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By Cassidy Johnson, Associate Editor

How what started as feeling lightheaded turned into a major headache

We see the headlines and the stories on the news: colleges and really, college students, are behind major COVID-19 outbreaks across the country. Here at Vanderbilt, after Anchoring Down and Stepping Up, we have managed to avoid the glaring national spotlight. 

During the summer break, Vanderbilt sent a number of vague emails expressing their commitment to keeping campus and students safe, saying that they were implementing strict procedures for those who found themselves under isolation or quarantine. It’s widely known that if a student living on-campus tested positive for the virus, they will be moved to a specially designated quarantine dorm. Other than that, not much else is known about what COVID-19 housing procedures look like.

Well, I got a first-hand look during the fourth week of the fall semester. It began on a Sunday when I started feeling lightheaded. I originally attributed this to eating too many California Rolls that week. However, over the next few days, I would feel lightheaded during more instances throughout the day, like when standing up, or pushing open a door. The worst started Tuesday evening during my weekly walk to the Recreation & Wellness Center for COVID-19 testing. I noticed that I was unable to perform two motions at once — say, walking and turning my head in a new direction. Still, being lightheaded was not a symptom on our daily Symptom Assessment, so the coronavirus was not high on my mind.

That changed when I went to Student Health Thursday morning. Signs in big bold letters tell you which door and side to enter. Seeing that fatigue and dizziness — my symptoms that had only gotten worse — were actually listed as symptoms that would designate you for the COVID-19 side.

After going over the events of the last 5 days with the doctor she suggested I get tested for COVID-19. I informed her that I was last tested two days before but had not received my results yet. She still suggested I get tested via nasal swab, since “we don’t know how good those Vault tests are.” I seriously doubt she was supposed to tell me that. The nasal swab was over quickly but quite painful (I honestly thought I was going to have a nose bleed). 

My worry still didn’t start until the next words came out of her mouth. Once she handed the testing kit off to a colleague, she informed me that since I’m living on campus and have a pending COVID-19 test, I must be moved to an isolation dorm. I was instructed to pack for up to 3 days and wait for a phone call from a housing official. It was at this point where it hit me that they honestly suspected I might have the coronavirus. I spent the next three hours in my dorm room scared (in tears) trying to simultaneously pack and listen to a physics lecture. Eventually, I got a call from a housing official telling me the next steps. To her credit, the housing official was very kind and calm, and her sure tone alleviated (a portion) of my stress. When I was ready, I would take a golf cart to Blakemore where I would be under isolation until my test results came through. In Blakemore, I would have my own room and bathroom so as not to come into contact with anyone else. She instructed me to pack instead for at most 48 hours, but some test results became available in 12. Sheets, a towel, and a washcloth are provided. Students were encouraged to bring a comfort item or “fluffy bunny” if that would make them feel better. Explaining the difference between isolation and quarantine, she told me that if my test came back negative I could return to my normal dorm; if my test came back positive I would also return to my dorm but only to pack for a period of about 10 days. I would then be transported to an apartment in The Village at Vanderbilt.

I took an unexpectedly harrowing golf cart ride (who knew they could go so fast) through campus and on the streets of Nashville to Blakemore. Upon arrival, there was no inside at the front desk. Simply guessing, I used my Commodore Card to gain access to the hallway to my room (your room number with a few other instructions are emailed to you after your conversation with housing). I walked into an albeit large but sterile single room. I had never seen a dorm room with baseboards so white. One sheet, one blanket, a pillowcase, towel, and washcloth were waiting for me as promised. There was a chair, a desk with drawers, and one dresser. There was a microwave and a refrigerator too.

The process up to this point was emotional but surprisingly smooth. My confidence in Vanderbilt eroded after the debacle of last semester. But in the fridge was lunch and fruit waiting for me. In a separate to-go bag were snacks and soup. I could tell that they were trying to make the best out of a bad situation. Nevertheless, the room was eerily bare and cold. The fact that I was entirely alone for an unknown amount of time began to creep in. Dinner, breakfast, and lunch for the next day were waiting in a bag for me in the lobby. I noticed other to-go bags waiting to be picked up; at least two other people in the same boat as me.

I got an email from Student Health at about 6:00 pm, after 5 hours in isolation, with my test results. The COVID-19 virus was ‘Not Detected’ in my sample. Not too long after, a different housing official called to check and see how I was doing. He seemed unaware that my test result came back, so I told him I’ve been much better since I found out I was negative. He seemed happy for me but was quick to inform me that I would still have to spend the night in Blakemore since it was “after hours” and there was no one to take me back. Disappointed, I went to sleep at a record-breaking 9:30 pm, emotionally and physically drained from the day.

Startled by my phone ringing, I accidentally threw my pillow pet off my bed at 8:30 am. I was finally able to leave isolation. Once I was ready, a golf cart brought me back to my dorm by 10 am, and thus my 24-hour isolation story came to a close.

That was definitely one of the most stressful days of my life. From the shock of realizing I might have COVID-19, to the immediate fear, to the flashbacks of last semester that came back when I started packing. The cold, empty Blakemore room didn’t exactly help, but the willingness of the housing officials to answer all my (and my mom’s) questions was a positive note. While I’m certainly shaken by the events of that Thursday, my faith in this school’s ability to take the effective measures necessary to protect its students is partially restored.