At 5:15 a.m. one morning in June in her home in Minnesota, senior Kate Ehle woke up with intense vomiting. Her parents decided to take her to the emergency room after an hour and a half of not keeping liquids down.
As the doors opened to the hospital, Ehle saw an unnerving scene. Doctors and nurses rushed around donned in full personal protective equipment including two layers of scrubs, surgical caps, face shields, gloves and masks.
“It was kind of like something that you would see if the world was ending,” Ehle said.
Ehle is just one of many Eckerd students who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic, who experienced more than viewing the statistics online or on television. These students had the symptoms, felt the overwhelming fear, gotten the dreaded nose swab test and stressed through the waiting time.
Many COVID-19 cases, especially for college students, are mild and comparable to the flu, where a patient feels sick for a few days to a few weeks and then returns to normal. Some students may be asymptomatic, but others must breathe through ventilators and remain sick for weeks.
As soon as patients begin to feel sick, they feel the panic of whether they will become one of the millions of people who have contracted the virus. I know I definitely felt that panic, like Ehle. Being sick is no fun in the first place, but being sick amidst a global pandemic that has resulted in more than 881,000 deaths worldwide brings on even more anxiety.
“It was the most nervous I’ve ever been,” Ehle said.
Junior Ella Farrell-Star, currently living in Vermont, had a COVID-19 experience similar to Ehle’s when she came down with a 102-degree-fever. In early July, her symptoms included headache, nausea, vomiting and dizziness. She went to the emergency room with her parents where the doctors gave her an IV of fluids due to dehydration.
“When I went in there, I was super worried that the results were going to come back positive,” Farrell-Star said.
Senior Suzanne Neumeier of Ridgeville, South Carolina had congestion, headache and a cough, much like a sinus or respiratory infection. When the prescribed antibiotics didn’t provide relief, she too felt the “what if” anxiety.
“It just continuously got worse with body aches, and I felt to the point where I didn't really want to get out of bed for about a week,” Neumeier said.
Meanwhile, closer to Eckerd, senior Fairl Thomas felt firsthand what it is like to feel ill in Pinellas County. A resident of Clearwater, she first showed symptoms after returning home from Eckerd in March.
“It was the most sick I’ve ever been,” Thomas said. “I had a fever, I passed out, I was having trouble breathing.”
I personally had three symptoms of COVID-19, vomiting, diarrhea, and conjunctivitis or pink eye. Without having any of the three most prominent COVID-19 symptoms of fever, shortness of breath, and cough, I did not think I had the virus. But so many other symptoms exist that people with COVID-19 are experiencing, including rashes, the loss of taste or smell and more.
Ehle, Farrell-Star, Neumeier, Thomas and myself have an experience in common now. Besides the fear and symptoms, we have also each had the unpleasant experience of a long cotton swab shoved up our noses and swirled around for 15 seconds in each nostril.
“It’s like you’re stirring soup up there or something,” Ehle said. “It brought water to my eyes, and it was very uncomfortable.”
Neumeier was tested at a CVS Pharmacy drive-thru, where she got a bag of equipment to administer the nasal swab test to herself.
“It’s gross, and it hurts,” Neumeier said.
COVID-19 nose swab testing is most common to test if patients currently have the virus, and can be done through drive-in testing sites or pharmacies and at hospitals, which may or may not require a prescription depending on the hospital. Across the nation, because of the overwhelming number of daily tests, results may take a few hours or more than 10 days to reach the patient depending on where they were tested and the type of test.
“It’s all insane, the way they are handling it,” Thomas said.
Neumeier, 13 days later, finally got her results. Positive.
“It’s a long time,” Neumeier said. “It’s like the whole span of time when I was sick. It doesn’t make any sense. You would think they would want to get the results back to you so you knew what was going on.”
Thomas was tested on her first day of symptoms, but she did not get her results back until 18 days later. They came back negative, but Thomas and her doctors believe she is in the 30% of people that receive a false negative test.
“I've talked to a few different doctors. They all said that there's a really good chance just with the symptoms I described that I did have it,” Thomas said.
For Farrell-Star and Ehle, who were administered tests in the emergency room, their results only took about a day or two. Both of them were negative for COVID-19.
I wasn’t quite as lucky as Ehle or Farrell-Star, but I still consider myself fortunate. On Monday July 13, three days after my test, my doctor called and confirmed that I was positive for COVID-19.
It is still difficult for me to say out loud sometimes since it is an illness that we have feared for so long and still do. But I am well on my way to recovery, and everyday I feel stronger.
I will never forget the symptoms, the fear, the testing, the waiting, and neither will my peers. So much is still unknown, and scenes like Ehle described in her emergency room are becoming all too common. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, we all will become more united through this uneasy experience.