Social Distancing in a One Bedroom Apartment
It was a Thursday and I was pretty bored. My work assignments for the week were finished by Wednesday and now I was staring at my office desk monitor trying to think of productive ways to fill the rest of the day.
It had been a typical morning, except for the fact that a can of sparkling water had completely spilled inside of my purse. My stash of cloth masks was compromised as collateral damage and was now hanging to dry from the filing cabinet in my cubicle. I threw out the soaked post-it notes from my now carbonated purse and then I received a text from my mom. She told me she had COVID.
And to take any of the dramatics out of this moment, let me preface this by saying I am guessing this experience is not unique (except for the can of sparkling water, that certainly adds a twist). We are in the middle of the largest COVID-19 spike our country has seen yet.
But I digress. Back to the story...
There I am, bored at my desk, when my mom texts me that she has developed symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19. Not a call from a friend I had recently hung out with, not a news story of a COVID-19 outbreak at a downtown bar I hadn’t been to since March… Instead, a text from my own mother. Who I had in fact had dinner with the night prior.
I froze in my cubicle because I honestly wasn’t sure how to proceed. I told my boss, who immediately instructed me to go home. The occupational medicine hotline at my work informed me I was required to stay home for 14 days and if I developed symptoms, an additional 14 days would be added to my quarantine.
Would I get paid for these two weeks? How was I supposed to pay my rent and buy groceries?
When I got home, my boyfriend Austin stood a good 10 feet away from me as we tried to figure out our plan of action. It dawned on me that I would likely have to quarantine from him as well. Medical school does not operate on a very forgiving timeline so Austin hadn’t exactly penciled in “get COVID” for his schedule this month.
And so my quarantine began. A few days later, I developed symptoms (just about every symptom on the list) and eventually tested positive for COVID-19. On a very unassuming Thursday, my daily and weekly routine had been tossed down the garbage shoot. I reacted how any emotionally fragile 20 something would, with tears and dramatics. I would like to say I filtered it all with perspective and reminded myself of my privilege and recognized that 14 days is a short span of one’s life… but I didn’t.
Maybe it was the loneliness of isolation, or wearing an N95 in my kitchen and staying 6 feet away from my boyfriend, or losing all sense of smell and taste, but I was pretty dang miserable!
There were ups and there were downs. My company found work I could do from home, an enormous win that allowed me to thankfully still get paid during all of this. Austin never got COVID, a long term blessing, yet a short term inconvenience for us in our shared 690 square feet. He slept on the couch, we stayed 6 feet apart, the counters were perpetually sprayed with sanitizer.
The short review on contracting COVID-19? I give it zero stars. Would not recommend it. Especially when you toss in social distancing from your significant other. But honestly, I realized a lot of things through all of the isolation. 19 days later, I have mostly recovered. I still have yet to regain my smell and am terrified of the unknown long term effects of this virus. I am taking it slow getting back into my normal exercise routine and I occasionally wake up in a dizzy fog. But, overall I am thankful my family is back in good health and that we all retained employment and income.
With COVID-19 on a rampant rise, I thought I would share some of my infected insights with you. Perhaps some additional precautions and information will spare you and your loved ones from experiencing what me and mine did these past few weeks.
Social distancing precautions work.
If I can protect another human who shares a tiny living space with me, then everyone else can certainly do their due diligence to protect others they are in peripheral contact with throughout the day. Hand washing, surface cleaning, mask wearing, physical distancing, these precautions are not arbitrary in any sense of the word. They are scientifically proven to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
I knew this before contracting COVID, but gained a serious appreciation for social distancing precautions after Austin escaped unscathed.
Humans need physical touch.
It was 12 days before I was cleared to stop taking social distancing precautions with Austin. People complain about the isolation and boredom of not being able to leave the house, but wow do we need to talk more about not being able to hug a loved one or sit next to them on the couch to watch a television show.
I realized I had taken everyday interactions for granted. The sudden loss of comfort and physical touch is not something I wish for anyone. It truly makes you feel alone. Thankfully, this world was blessed with doggos. Snuggles with Remi were a life saver during this weird time.
We are an adaptable species
Eventually, putting my N95 on every morning to walk to the bathroom became routine. Sure I occasionally forgot I needed to stay 6 feet away from Austin, but many things quickly became habitual. Spraying the counters with disinfectant, not reaching my hand into our shared cereal box, taking my temperature every morning and night. It’s strange how we conform so quickly to new daily routines.
