Elise Fero, a first year HSU student from Colorado, currently isolates alone on campus. | Photo by Deidre Pike

From Colorado to COVID-19 self-isolation

HSU Freshman's experience catching coronavirus.
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HSU Freshman’s experience catching coronavirus.

After losing the second half of my senior year to the pandemic and missing out on new friendships at a new school, I begin my college journey isolated in a campus apartment, where my only access to the outside world is through a screen door I’m not allowed to open.

Coming from dusty and deserted Western-Colorado, all I’ve wanted to do since I was accepted to Humboldt State University is explore. An area surrounded by redwood forests and ocean was a dream alone, but it’s also home to the majestic, wild banana slug – I had to see one! But first, there were a few things to do.

On Aug. 17, I took my mandatory COVID-19 test and excitedly began moving things into my dorm, arranging a plethora of houseplants and a cozy corner for my pet tree frog, Terra. Very quickly, this became my new home. Aug. 18 was orientation day – I’d quickly adjusted and felt ready to conquer the world at HSU. That afternoon, I explored campus and the forest, making not just one, but an entire slimy armful of banana slug friends. My dream had come true, at the cost of only a few tiny slug-bites.

Before my parents returned home on Aug. 19, we met at a local coffee shop to say goodbye; that’s when I received the call informing me my COVID-19 test had come back positive. It was as if suddenly the world started spinning; I was speechless. I never imagined it would be me who caught COVID-19; afterall I’m young and otherwise healthy. But this pandemic has taught us what we think we know to be true is often not the case.

I wish I could say we rushed to my dorm, but instead, we stepped out of line and just stood together in shock. It occurred to me, I’d experienced possible symptoms of the virus earlier in the week – shortness of breath, nausea, low appetite, fatigue and headaches – however, each is also a symptom of my anxiety-disorder and it’s unclear which was the cause. My parents asked questions, but all I could think was of myself and every person I’d seen, connected by a piece in my contaminated puzzle. Suddenly, guilt and anxiety filled my entire being. I began to suffer a panic attack.

It took a moment to start my car as I fought to catch my breath; my whole body felt as if it were collapsing. I called my boyfriend in Colorado but all he could understand was how afraid I was.

This fear was never for myself; this fear was for others. Fear for my parents, for my friends, for my boyfriend and his family – fear for people I passed in the grocery store and for those I worked with. I never worried about myself. I worry about the damage I caused, unaware I carried the virus. It all felt like my fault. It felt like I’d let down the entire world.

I was moved to a new room where I said goodbye to my parents and the company of others for at least a week. Over a thousand miles from home and yet it doesn’t seem nearly as far as the four walls separating me from beginning this new chapter of my life.

In a state of constant fatigue and boredom, I sleep most of the day, only waking when my phone rings. Doctors, health centers and housing, all call several times each day asking similar questions and often I can’t tell them apart. When you’re only allowed in one place, you don’t have much aside from your thoughts. Is this my fault? Did I do something wrong? Should I stay quiet about it? When will they let me leave this room?

My new room has a kitchen and a bathroom, a beautiful view through my screen door and plenty of food. HSU staff checks in consistently, doing everything they can to help me through this. I feel like I have a whole team of friends working to guarantee my health and safety.

Despite everyone’s help, I’m still on my own. My main source of optimism is knowing my isolation is protecting others. Recognizing how our decisions affect others is the first step in preventing the spread. Sure, a mask is uncomfortable, but so is being locked in a room for seven days and so is losing someone you love because precautions weren’t taken.

For those who don’t believe in COVID-19, it is real. It is harmful. It is possible for anyone to contract. We all believe we’re invincible until we’re not. My battle with COVID-19 continues, but I know someday I‘ll be able to step outside again and I will find another banana slug.

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One Comment

  1. Steven Jehly Steven Jehly Thursday, August 27, 2020

    Your experience is certainly not how I first came to love Humboldt State U. and the surrounding area. Times are different however. Things will get better and you seem to have a desire to experience what the north coast has to offer; which is a lot! Hang in there. By the way, well written! Steven Jehly HSU 1974

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