminder of the very real dangers each of us still face.
You absolutely do not want to get sick, nor do you want to deal with the chronic health complications that come with this illness.