Students Share Thoughts on the Pandemic

As the global community is feeling the effects of the pandemic, the Price Institute wants to join others in both supporting our local community from on and beyond campus to share their stories and express their thoughts and experiences at this time. We believe that by sharing individual stories, we can also underline important local narratives that connect collectively in experiencing and working through this challenging time together. We invited RU-N students from Professor Jack Tchen's class, "Our Planet Crisis" to share their projects that asked for them to reflect on their time during the pandemic and quarantine. These are a selection of their stories.

                                                             

We invite you to share your stories through poems, essays, images, or any medium that speaks to you. Please send them to us at priceinstitute@newark.rutgers.edu or tag us on social media and use #PriceCommunity.

Austin 

This paper discusses some of my personal experiences working as a nurse on the frontline combating the Ebola and Covid-19 viruses, as well as being a survior of the Ebola virus disease (EVD). The paper also outlines brief experiences of two of my fellow co-workers, nurses who themselves have survived the COVID-19 virus. The motivation to writing this essay came about when Professor Tchen first talked about the Coronavirus in class, outlining  how a particular group of people are being discriminated against because of their connection to the origin of the COVID-19 virus, that touched me so hard. Secondly, I became more motivated when I listened to the stories from two survivals of COVID-19, my coworkers, who have agreed to share some of their experiences with me. Ebola and Covid-19 have thought me a valuable lesson as a nurse of just how interconnected this world is.

In conversations below with two of my co-workers, Rose and Rupert, who recently survived the Covid-19 virus disease, I found the courage to share some of my own experiences with the Ebola virus.  

Here are some of their accounts transcribed from a short interview I did with them while at work.

Rose, a nurse, shared a brief story with me on her experience with COVID-19:

Austin: So, Rose, can you tell me a little about your experiences with the Coronavirus, how you got infected?

Rose: "I…I don't really know how I got infected. But I started feeling tired for like two days. The third day when I went to work, approaching the end of my shift I started feeling chills. The next day in the morning, I called-out from work and went to do the Coronavirus test. The result came back positive. So, I locked myself out in one of the rooms in our house for 16 days."

Austin: How did you survive in there?

Rose: "I only came out of the room to collect food to eat and water for drinking and bathe. I was praying every night and day. My worry was I should not develop a cough. That is what I think can lead to hospitalization. So, my husband bought me cough syrup, Tylenol and ginger tea. I was taking them every night, because my symptoms really used to get heavy during the night, sometimes I could not sleep at all. Sometimes I would get calls from the state, asking me how I felt until the 14 days ended. Then they called my job and told them I was clear."

Austin: So, what impact did it have on your family?

Rose: "It affected my husband and our son. I don't know, maybe they got it from me while I was not showing any symptoms. My husband's illness was very bad. I was very scared, I thought he was going to die. His illness was very serious. I was boiling lime and garlic with ginger for him to drink. But I thank God, all of us recovered. But it was a terrible experience, my brother, only prayer helped us."

 

Another survival story told by Rupert, a nurse and a coworker in a 4 minutes conversion is as followed:

Austin: Hi Rupert, I understand you just recovered from the virus, can you share some of your experiences and how you may have come in contact with the virus?

Rupert: "I think I contracted it here from work. We started taking necessary precautions lately. I really didn't think I could be one of those getting the virus, to be honest. I think it started with weakness. I woke up from bed early one morning and started feeling headedness and my eyes were turning, so I sat back on the bed. I noticed I sweat in bed heavily that night. So, I quickly knew it was not normal. But when I came home from work that night my wife was not home, she did an 11-7 shift. So, what I did was, I quickly moved down to the basement because I knew something was wrong. The children were in the house, but I still couldn't believe it was the coronavirus. So, I took some Ibuprofen. In the evening, the fever intensified, and I was having serious headaches. So, I called my doctor, he just ordered some antihistamines for me along with Tylenol. He asked me if I wanted the coronavirus test, but I said no. I never believed that I had contracted the virus at all. In the night, everything in the room started turning in my eyes, I couldn't sleep, my body got hot and burned from within. My wife called the doctor early morning and he ordered the test. The result came back positive. So I was in the basement for almost three weeks. But I mostly used boiled garlic with lime for a heat bath. I bent over a bucket of boiled garlic with lime and covered myself with a thick blanket for almost 30 – 45 minutes. After that I took some cough syrup and chew some ginger each day. That's what helped me, because when I was in Jamaica we used those for fever and body aches."

