You know those mornings when you wake up early and know that the day is going to be productive? That’s exactly how I felt before getting the call from Dr. Tom McLarney that I had tested positive for COVID-19. That feeling quickly turned into shock and then confusion as I prepared myself to move into the Middletown Inn.
After quarantining for weeks in a city under lockdown, I thought I had taken all the necessary steps to protect myself from getting the virus. It wasn’t like I was going out to see friends or hanging out around the city. I literally had not left the house. During my trip to campus, I was equally as careful (or so I thought), constantly sanitizing, wiping down, and distancing myself from those around me. Like everyone else, I had received a negative test before arriving on campus and even tested negative two more times before finally receiving a positive result.
The scariest part was that I felt completely normal. Until that moment, the thought of actually having COVID never crossed my mind as a possibility. But my test results told a different story.
After I broke the news to my roommate, Public Safety showed up in a van outside our dorm to take us to the Inn. If you’ve ever been inside that van, you know how strange it is to sit in the absolute last and only row of seating and look through the layer of plexiglass at the driver in the front seat.
When we arrived at the Inn, the lobby was completely empty. Our keys were already laid out on a table by the entrance, along with instructions detailing the expectations for our stay. We eventually found our way to an elevator that was already open and waiting to take us to our rooms. Everything had been set up precisely to ensure as little contact as possible. When we got to our floor, my roommate and I said our goodbyes, and the ten days of isolation began.
Before arriving at the Inn, I hadn’t heard too much about what it was like. Some people said it was a nice break from campus, while others described the experience as one of their lowest moments. So I had no idea what to expect. I mean, how bad could staying in a room alone for 10 days be?
I have to admit that the room was pretty nice, with two queen-sized beds and an individual bathroom (an upgrade from the bathrooms on campus). There was one window that even had a view overlooking Main Street and the Connecticut River.
But sitting in the silence of the room, I quickly became aware of the suffocating feeling of isolation. I was stuck in this room with no idea as to how I would react to the virus, and I was still unsure of how I got it in the first place.
Would I suffer from the long-term health side effects of COVID-19? What if I had given the virus to my roommate?
Day after day, I continued to feel completely normal, never really showing any signs or symptoms of the virus. In the first couple of days, I convinced myself that the test must have been a false positive, but after talking with the health center I eventually accepted my result.
The endless cycle of waking up, taking my temperature, and then going to class became tiresome. I desperately craved fresh air but was frustrated to find that the windows didn’t open. I tried distracting myself with TV or friends, but that eventually became ineffective. I soon came to dread the night, when I would stay up anticipating the worst.
The extent of my human interaction consisted of the twice-a-day knock on the door from dining and the occasional footsteps of people walking through the hallways. But, over time, things eventually got better. I decorated a tiny piece of paper for motivation, which showed me the number of days I had left. I transformed my room into a space that felt more familiar. One corner of the room became the gym, another became the library, and another the dining room. I developed a routine and accepted that even though I couldn’t control the virus, I could control how I chose to use my time.
Quarantining at Middletown Inn was not something that I thought would be part of my first year at Wesleyan. I never expected my mental health to be compromised so soon into the second semester, nor did I think that I could ever miss something as simple as going outside. I don’t think any of us could have predicted the events of this past year. But I do think that we can try not to take things for granted.
Quarantining at the Middletown Inn isn’t an option for many people trying to cope with contracting COVID-19. At Wesleyan, we can get tested twice a week, and if we do get sick, we are able to quarantine in a safe and reliable space. Services like CAPS and the Davison Health Center are also available during this difficult period, so students can look after both their physical and mental health. While I may not have entirely enjoyed my stay at the Inn, it allowed me to protect myself and others as best as I could.
Jo Harkless can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org