Fresh Perspective | My isolation housing experience

Fresh Perspective is a biweekly blog about typical first-year experiences made strange by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Julia Smeltzer, Staff Writer

Picture this — it’s the second week of March, and the weather has finally climbed over 55 degrees in Oakland. Everyone is outside — socially distanced — but enjoying the sun. Classes are going as well as they can be, the end of the semester is on the horizon and I’m just enjoying the last couple weeks of the semester with my friends. Everything is going smoothly until I learn that I had come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

The entire floor of my building, the majority of whom I’m close friends with, avoided getting COVID-19 the entire fall semester. A big part of that is due to the rules set in place by Pitt that kept us safe. From the limited number of students in the dorm buildings and “no guest” policy to the mandatory rule of keeping your masks on at all times, the majority of my friends and I were safe from getting COVID-19. We even left the fall semester proud that none of us caught it.

Sometimes, I catch myself forgetting about COVID-19. It has become so normal to wear masks all the time that it just becomes routine. I remember when quarantine started last March I felt embarrassed and awkward wearing a mask, but now I never leave my house without one. There have been times when I haven’t been perfect during quarantine — especially at school, I will shamefully admit — but for the most part, I’ve been trying my best to keep myself and others safe. I know my friends have also been trying to avoid getting COVID-19, so it came as a shock when I learned that I had come in contact with someone who caught it a couple of weeks ago.

Since I was exposed, I monitored my symptoms and how my body felt. Every day I hoped that I wasn’t positive. I think a selfish part of me just didn’t want to have to put my life on hold to quarantine and tackle COVID-19 during school.

A couple of days later I felt a cold come on. It started as a nasty cough and then managed to creep into my sinuses and make my voice sound stuffy while clogging my nostrils. Then it scattered to my head, leaving me dependent on DayQuil and ibuprofen to subdue the sharp pains on the sides of my temples. I knew it wasn’t looking good.

I quarantined until I got my test results back. I spent three days locking myself in my room while my lovely friends dropped off food and water. My energy levels were great, but my anxiety ran high as I just sat there and anticipated my results. Then, at 4 a.m on that Wednesday, I got an email saying my results were available. My heart sank as my fingers traced over the words “positive.” A part of me knew I had it since I had minor symptoms, but I hoped that it would be negative.

I didn’t realize how emotional it would be to find out my test results. Sobs muffled my voice and drenched my pillow. I was scared. I hear all the time of people I know getting COVID-19 but for some reason, I could’ve never imagined myself getting it as well. Later on in the day, I called the Student Health Service and they were amazing at finding me a place to stay in isolation. Even though being in isolation wasn’t an ideal situation, I knew it was the right thing to do to make sure I was being taken care of and the people around me remained safe. I frantically packed my bags while on the phone crying to my parents. I didn’t know what to pack, or what to expect.

Even though I enjoy being by myself, I didn’t want to be alone. Not for 10 days. When I got sick as a kid, I remember just being in the comfort of my bed and cared for by my parents. They would bring me soup and pretzel rods with ginger ale to sip on. I would crawl into their bed and be at peace knowing I was taken care of. But I can’t have that anymore. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up, but part of me will always be that little girl who just wants her parents to hold her while she’s sick.

Luckily, I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only one on my floor to get COVID-19 from my friend, so I ended up being able to stay with another person who tested positive. They gave us an address of an off-campus apartment, and we made our way with all of our stuff to isolation for 10 days. I did feel relieved that I could be with someone else and that I wasn’t able to get anyone else sick, so I was lucky in that way.

The isolation apartments were nice enough. They weren’t anything special, but I imagined worse. My morale was high, but it didn’t stay like that for long. COVID ended up hitting me a lot harder than I expected. I spent days glued to my uncomfortable bed because I couldn’t muster up the energy to move my body. When I could make my way to the shower, it would only be minutes before I had to sit down because I was so weak.

I think I did a pretty good job of keeping myself mentally okay. I talked to my friends every day and I just tried not to overwhelm myself with emotions because my body was already going through a lot. The pandemic has been a mentally challenging time for all of us, but I think it has also made me a lot stronger in the sense that I can handle a lot more without feeling like I’m breaking. Yes, there were nights spent staring at the pale ceiling as tears fell down my face. We all have those days, but we get through them and that’s what matters.

Even though isolation wasn’t ideal, Pitt did a very good job of making sure we were staying healthy. At one point, I was really worried about my health. I couldn’t talk, stand or even breathe at times. Even though I couldn’t taste, Pitt delivered bags of meals, snacks and drinks every day to our building. They called every day to check in on us, and they sent us care packages with medicine and coloring books. I am very appreciative of how caring and responsive Pitt was. Even my professors were very understanding. 

I had all the time in the world to work on assignments, but I couldn’t find the energy or the motivation to do it. I could not focus and I had a hard time being able to concentrate during class because I was too hyper-focused on my physical and mental state. With communication to my professors, they gave me extensions and gave their best wishes for my health. So even though I felt isolated from my friends and my normal life, I was never alone and always had people looking out for me.

Being in isolation and having COVID-19 changed my outlook on things. I am more grateful for fresh air, for my friends, for my health. I never want to take for granted my life or my health because even though I’m recovering, a lot of people didn’t. People have sacrificed so much this year due to the virus, and I know to never take anything I have for granted. 

Now I’m COVID-19 free and back in my hometown for the week spending time with my family and friends. I can finally hug my parents and feel the comfort of my own home while I get over the lingering effects of the virus. My parents and brother are vaccinated and with the robust numbers of vaccinations getting administered, I’m very hopeful for the future and can start seeing the light at the end of the pandemic.

Julia Smeltzer writes primarily about mental health. You can write to her at [email protected].