Austin: How did it affect your family?

Rupert: "No, none of my family members contracted it from me. Whenever I came upstairs to use the toilet, I always brought Clorox wipes with me and made sure to wipe every single surface area I touched, and then I would go back down."

Austin: How long you were in there?

Rupert: "Almost three weeks, I was scared for my sons. So, I took an extra 1 week after I was declared free."

 

These stories resonated with me to the point that I felt encouraged to share my own. Before I can go any further, I would like to mention that this class has been like a therapy session for me over the course of this semester. For the past five years I have not been willing to tell anyone about my experiences with the Ebola virus. I have always tried to suppress how I feel and just move on with life as if everything is just normal.

These stories compound with Professor Tchen's lecture on the coronavirus in class, very much resonated with me as an Ebola survivor and gave me the courage to share my own story.

I got infected with the Ebola virus while helping a pregnant woman to give birth. I took assignment as a nurse in River Gee County, one of the rural and most inaccessible counties in Liberia, where I served as an Officer-in-Charge of a private clinic supported by the Catholic Health Secretariat. During the Ebola outbreak in the country, all rural health services and facilities were closed for the fear that health workers would contract the virus from their patients since there was no proper training nor PPEs available to health care workers in that region of the country. My clinic was also partially closed, as we were only giving out medication based on symptoms reported by a patient. We were not doing any form of physical assessments since the virus was in fact being transmitted through physical contact with infected persons. The pregnant woman was brought to the clinic around 3:45 am, already in active labor with family members knocking on my doors and crying for help. Being that she was a patient that I had prior contact with at the clinic just a little over two weeks before, I did not believe she could have had the virus. So, I contacted the midwife for help to deliver the pregnant lady who as a matter of fact was pregnant with twins. With the use of the last available PPEs we had, we went ahead and performed the delivery. Two days after, the lady died, and the midwife fell sick. The night after my midwife told me she was not feeling well, I too started having symptoms like what she had reported to me. From there I knew we were ultimately going to die. I realized we have been infected with the Ebola virus considering the abrupt death of the lady we just delivered. I cried the entire night with no hope of survival. There was no Ebola treatment center established in the area at the time and the country was already on lockdown to limit travel, which would also limit the spread of the virus.

When I concluded that I had the virus I started putting in place extra preventative measures so that I could not infect other people who were living with me the same building. I isolated myself completely and refused to use the general bathroom while I figured out ways to get myself out of the region to go to the Capital, Monrovia, where treatment centers were available. In the meantime, to keep me going, I started self-medicating. I formulated my own set of combined drug therapy that I was taking.

To get to Monrovia from where I was, it took more than 72 hours to drive due to bad road conditions and security checkpoints along the road. My only hope of surviving the virus, so I thought, was to do all I could to get to the treatment centers in Monrovia. Since there were no transport vehicles running, I decided to use the motorcycle assigned to me at the clinic to embark on the journey to save my life. I hired a very good rider and bought extra gasoline. At this time, three days had already passed since I started feeling the symptoms of the virus. I could feel and knew that my system was gradually shutting down. I completely lost my appetite, feeling nauseated and weak, but I kept taking the medications that I self-prescribed.

At every checkpoint along the road, I identified myself as a healthcare worker in charge of a clinic and that I was just going to the closest bigger town around there for medical supplies that were somehow left there by my bosses for me to pick up. That was a completely made-up story to help me get away. Through this means, I was able to cross many checkpoints until I got to the biggest city in that region where I able to pay for a ride on a Non-Governmental Organization vehicle that was on its way to Monrovia. When I arrived in Monrovia that night at my family residence, I exercised that same precautionary measures mentioned earlier in order to avoid all possible physical contact with any member of my family. The very next morning I reported to the Ebola treatment center and was tested, confirmed, and admitted.

