my covid story
On the day my grandma tested positive for Covid-19, there were 43 other people in Summit County, Utah who received the same bad news. It took the onset of shortness of breath to convince her to get tested, despite having chills and a cough for several days. But ignorance is bliss. Up until she was on the phone with the health department, she had insisted it was a harmless cold.
A positive Covid test for me only means I’m forced to halt my social life for a couple weeks. But for others, a positive result feels more like a death sentence. My grandma, who is stubborn and rarely asks for help, was afraid to close her eyes, afraid of not waking up. She was up all night, pacing, feeling as if the walls of her room would close in on her. The next morning, she broke down in tears while explaining the Covid-induced terror that had kept her eyes tacked open. My grandma - who tackles conflict with ease and is no stranger to hardship - was unrecognizable.
She couldn’t sit still. She didn’t want to think about the virus, now inside her, that had dominated the news with grave stories. She considered melatonin, sleeping pills, anxiety medication, or even a different room to sleep in - but even the thought of a supervised afternoon nap felt too frightening. The only thing that comforted her was a follow-up call with a woman from the health department who said that several others had reported an inability to sleep as a symptom. The headlines and the statistics that have been drilled into our brains for almost a year make it difficult for vulnerable Covid patients to believe tomorrow is promised.
My mom offered her soup, smoothies, pasta, and I baked her favorite scones. But she didn’t eat. She kept telling us she felt better so we would stop worrying, but her face, normally tastefully caked in makeup, looked older and tired. Her hair, which she religiously curls and styles each morning, lay flat and lifeless.
We all started reviewing the events of the past few days. Where did we make an irresponsible decision that led to exposure? We had been Christmas shopping, eating at restaurants, and skiing at our local resorts. I had been seeing my high school friends. We wore masks in public places and followed social distancing rules but looking back on it now, it’s easy to see that we all could have (and perhaps should have) been more careful. I felt guilty. My grandma was possibly paying the consequences for decisions I made.
Covid didn’t scare me because I was confident I could defeat it. At Duke, we are tested so often I had grown immune to the fear of having to get a test in the first place. So I didn’t think too much of meeting a friend for breakfast, another at a pool, another at a movie theater. It’s very possible I brought Covid home to my own grandma- the one person I wanted to protect the most.
I call her almost daily while at school to ask for advice or to proof-read an assignment or email. I consider her the queen of grammar. She spoils me endlessly, sending me sugar cookies in the mail “just because.” My grandma, who inspires and supports me. I have joked before that she is my third parent. But I didn’t think about her when I made plans to leave the house.
My grandma lives in Florida by herself. A frequent flyer, she was used to spending weeks in Utah or Michigan with my cousins. So when the pandemic had her locked in her house alone for several weeks, with no bowling club or wine nights with friends to break the silence, she became depressed. No TV show or phone call could make it better so she decided it was worth the risk to come to Utah and avoid spending the holidays alone. Knowing the cases in Utah were exploding, the decision to board a plane was not without deliberation. But the crushing loneliness was certain and Covid was not. She almost escaped it, too. She avoided a positive result until one day before she was due to fly home.
But my grandma is a fighter. My grandma got lucky. It could have been much worse. She could have been in the ICU and not in our home, with her family, recovering. She could have added to the terrifying statistics. There are too many people who didn’t get so lucky.
My grandma testing positive for Covid was a valuable reminder that our day-to-day decisions have consequences. Consequences that affect other people. Seeing her struggling to fight Covid reminds me why we wear a mask, why we distance ourselves, and why we have to endure a strange, lonely first year of college. It taught me that our small sacrifices truly have the power to save lives.