I’d been one of the lucky ones during the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t know anyone who has tested positive, and I’d remained healthy throughout the last few months.
Honestly, COVID-19 started to feel like a far-off media story that wasn’t impacting my community. At the same time, Colorado was about to hit 28,000 cases.
So it was (and is) in my community.
The point is, I started to feel like COVID-19 was not my problem and not affecting my community. I never imagined I would find myself with a PPE-clad doctor sticking a swab up my nose.
Let’s back up. One night I was lying on the couch cuddling with my cat and watching TV when I started to feel a little nauseated. I know it’s gross, but I felt like I was moments away from vomiting.
So I went to bed with the intention of sleeping it off.
Two hours of restless sleep later, I woke up quite literally gasping for breath. I honestly thought I had stopped breathing in my sleep.
I got up and drank some water, but never caught my breath. It felt like I was having a severe asthma attack — a feeling I’m all too familiar with. I was gasping for air and shivering violently.
Like any thrifty college student strapped for cash, I keep my apartment at a cozy 80 degrees in the summer (hey, AC can get pricey). But I was freezing anyway.
I donned my thickest sweaters (yes, plural) and added several layers of blankets to my bed and lay awake gasping, shivering, and with a pounding headache for three hours.
The next morning (after a horrible three hours of sleep), I woke up feeling even worse. I started getting hot and cold flashes; all I could stand to eat were frozen blueberries; and I felt like I had the wind knocked clean out of me.
When I took my temperature and saw that it was an even 100 degrees, I decided to call my doctor.
When I called my doctor’s office, they asked a few simple questions and scheduled me for a screening with a nurse.
After the screening, I was able to meet with a doctor. He told me it sounded like a textbook example of COVID-19 and directed me to my county website so I could register for testing.
Honestly, the whole process was a little overwhelming. I had to get through four layers of screening in order to be scheduled for a test.
It was nothing if not thorough.
In the days before my test, I spent a lot of time trying to research what it would feel like. I was honestly afraid of the feeling of them poking my brain.
And to make it worse, I couldn’t find anyone providing a detailed description of what it felt like. So if you’re in the same boat, this is for you:
It feels like a flu test. That’s it. It is comfortable? No. Is it worth getting worried about? Also no.
Speaking in annoying doctor’s-office terms, on a pain scale from one to 10… it was a one.
The experience overall was a little dystopian. I pulled into the parking lot to see tents and people in full-body, white protective suits. It honestly felt like I stepped into a movie.
All in all, it took five minutes. They put the swab in my nose and swirled it around for ten seconds (which sounds horrifying and is even making me cringe as I write it, but I promise you I hardly felt anything).
I tested Friday morning and went home to settle in for three days of waiting. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. There are countless stories of people my own age struggling with this virus.
I transitioned my essential in-person work to boring remote tasks, taking more breaks than normal to grab quick power naps and asthma medication.
Every time I started to dwell on the situation, a million questions entered my mind. Will I have to go to the hospital? Will I have to take more time off of work? How will I attend classes in the fall? Will my asthma create more complications?
Pondering these questions while looking miserable and hooked up to a nebulizer in my bedroom created the environment for my anxiety to run rampant.
I tried to come up with an action plan in case I tested positive, but those efforts failed. We all know the what-if game rarely ends productively.
I stayed in my room almost all day, only coming out to eat meals with my roommate. (We decided if I was positive, the chances of her also being positive were extremely high.) For an ambivert, this was near excruciating.
Fortunately for me, Monday afternoon I received a simple email saying the test came back negative. After a quick call with my doctor, I was cleared to go back to work and life returned to normal (whatever that means anymore).
Even though my fever broke quickly and my energy level rebounded, my breathing is not what it was.
I’m still struggling for breath and depending on medicine to keep me running. But the simple fact that I know it’s not COVID-19 has given me peace of mind.
The experience was truly once-in-a-lifetime, and the whole time I was struggling with the discomfort that this is our reality. These are stories that “past me” never could have fathomed. Someone swabbing my nose in the kind of PPE that I’ve only seen on TV felt crazy.
But of course, these are crazy times.
Lauryn Ritchie is a journalism and media communications major at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.