My experience while admitted at the treatment center was like watching a horror movie. The facility was overcrowded with people vomiting blood, severe loose diarrhea, and death occurring left and right. In just two weeks spent at the facility, I changed rooms three times as my roommates died. Three of the most horrible experiences I had were: 1) the death of a mother who was admitted in the room I was in along with her three kids. I watched the lady groan the entire night and die before daylight holding onto the hands of her two younger kids. Her older son, a boy about 9 years old named Mark, told me that their father died at home before they were transported to the treatment center, so he is the only one left to take care of his two other siblings, if only he survives too. Listening to little Mark's story, after I have just been told that the midwife who worked with us has died from the virus, I broke down completely. I thought I was going to die. Some other health workers would come in the room and try to encourage me to drink some juices and eat some fruits. Those were only the only things I could eat. 2) Another was a nurse in the second room I was moved to, who fell in the doorway to the bathroom and vomited blood severely and died right on the spot while I helplessly layed in bed watching. 3) The third person was a young 38-year-old male doctor who was admitted to the private room where I was transferred awaiting discharge home in two days. He died in just a matter of hours before I was discharged from the treatment center. That was one of the heartbreaking moments in my journey with Ebola, and the incredible survival stories from Rose and Rupert were truly a wake-up call for me to reflect on these experiences.

The second source of motivation to share my story also came about when Professor Tchen lectured about the Coronavirus in class, where he mentioned about the stigmatization and discrimination of people of Chinese nationality, and how they are blamed for the Covid-19 virus outbreak. That very lecture resonated with me well because I too have faced the same form of discrimination both as an Ebola survivor and as a national of a country (Liberia) where Ebola was raging hell and killing so many people.

When I traveled to the U.S on December 4th, 2014 I was detained at the JFK airport for several hours even though I voluntarily told immigration officers there that I have survived the virus and presented them the certificate. It was a rough day for me. I had to go through millions of interviews and checkups. When I got released, I was escorted in the back of a work van like a prisoner to a Church basement where I was quarantined for nearly four weeks with no human contact whatsoever, even though I had survived the virus three months before in Liberia prior to traveling to the U.S. I cried in that basement many nights to the point where I blamed myself for having contracted the virus. I was fed once a day. I reported my temperature to the health authorities for three weeks.

Having gone through all these traumas with Ebola, I thought I had escaped to the United States. I never thought any such thing could happen here in the U.S. But finding myself in a similar horrifying situation with COVID-19, seeing my patients and some coworkers died in a similar way as Ebola, was truly a life lesson. These two experiences have helped me understand life deeper in a more personal way where I do not have to blame myself for everything that happened to me. For my career as a nurse, these experiences have helped me learn to become a better universal nurse.

             "We do not learn so much from experience as we do from reflecting on our experience." – John Dewey

Kaity

The question I was curious about was understanding what the psychological and socioeconomic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic are on individuals in our immediate circles? Each one of us proceeded to delve into something specific and unique that circled back to the main theme. So, in essence, we were working collectively but also individually.

I chose to do a photo essay and look into how members of my immediate circle interpret the COVID-19 crisis from their perspective. I asked members through social media and via telephone. It became clear to me that each of their experiences offer a glimpse into not only how each of them perceives the crisis, but how they are coping with it and who they are at the core of it all. Based on my observation, individuals were more than willing to open up their hearts and share their outlook on the pandemic with someone they could trust. In the photo essay linked here, you will get to see the psychological and socioeconomic impact of the coronavirus on my immediate circle through a series of quotes and photos. I hope it offers insight as well as inspires you to move forward.

