With COVID Diaries, the Catalyst is putting a face on the novel coronavirus, telling the individual stories of Tampa Bay residents who struggle, or have struggled, with COVID-19 first-hand. If that’s you, or someone you know, we encourage you to contact us at Spark@stpetecatalyst.com.
When Maria Sanchez posted on Facebook that she’d tested positive for COVID-19, the messages immediately started pouring in.
Where did you get it? Who were you with? Have you been to any parties? Were you wearing a mask?
Although she also received plenty of supportive comments and heart emojis, Sanchez, 50, felt taken aback by the questions she was being asked. Like maybe some people thought she’d brought the illness on herself. But she knew she had been careful, wearing a mask when grocery shopping for her family or volunteering to feed the homeless just like she’d done every Saturday for the past seven years. She practiced social distancing. And yet there was the implication that it wasn’t enough.
“I didn’t need judgment,” she said. “I just put it out there because I wanted people to know how lonely and isolating this experience can be.”
Sanchez’s COVID-19 journey began June 30, when she started feeling extremely fatigued. For an elementary school teacher with an endless reserve of energy, it was an unsettling sensation.
“I immediately checked my temperature and it was 101,” Sanchez said. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’m getting it.’”
The next morning, Sanchez was feeling even worse. She canceled her tutoring session, which is her only source of income over the summer, and monitored her temperature. It never dropped below 101. Walking from her room to the couch left her breathless. She knew she needed to find out what was going on so she drove herself to the mobile testing site at Raymond James Stadium and waited two-and-a-half hours to get tested.
“That was painful,” she remembered. “Sitting by myself, feeling terrible.”
What came next was even worse.
“They stick these things that are like Q-Tips up your nose on both sides,” Sanchez said. “It’s not a quick swab. They’re rubbing around up in your nose and it hurts so much you get tears in your eyes.”
Still, she managed to joke around with the nurse who tested her and told Sanchez the procedure would only cause a little tickle.
“I said ‘there is no tickle about it,’” Sanchez laughed.
By Friday, she wasn’t feeling any better. She’d spoken to friends who’d been tested at Raymond James the week before and still hadn’t received their results, so she headed to Tampa General Hospital to get tested again. While she was there, they checked her oxygen levels and determined she wouldn’t need to be admitted. The next day, she woke up feeling much better physically -emotionally, it was another story.
“I couldn’t stop crying because by Saturday, everyone I knew was leaving town,” she said. “I hadn’t seen my kids in two weeks. I was a hysterical mess.”
With hours upon hours to kill, Sanchez idly scrolled social media, feeling more and more isolated and alone. It was extremely painful for an extrovert who thrives being surrounded by her close-knit circle of family and friends.
“Facebook is dangerous,” she said, only half kidding.
On Monday, Sanchez received her results from Raymond James. Negative. However, she was told that didn’t mean she might not have the virus.
“I was celebrating, but I was still cautious,” she said.
And she had reason to be. When she later logged on to the TGH site, she learned she’d tested positive.
“I wasn’t surprised,” she said. “But now I’m feeling better and I know I can’t work and I can’t see my kids or my family.”
Even though she would never do it until it’s safe, sometimes the temptation to leave the house is strong, Sanchez said, especially because she’s used to being self-sufficient.
“It’s just terrible. I feel stuck and isolated and lonely, and I don’t like to ask people for things, but now I’m in a position where I have to,” she said. “I want my kids back. I want to work and I can’t.”
Sanchez’s friends have stopped by her home to drop off food and magazines. Before she got sick, Sanchez and her sister would go for walks every day and stop by Circle K for Polar Pops. Her sister made sure to bring over one of the drinks for her to enjoy.
For now, Sanchez is biding her time at home on Facebook and taking classes to prepare for eLearning should it happen again in the fall. Sometimes she sits outside and looks at the trees. She reads her Bible and prays. And she hopes the home test she plans to take Friday comes back negative so she can attend her son’s drive-through diploma ceremony at Plant High School next week.
“That might be one more thing I have to miss,” she mused.
One thing that has surprised Sanchez since the ordeal began is how many people have told her they’d like to get COVID to get it over with. Even though her symptoms were mild, it’s not something she would wish on anyone.
“You don’t want it,” she said Tuesday. “It’s not fun. This is not a vacation by any means.”