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Quarantine qualms: a reflection on contracting COVID-19 at the tail end of the pandemic

Last Thursday, two vertical lines stared back at me from the circular crevice of the COVID-19 Antigen Test. At first, my Abbie-Hebert-TikTok-loving self lurched with joy at the positive result. But then I realized that Abbie Hebert and I were in two vastly different situations, and while the positivity of her pregnancy test ushered in a thousand new possibilities for her family, the positivity of my COVID-19 self-test was only the beginning of a series of hurdles for me. 

I had been feeling under the weather for the last two days; I was sneezing, coughing, and running a temperature, but I had also been walking five miles a day between classes and functioning on little sleep. I chalked my symptoms up to exhaustion, convinced that there was no way that I, a dorm-loving, Netflix-on-a-Friday-night kinda girl, contracted COVID.  But when a sharp pain pierced my back muscles, I knew something was amiss, and the test result only confirmed my doubt. 

Like the 608 million people that contracted COVID-19 before me, I felt a weakness overcome my limbs. I became exhausted at the everyday acts of taking a shower and walking up the stairs. My hands were trembling, and my breath would quiver after any kind of mild exertion.

But significantly for me, I was alone in navigating my illness. Locked away in my room, I could rely on others for very little. This would be my battle to fight. Moreover, I contracted the virus when it no longer dominated media headlines, creating distance between its harrowing physical impacts and other people’s perceptions. Nor did Duke provide the same wealth of resources for those quarantined as it did earlier in the pandemic. The contactless food delivery restaurant options, of which the nurse provided me a list, were no longer offering the same deal, leaving me to rely on the goodwill of friends and neighbors for food. 

Yet, one thing, I suspect, remained largely the same: the overwhelming guilt of being the index case within your circle of friends. I cringed with shame whenever I walked down the hall, certain that my mask signaled the contagion lurking within me. I was embarrassed by my weakness and terrified of even seeing others, fearful that they would fault me for bringing the virus into their proximity. 

But I had bigger problems with which to deal: food. My body needed nourishment to fight off the virus and to cope with my strong medicine intake. Duke provided me with a link to contactless food delivery methods, but when I called the restaurants to order my meal, they told me the deal was no longer available. Barred from Marketplace (of this I can’t entirely complain) and bus transport to WU, I opted for contactless groceries from Whole Foods. In my febrile state, I crossed the street, obtained food essentials, and began to make my way back, weighed by two heavy bags on each side. 

As my dorm slid into view, however, my knees were buckling, and my vision began to blur. A loud ripping sound echoed through my ears, as the groceries were littered across the concrete. Shaking, I trudged forward. 

When I returned to my room, however, my strength evaporated. I began to wheeze and gasp for breath. As oxygen eluded my nostrils, tears flowed freely instead. 

I cried once because I had never yearned for the healing touch of my mother more. I cried again because I was so exhausted from taking care of myself and my body would no longer cooperate with me. But the greatest pain wrenching my heart was that of loneliness. 

I had never been alone for so long before. The FaceTime calls with my parents were only temporary bandaids, ripped away when my room plunged back into its deadly silence. My friends were reduced to little figures in my peephole, separated from me for the sake of their own safety. 

It was just me and these aches incapacitating me from the inside out. The body aches I could handle, but it was the gaping heartache, the  craving for home in this moment of extreme vulnerability, that I could no longer surmount. At the root of it all was a tiny microscopic virus that had first brought the world to its knees, and now, me too. 

Everyone knows that homesickness is a normal consequence of transitioning into college. We fill the gaps in our lives by latching onto new friends or making plans to fill empty time when our hearts grow too grievous. Sometimes, a tear or two trickles down as we lay to rest at night, but it is quickly wiped away by the hustle and bustle of the next day. 

While we revel in our new independence, we fail to realize that our wings are still growing. They will waver in rough air, plunging us into uncharted territories, where a call home or a night out no longer suffice in soothing our woes. For the most part, college is adulthood minus the overwhelming responsibilities, but it is these moments in which we get a  glimpse of the truly weighty journey that awaits us, and our tender shoulders balk at the pressure. 

But if there is anything that these last five days of COVID quarantine have taught me, it's that we boast an untapped reservoir of strength within ourselves. We do not know the limits of our own courage until life forces us to discover them. We rise to the occasion in unexpected ways, ready to brave challenges we once considered unfathomable. It’s our survival instinct in action. 

It’s our humanity in action. 

Because while being human enables us to harness the wondrous gifts of others, it also empowers us to befriend ourselves, and it is this friendship--this self-reliance--that will continue to guide us in our loneliest moments for the rest of our lives.

Advikaa Anand is a Trinity freshman. Her column typically runs on alternate Thursdays.

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