Raquel

Gaining insight into one's afflictions is one of the best ways to combat or assuage them, depending on which approach resonates with your personality most effectively. Living through this quarantine has certainly been a time where I have been able to confront my fears and insecurities because there were minimal distractions to prevent me from doing so. It is a time of conditioning, where our natural responses are no longer appropriate. For instance,  my classmate spoke about how the lack of touch has caused certain sensations to be augmented when they actually occur. Lack of touch was one of the most concrete ways of examining how this pandemic has changed our very nature and how we interact. Certain countries, more than others, enjoy tactile exhibitions but now due to social distancing and self-quarantine, we have been conditioned to respect the distance between our loved ones. Distance is now equated with safety, whereas before the physical proximity to a person meant they were a source of safety for us. So much has changed in such a short period of time, that it is no surprise the mental toll this pandemic has had on all of us. Our environment is composed of many things, whether they are living or not, and of many activities, some which have been halted and some of which have not. For instance, the trees and birds that we can see from our bedroom window are part of our habitat but so is our home and the people in it. Therefore, in addition to my own thoughts and emotions, I thought it would be best to speak to a couple of family members, both in the United States and abroad, and ask them what changes they have made to help lessen the harm of this pandemic both for themselves and for others. In order to cope with the constant flooding of tragic news, we have all developed different ways to cope with our current problems that may exist in our current environments or may exist primarily within us. I explored this through a psychosocial lens, where I researched how people in my immediate social environment, as well as people around the world, have devised a social antidote to deal with this situation to mitigate our suffering. We do not have the ability to develop a vaccine, but we know the ways we can make each other feel better. 

I interviewed my aunt who is a nurse in Spain and a caregiver for our grandparents. She works in the emergency room and was told that one of her coworkers tested positive for COVID-19.  Therefore, as soon as she heard that the other nurse she worked with during the shift tested positive, she took all her personal belongings and went to live temporarily at a condo she has in a nearby town. Despite being incredibly bored and having a longer commute to the hospital, she was grateful because many other people she knew did not have that option. After her shift, she leaves her shoes outside, automatically puts all her clothes in the washing machine, and undergoes a stringent process of disinfection. When we video chat, she shows me the red marks and lines on her face after finishing a 12-hour shift at the hospital and tells me how exhausted she is. She is going to be tested once again to see if she has COVID-19 and if she has any antibodies. She tells me the psychological toll this situation has created because she lives in solitude now and she also fears that my grandparents who have serious health issues might contract the virus or have any other complication that will bring them into the hospital. She has created new ways to release all the pent-up emotions she feels. After her shifts, she is tempted to just lay on the couch and not get up until her next shift. However, she knows that this behavior is not beneficial for her mental health and that if she's not at her prime, she won't be able to carry out her job as effectively as the patients deserve. Therefore, she has been listening to a lot of music that temporarily distracts her, she has been experimenting with cooking, and she also wanted to highlight the importance of routines at a time like this. For instance, she spoke about the police and firefighters who ride around the streets with megaphones every evening at 8 p.m. assuring the children that soon they will be able to play in the parks and they play music and games such as hide and seek or "I SPY" game. This has become a helpful and habitual distraction, not only for the kids who rush to the balcony to play with others across the street and the police officers and firefighters but also for the adults whose rumination is temporarily suspended.

Raquel Project Image 1

 

Raquel Project Image 2

I also interviewed my grandmother, who is innately apprehensive. She is experiencing extreme anxiety because she lives every day fearing that my aunt will contract the virus. Her coping mechanisms revolve around religion. She watches the daily mass on the television and she prays for the safety of the family and for the end of this pandemic. Religion is her escape and how she seeks solace. My grandmother is a very empathetic person and has to limit the amount of news she watches, which is a problem because my grandfather frequently wants to be informed about all that is going on across the globe. My grandmother becomes easily overwhelmed by the deaths and misfortunes that are being reported, which hinders her ability to continue on with her daily routine. My grandparents have reached a compromise where they only watch the news once a day allowing my grandfather to uncover new hobbies like gardening and painting, and they have even bought a treadmill to remain active throughout these difficult circumstances. They consider themselves fortunate because their house is on a property that is very close to the beach and they have extensive land so that they can unwind in the presence of nature.

Two of my mom's cousins are artisans who have redesigned their home into a small lab where they are making supplies for the hospitals. They have been creating the urns needed for intubation, as well as masks that are more comfortable for the hospital staff.

The shortage of medical supplies and masks has sparked creativity for many. Since stores and e-commerce companies charge astronomical prices for items that are necessities, many individuals have taken the time to create their own masks at home and sell them for a cheaper price or even donate them.

