By Paulina Carrillo

“It would never happen to me”.

The thought kept crossing my mind. It’s as if an existential force was so unbelievable

It all happened so quickly. It was a Sunday, March 29th, when we were celebrating my dad’s birthday. My dad and my sister, Natalia, and I were upstairs, eating dinner. “What do you want to eat?” My dad called out down the stairs to the basement, where my mom was self-quarantining. My other sister, Viridiana, who does not live with us, could not attend the celebration, as she is also a first responder, but easily gets sick and did not want to risk it. 

My mom works as a phlebotomist at a hospital in Chicago, where she started working directly with COVID-19 patients. I remember her being very careful, washing up quickly when she was home, as well as being one of the people that (unfortunately) started panic buying toilet paper, paper towels, water, medicine, and food. Who knew that it would actually come in handy. My mom came home a couple days before saying she felt strange. She decided to start isolating herself as a precaution. None of us took her seriously, as my mom always had the tendency to exaggerate how she feels. Her credibility was very low. The morning after her self-isolation, she went quickly to get tested, which was luckily easily provided to her for working at the hospital. 

The morning after my father’s birthday celebration, I was getting ready to go see my boyfriend, Zohaib, to go for a walk before my first online class back from the extended spring break. Right before heading into the shower, I get a call from my dad. He tells me my mom tested positive. I laughed it off, knowing my dad tends to joke around with me. Natalia then facetimes me and as serious as she could ever be, tells me he’s telling the truth. My body instantly froze and I went numb.

So, what I am seeing in the news is real. This rare, few cases virus, is in my house. It’s living here. After my numb shower, I go downstairs to see my sister laying with her head on the table. I asked her if she’s okay and she just snapped at me, telling me she has a really bad headache. Again, I froze. This can’t be happening to one more person. I quickly tell her to go upstairs, and we will figure it out. Once Natalia and my mom were quarantined, my dad and I facetimed Vivi, getting ready for our action plan. What will we do? Is Natalia really sick? What’s next? I never in my life expected to sit there, writing up an email to my professors on how my family has been affected by this deadly disease.

While my dad went to the store to stock up on medicines, food, vaporizers, and water (to pile on to what we already had) I scrubbed the entire middle floor and moved all my shower stuff downstairs so my sister can take the upstairs. I bleached every handle, every counter, and made sure my dad’s stuff was specifically extra clean. He has a heart condition, and I was terrified of him getting sick. As the day went on, as I went up and down the stairs (halfway) to give my sister and mother meals, I started to feel a little weird myself. I kept telling myself it’s because I haven’t eaten dinner, it’s because I’m still in shock that they were sick, or it may just be for my lack of sleep. When my dad finally got home, I went down to help him with the groceries. While I was putting them away, my headache just started getting worse. It was a pain that I haven’t felt to that extent, ever. My eyes felt like they were about to close shut. I didn’t want to believe it, so I didn’t say it, or tell anyone around me how I felt. That night, I remember taking a Tylenol. My headache felt like I just got knocked on the back of the head with a brick. I started feeling very very cold, and at this time my heater was on high. I had layers upon layers on my bed and fell asleep at 8pm. The next day, I woke up feeling better. The headache was still there, but the terrible pain had died down. The day felt endless. I couldn’t leave to see my boyfriend, I couldn’t focus on my online classes, and I was terrified that I may be sick. That same night, I started developing a light cough. I remember trying to hold it in so my sister couldn’t hear me from her room. My dad would call me downstairs to eat my meals since at this point I wasn’t considered sick yet. I would wear my mask, gloves, and bring my half-full bottle of Lysol with me. I was terrified of infecting my dad if I were sick, but I kept telling myself I was okay, I was exaggerating. Everywhere I went, I kept my distance from my dad. I made sure to never touch handles, to avoid him in the halls, to not sit on anything on the first floor. I made sure to be the one to give my mom and sister their plates so he did not have to get close to their area of infection. 

The next couple days were starting to get worse. My mom was struggling. Her fever was spiking twice a day, and her cough started to develop. Natalia was feeling feverish and spent the days without an appetite. I finally could not hide it anymore. Going downstairs started slowly feeling like a nightmare. Hiding my cough was seemingly impossible. I remember looking up the stairs every time I would finish a meal or leave the bathroom and feel like when I reached the top, I was going to encounter my cough attack and shortness of breath.

I never imagined that in my last semester of college I would be juggling 19 credits on my plate, doing online classes, while also having two sick family members and starting to develop symptoms of my own. Luckily my teachers were all very understanding, but the situation could not have been worse at home.

On my sixth day in quarantine, it was finally my breaking point. My cough was worsening. I started to take cough medicine, drinking kombucha, had cough drops, and was taking two Tylenols a day. I wasn’t hungry anymore. Everything I tasted was too salty or unappetizing. The only thing I could swallow down was canned chicken noodle soup. I remember struggling to sleep that night, and when I woke up at 6am, realizing that my cough was consistent. I woke up with a pounding headache, and when I stood up, I remember looking in my mirror at myself and starting to cry. I couldn’t go more than 1 minute without letting out a hoarse cough. When I stood up, my chest felt tight. Everyday previous to this one, I was doing breathing exercises morning, mid-day, and night. I kept telling myself “I’m okay, I’m okay, just breathe, I’m okay.” This day? I cried. I coughed. I tried my hardest to breathe in fully without coughing once. I grabbed my phone and called my dad crying, telling him it was time for me to lock myself in my room. My sister and my mother were so worried, as my cough sounded worse than everyone else’s. 

The next two days, I felt my chest get tighter and tighter. I was struggling to lay down in bed. Sleeping was becoming a struggle for me as I could not lean to the side or lay down completely. My coughs were starting to feel heavier, filled with phlegm. I was exhausted, yet at this point I haven’t left my bed in three days.

The morning of my worst day, I had slept a total of 2 hours. I was sweating non stop while feeling very very cold. I couldn’t attend my online classes, which were 2 steps away from me on my computer since my eyes were hurting so much. I couldn’t stare at a screen for longer than a couple minutes. My dad would leave a tray outside my door, my mom, and Natalia’s with food each meal. I couldn’t eat anything. I felt nauseous staring at the simple food in front of me. Bending over to grab the tray from the ground was horrible. My breathing would completely stop, so coming back up straight was a cough attack waiting to happen. It got to the point where I had to put a chair outside to not bend my body fully. That day, I was watching television, breathing short, small breaths at a time. Imagine being in a sauna, and feeling like you can’t catch a real breath. That is how it felt. As the day went on, things worsened and worsened. I got to a point where I had to just stand in my room because every part of my body was compromised. I haven’t left my room in days. That night, around 9pm, I was feeling so hot. I was sweaty, and at my absolute worst. I had fleeting thoughts of going to the hospital. I called my dad with a shaky voice, trying to talk through my cough. I asked him if I could please be in the downstairs living room, where it was chilly and the couch pillows were big enough to hold me up. I prepared myself, put everything in a bag, all while struggling to breathe in with tears running down my face. When I finally set up all my stuff, I realized my phone charger was upstairs. I stared at the staircase and started crying. 

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