I tried COVID-19, and here’s why you shouldn’t

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Hana Helfand

My friend and I always joke that everything happens to her first, so when she got COVID-19 in October, I knew it was only a matter of time. Throughout the entire COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve stayed in near complete isolation due to my paralyzing fear of getting sick. I refused to walk into any store, didn’t see anyone who didn’t live in my household and only ate in a restaurant once — when I was literally stranded on a mountain after a hike gone awry. 

However, my parents both work in restaurants –– one of which sees 500 to 600 people a night. So even though I remained vigilantly afraid of every walking virus who passed me on the street, I was one of the unlucky four million people who contracted the coronavirus in November. 

It started with a 101 degree fever on Sunday, Nov. 15. My grandmother kept asking me if I was coming down with a “cold,” to which I would respond with admittedly more irritation than I probably should’ve: “Where would I have possibly caught a cold?!” 

Despite my gut instinct telling me that there was no other reasonable explanation for my fever, dizziness and sudden loss of taste and smell –– and when I say sudden, I mean that somewhere between 4 and 5 p.m.,  my cranberry seltzer turned into sparkling water –– I tried to rationalize my condition as being nothing more than an infection. 

My dad –– the person who likely brought home the virus from his too-busy-for-comfort restaurant (despite his fervent denial) –– got tested two days later. This was his eighth test, a number which had bred an immunity complex in his mind (much to my dismay). His theory was proven wrong when he woke up Wednesday morning to find the word: “Detected!!” on his latest lab report.

This had been my worst fear for eight months, yet upon receiving the seemingly earth-shattering information, all I could feel was a blend of relief and sardonic acceptance. I started thinking of my friend’s symptoms –– intense body aches, fever, loss of senses, unending migraines, jelly-brain syndrome, etc. –– wondering which of the lot I’d receive as well. 

I ended up without body aches or migraines, trading them for shortness of breath and nauseating vertigo, which still makes me feel like I’m on a rocking boat nearly four weeks later (and I get seasick on the best of days). There were even nights I’d wake up gasping for air because my chest had gotten so tight in the middle of the night. My dad ended up with nothing more than a sore throat, a cough and intense fatigue. While I was glad that my father, whom I was arguably most worried for, seeing as he’s a 60-year-old man with a history of lung problems and sleep apnea, had the least severe symptoms out of the four people in my household, I definitely did not appreciate the irony. 

Still, I think the worst part of my personal experience was the loss of taste and smell (yet another thing my father never experienced), especially considering the time of year. As Thanksgiving rapidly approached, I panicked at the possibility that the best meal of the year would be wasted on someone who couldn’t even enjoy it. A few of my mom’s friends also dropped off an excessive amount of food because we couldn’t go grocery shopping, and while I was overwhelmed with the thoughtfulness of the gesture, a part of me felt like it was a slap in the face to not be able to taste any of it. It sounds like such a stupid problem to have, but I didn’t want to eat anything because there was no point anymore. If youth is wasted on the young, then good food is wasted on the tasteless. 

My muddled brain also put me out of school for three weeks, which didn’t seem like much of a problem until I returned the week before finals, and it occurred to me that I had to complete three weeks’ worth of work in five days. Even as I’m writing this, I’m vibrating from the anxiety coursing through my body, and I’m completely unaware of the words I’m typing. I keep trying to push myself to finish the work I’ve missed, or catch up on the lessons, but my brain shuts down after a certain amount of time, rendering me nothing more than a useless sea cucumber of a person. I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean, but here we are. 

I wish I could say that I was surprised by my experience. I’m young. I’m “spritely.” I’m healthy enough, excluding chronic allergies, intense anxiety, a vitamin D deficiency and mild sleep deprivation. According to the trends, I shouldn’t have been affected much, but I had a feeling that my darn vitamin D deficiency would come back to haunt me (it still won’t make me enjoy sunlight, though). 

I’m incredibly grateful for the support of family friends and the understanding of my teachers. I will NEVER take taste and smell for granted again (my mom’s career as a sommelier directly depends on her ability to smell and taste wine, so it was especially bad that she lost her senses). And I recognize that I’m extremely lucky that no one in my household was detrimentally affected (my grandmother is still testing positive, but she’s slowly regaining her energy). 

With that being said, I remember apologizing to my “Covid Buddy” for my persistent whining, saying that I was just in the “complaining” stage of the virus. She confidently responded that no one ever leaves the “complaining stage,” and I think that about sums up my experience. 

Stay at home. Wear your masks. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t take your loved ones for granted. Don’t take your tastebuds for granted either. 

I rate this experience a 0 out of 5 –– would not recommend.