One of my cousins who live in Newark has been dedicating her time to cooking meals for those individuals in her neighborhood, especially the elderly in isolation who do not have enough to eat or would just like some comfort food. She has connected with others who are helping her deliver the meals in order to maximize the number of people that are being reached. She is also cooking for her sister and her colleagues who work at an urgent care facility to show appreciation for their rigorous work and so that they have a moment to enjoy one of the finer things in life, which we might have previously taken for granted. I have certainly seen a rise of altruism being displayed through social media platforms and on the news, although the reports of this are rather scarce. However, it comforts me to know that my family is also playing a small role in the amelioration of this pandemic.

I am fortunate enough to be able to say that this pandemic has only caused me moderate anxiety and was a slight hiccup in my life because I did not have to get up every day to go to work and I have health insurance, which is a form of security that many people do not have in the United States. Although this pandemic has changed the way we interact with one another, it has also created the motivation for change. These unprecedented times have highlighted and exacerbated the inequalities faced by many minorities. These are trigger events that explain all the areas that need to be changed within the social and political map. For instance, people who are financially stable can always buy things that might help them cope such as sufficient food, medicine, or technology to keep them distracted. However, someone of a lower socioeconomic status might not have the same resources to help them cope and the looming pressure from the media makes them feel like they need more to survive but it is nearly impossible for them to obtain that. Everyone keeps reiterating, "I can't wait until we return to normalcy", however in my opinion that is not the correct mindset, because our previous reality was also injurious. The ingenuity displayed by the working class must also be transferred to those in power who should use this pandemic as an indication of what aspects of society must change immediately. Those small courses of action that have been implemented to mitigate suffering have served as temporary social antidotes. They have counteracted the effects of the pandemic but they have not cured them. That is where the government needs to step in to make sure those problems are addressed for the sake of everyone and in case a second wave occurs or a new pandemic arises.

Jerilyne

This pandemic happened so drastically with a blink of an eye. Who would have thought that this would ever happen to us? At first nobody took it that seriously and we all believed that this virus would not reach us, but unfortunately it did. When the virus arrived, a lot quickly changed with the Mayor of New York locking down the city and ensuring that nobody was coming in or out during the crisis. Then New Jersey did the same, but we had a curfew until 8 p.m. while New York did not. Before all of this occurred, I was living on campus, it was a regular school day, and I decided to go to the gym with my friend. Once I started my work out, that's when I received that email from the school stating, "all classes were going to be canceled." That took me by surprise because just a minute ago, things were okay until I opened up the Instagram application on my phone and noticed that most universities were closing their facilities. That's when things started to look a bit strange and my anxiety levels were rising. Minutes later, I received another email explaining, "those who are living on campus must leave the premises as soon as possible, take some belonging back home until further notice."

Later that night, I started to pack all of my belongings. Something in my stomach told me, we are not coming back, so gather all of your things, which was what I told myself, and I did it. What was crazy was that this happened right before spring break was happing, so things were not going as planned. Thankfully, I only lived 10 minutes away from the Rutgers campus, so I did not have to worry about traveling far away. The next day we all started moving out, taking what we needed at the time, but international students had no place to go, so they had to stay on campus during this whole transition that we were going through. Saturday, March 14th, while this pandemic was happening, I was able to work at my job, still at the mall, which was a good thing for me. On March 16th, which was a Monday, I received a phone call from my manager letting me know that the Gap Factory was closing until further notice. After I got off the phone with her, my anxiety levels started kicking in again, which led to having a massive mental breakdown because having some income was essential for me, especially for my family. When it comes to my family, I'm right by their side, and when they need money for food, diapers for my brother, or to pay the water bill, I am there to help. So now that I didn't have a job, it made me stress out even more.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, my family and I went through a tragic event in our lives that, sadly, involved my older sibling. Three years ago, in Cleveland, Ohio, my older brother was on a bicycle heading home from work as a bartender at around 1 or 2 a.m. I don't remember the exact time it happened, but he was involved in a car accident; both sides of his skull were damaged, which left him in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. So, his accident did affect me tremendously and it did so for my family too. We all cope with it differently; I am the type to show no emotions and would rather keep my feelings and thoughts to myself. Transferring my older brother from Cleveland, Ohio, back to Newark, New Jersey, I had to prepare myself mentally. Acknowledging that this is our new lifestyle, having someone we love on disability, which I would never think of saying. Having him with us is an everyday reminder of what we are going through and it hurts me. Fast-forwarding, now that we are in the crazy-ass pandemic, it's horrifying to know that this virus can take away someone's life quickly. Especially if you are elderly, someone who has a weak immune system or someone like my brother who is in a vegetative state. So obviously my family and I are like in panic mode because we need to make sure nobody comes to our house during this crisis just for his sake.