COVID-19 has drastically changed our daily life, but it is also admirable the way we all just keep moving forward. The sun still sets and the world still turns in a COVID-less or COVID-filled world. So we continue. We wear masks in the grocery store. We stay home for 14 days after exposure. We do our corporate work in our pajamas, on our personal laptops, from the comfort of our own bed. We keep on keeping on, what a species.
Confinement kills creativity
If you are anything like me and creativity keeps your world joyful and fulfilling, I know what you’re thinking… I was thinking it too. Two full weeks to spend at home = two wonderful weeks of extra creative time and exciting personal projects. Right? Wrong.
I found it difficult to reach for inspiration without the influence of daily life. I am not working my dream job right now, and if you are a fresh grad I am sure you aren’t either. But I realized that something about that job, something about driving into the office and experiencing the outside world frees up some creative space in my head. The introvert in me was gleeful at the thought of staying in the comfort of my home. But it turns out, this isn’t the ideal situation for my creative pursuits. I felt uninspired, tired, restricted, etc.
It’s almost as if the stability of a 9-5 and stimulation from leaving the house unlocks and allows me to tap into my most creative self. Any psych majors out there? What is it about confinement that kills our creativity?
Thank God for our five senses
Life is sad without taste and smell. Much sadder than one might think. Of course, it could have been a lot worse. But still. Gone was the joy of the smell of morning coffee brewing. Sayonara to a tasty dessert after dinner. What was even the point of lighting a candle anymore?
My life was literally and metaphorically bland. Now that my taste has begun to return, I have a new appreciation for the gift of all my senses! Again, zero percent recommend contracting COVID-19.
Fresh air does wonders for the soul
One of the best days I had during my COVID experience was the day Austin and I took an evening walk around our neighborhood.
When our lives are lived mostly indoors, it’s easy to get caught up in the small problems of our day to day corporate/academic world. I have been so bad about getting outside, especially since I moved to the city. My car is parked in an indoor parking ramp. I drive to and from work every day. I work in a windowless office and laboratory. It takes a conscious effort to interact with the outdoors.
Getting outside was exactly what I needed during my quarantine. If you are feeling stuck or down, try taking a walk outside.
Things are scarier when they affect you and your family
Statistics are just numbers until they happen to you.
My mom got sicker than the rest of us. My dad was sick. My sister was sick. I was sick. All I could think about was what I had heard from healthcare workers in the Minneapolis area. Hospitals are full and running short on resources and staff. Sure there is only a “small percentage” of people who are hospitalized from COVID or die from COVID, but I urge you not to think in statistics.
Because what if your mother needs access to a hospital? What then? Something tells me that if your mother, your grandmother, your brother, or your significant other is sick and the hospital doesn’t have enough resources to treat them, that you will NOT be comforted by strangers on the internet telling you “only 2% of people die”. That’s not comforting. Statistics and percentages don’t feel small or insignificant when they happen to the most significant people in your life.
My entire family getting COVID really reminded me why we take precautions. For others and their families, not just for ourselves.
And no I don't think we need to fear monger our society. But seriously, wearing a mask and washing your hands is not difficult. We do much harder things in our lives than don a mask and rub some soap in between our fingers. Keep the humility of knowing this can affect you and the people you love.
We can do better
Before my run-in with Miss Rona, there were countless times I hadn’t worn a mask in my apartment hallways when I took Remi to the bathroom. I was just being lazy. What seemed like a small issue initially became much larger when I knew I had an active COVID infection. What if I had ever been unknowingly sick? I could have literally infected my entire apartment building from being unmasked in common spaces. It’s not rocket science. This is an aerosol-borne virus. Wear a mask to reduce the number of air particles you release into your environment.
I don’t think the blame game helps. And I don’t think social media graphics shaming others for their actions are useful. The truth is we all need to do better. Each and every one of us have actions we can be taking to better protect the people around us.
COVID-19 cases are spiking and this is an opportunity for us all to look inward. There are so many small actions that make a big difference. I have been imperfect, you have been imperfect. I know we all can do better.
Let’s bring back the early quarantine vibes. We desperately need that more than ever. Grab groceries for your Grandma. Hand out masks to the homeless. Wash your hands and wear a mask. Hang up hopeful signs in your window.
And if you ever have to social distance with your significant other in a 690 sq ft apartment… good luck charlie. I mean seriously hang in there. Talk to you all soon. I hope you are healthy and doing well.
Keep on keeping on my friends.