Alison Berg: My COVID-19 experience |

Alison Berg: My COVID-19 experience

Alison Berg

I’ll never forget that day in March 2020. I was visiting a friend in Seattle, the novel coronavirus had spread through China, and medical experts warned us it would arrive in the U.S. and we were not prepared.

Then the news came: the first case of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Seattle, Washington.

I really didn’t know what to think. The national panic hadn’t quite set in, but being in the same city as patient zero with a disease that had killed thousands in China and Italy was terrifying. I flew back to Utah, where I was attending college at the time, and while I was cautious, I wasn’t overly worried. My college was in a rural town, and at that point, there were only a few cases in the U.S. and all were in big cities.

Then classes went online. Then graduation was canceled. Then students were sent home.

My college newspaper ran a front page photo of an empty campus with the headline, “The New Normal,” but I truly had no idea what that meant. It felt like within the span of a day, everything shut down and most of us had no idea how long we’d be living this way. We were first told it would take “two weeks to flatten the curve,” then we could expect to be back to normal by the fall, and finally, that we were in this for the long haul.

As someone who’s always struggled with anxiety, I’ve taken every heath precaution: I never go anywhere without a mask, I drench myself in hand sanitizer after being in public. I even go to the grocery store late at night, when I know I’ll be one of the few in the store.

Every time I’d have a slight cough, feel more tired than usual or just generally feel unexplainably off, I’d spend the day Googling “do I have COVID?” and often get tested just to be sure. I made it almost 10 months into the pandemic, with a vaccine already being administered, before my worst nightmare came true.

I flew home to California to see my parents and sister over the holidays. All four of us have been extremely careful, followed every CDC guideline and monitored potential symptoms carefully before getting together. While I know traveling is strongly advised against, I felt that seeing my family, especially knowing how careful we’d all been, would be an acceptable choice — one I couldn’t pass up due to the often lonely nature of living alone in a new city during a pandemic.

About a week after my return home, something felt different. I was so tired I had to splash water on my face every few minutes just to make it through the day, but besides that, I had symptoms that mirrored a minor head cold: a slight cough and congestion, both of which were hardly noticeable. Knowing California is now the epicenter of the country’s COVID-19 cases, I didn’t want to take a test from someone who I thought would need it more than I would, and neither of my parents felt symptoms, leading me to believe mine were just the product of a common cold.

Then came the quintessential COVID-19 symptom: I couldn’t smell or taste a thing. While brushing my teeth in the morning, I noticed my toothpaste tasted like water, my first cause for serious concern.

I ran downstairs, grabbed a lemon from the refrigerator and sliced it open, hoping the unmistakable smell would permeate my nose and calm my concerns, but it was as if I were standing in the middle of an empty field smelling absolutely nothing.

So I ran to my computer and scheduled the first COVID-19 test available. I know losing smell and taste often comes with congestion, so I didn’t rule out that this could simply be a cold. But something just felt different this time. I had a gut feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

My symptoms stayed exactly the same for the next several days. I couldn’t smell or taste anything, and I was so tired I could barely stand up. After my test, I told myself I needed to make peace with waiting for my results, but I couldn’t focus on anything.

And then I got the email from my doctor. “Your COVID-19 test has come back positive.” My heart stopped. Though I was showing symptoms and knew there certainly was a chance, I didn’t want to believe it. I’d done everything right. How could I possibly have caught this virus? My parents were also tested and came back negative, which made things even more confusing.

For the first couple of hours after my positive result, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I struggled to type out the words, “I have COVID” because I simply couldn’t accept it. I knew that I would be fine, but it is terrifying living with the knowledge that you’re carrying a disease that kills thousands every day.

My symptoms got only mildly worse after that. I struggled to hold a conversation for too long, because I was so tired, and my smell and taste were gone, but I never experienced the painful headache, shortness of breath or nausea many report. For that, I consider myself extremely lucky.

I’ve spent the past week isolating inside my childhood house, reading, working and watching plenty of Netflix. My parents and sister all received negative test results, but the four of us continued to quarantine in the house just to be safe. While it certainly has not been ideal, it’s been an invaluable family bonding time I probably wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

My isolation period ended Wednesday, and in the last 10 days, I’ve had a lot of time to think, mainly about how lucky I am to have had such a mild run-in with this very serious virus. I’m young and in relatively good health, the odds are in my favor, but many victims of this virus are not as lucky as I am.

We’re all sick of this pandemic, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel: the vaccine is here. We are so close to returning to restaurants, movie theaters, bars and the embracing arms of our loved ones, but scientists have told us we have a dark winter ahead of us. So please wear your mask, stay home as much as possible, make those minor sacrifices to spare someone else’s life. And before we know it, we’ll be celebrating the end of this awful pandemic.

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