 Days turned into weeks, and I noticed that police officers were driving around my area, giving out tickets to people for being outside during curfew, which was insane. But it was not like two cops; it was about eight to ten cop vehicles patrolling. They were not playing, but people around my area did not care whatsoever when they should have. I have never seen so many cop cars in my life where I live, the only times that you see that many police officers are at concerts or festivals. So, when I saw that it was like a hit of reality, like this coronavirus pandemic is real and not something you should be joking or fooling around about this time. Everywhere you go now you have to have a mask on whether you're going out grocery shopping or to the nearest Walgreens. You are required to wear one and without it you are not allowed to enter the premises at all. Some stores are strict with how many people can enter. For example, if you go to Walmart in the morning, you will be lucky enough to not wait in line, but if you go there in the afternoon, you will be waiting on a long line to get in. COVID-19 has truly changed everyone, and if the Governor of New Jersey decides to reopen everything, I can tell you that it won't be the same anymore. I'm scared to leave my own house; just the thought of it makes me nervous.

Overall, this whole experience of COVID-19 has been a rollercoaster of emotions. Now that all universities have transitioned to online courses, my stress level is even higher because I've never taken online courses, so this was brand new to me. Thankfully most of my professors were flexible with the assignments and deadlines, but even though I had a ton of work to do in such a short amount of time, I was still overwhelmed by it. I already deal with depression and anxiety, so it's like what else can go wrong from here. Not to mention, I found out recently that my only grandmother that I have left from my mother's side was diagnosed with bone cancer. It's harder for my mother not to have her mother by her side because she lives in Peru, so this is another curve ball thrown at us during COVID-19. When will this stop, like when will my family and I have a break from one negative news to another? Many people are dying, I have friends who have lost people who they love to this nasty virus. When will it end? 

Sara 

Hiya! This is Sara reporting for my Our Planet Crisis Course offered at Rutgers Newark for the Spring of 2020! I really wanted to get a sense of the lives of my peers during this pandemic. I recorded their experiences in an unconventional way because this is a complicated time. I did an hour and a half long interview with a beloved friend who caught the virus. She asked to remain anonymous and for me to share a few of her main points. I respect her choices. I also did mini informal interviews with peers who have shared some stories and photos.

I also took a few of my own photos and added a few quotes of my own because I am a college student HIGHLY affected by this pandemic and by the Social - Political and Economic way this world I live in is run.

The following are some of those words and photographs:

Sara's Project - Image 1

I cooked more than usual. I made lots of soups and curries and rice, baked some bread, fried plantains, and made desserts. 

Sara's Project - Image 2

 

Sara's Project - Image 3

Living in another state temporarily, combined with internships being canceled, has set me back. But I have not given hope. Perhaps all of this unused potential energy will bring out more motivation and drive in me, even if it is out of suppression.

Sara's Project - Image 4

 

Sara's Project - Image 5

 

Sara's Project - Image 9

 

Testing Center. University Hospital. "They are not letting anyone know about testing at the Hospital… they sent me to the ER and I know I am gonna get so many bills I can't pay."

Sara's Project - Image 5a

View from Rutgers Dorm Building. Windows murky.

Sara's Project - Image 6

Lunch for the last week. My favorite peanut butter. Chopstix from a sushi meal I had what feels like months ago. And a date I snuck from the kitchen because I'm supposed to be fasting.

Sara's Project - Image 7Sara's Project - Image 8

One mask. Two masks. Three.

Sara's story is included in @collegelifeofthepandemic Instagram page. Check out their page and follow them to see the varying experiences of  Rutgers-Newark students.