One year ago, it was my last normal week before going on lockdown in California. What happened to me? Read on.
Before The Last Week Hit:
There were signs that the pandemic was on the way. At the time, I was still in my last semester at university. I had BAD senioritis! Plus, I was trying to deal with the rest of my required classes, and having as much fun with my friends as possible. I had done my senior thesis the previous semester. The topic was the opioid epidemic, and after all my research, that was the only epidemic that was on my mind.
I had my plans for after university. I was in the process of looking for a job. My parents were going to move to Calgary. I decided to stay in the US but move out of California because it was too expensive. After all these international moves I had done and living in countries where I didn’t fit in, I didn’t want to go through that process again only to have it not work out. Anyone who knows me knows my favourite dog ever is the black labrador. I vowed to get one after I graduated and I was excited at the prospect!
Then it all went to hell, and I don’t want to talk about what I wanted before anymore.
Whispers of A Nameless Fear:
I had heard of COVID-19 in almost a mythical sense. I think there was a certain amount of cognitive dissonance for a while. My professors said faculty had to be prepared to change their lesson structure in case classes went online. I didn’t want to believe it at first. As a student, my main transport method was BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit. Not Bart Simpson. Yes, I get that joke a lot!). During February, there was a steady trickle of people wearing masks on BART trains.
I heard people talking about COVID-19 on campus. It was almost laughable when we got a notice about how cleaning procedures had changed because of COVID-19. People were thinking, “Really? You’re taking cleaning seriously?” My campus was rather small and isolated, so the mindset was more of, the virus is “out there”. Although, when people went off-campus, they started taking more precautions. News travels fast on a small campus, so when I heard that someone who was sick sat at a certain place in the cafeteria, I was like, “I hope it’s not what I think it is!” I had been keeping up with news on COVID-19, but it just sounded like something that was heard on the news. The craziest news story for me was all the passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship getting infected with COVID-19.
Monday, March 9, 2020:
By now, the WHO had declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. I woke up to the news that the Diamond Princess cruise ship with all the infected passengers had docked in the Port of Oakland. That was not too far from my school! I felt panic on campus that day. Suddenly, the likelihood of getting COVID-19 had become real. It was like in the Two Towers when Faramir takes Frodo and Sam to Gondor. The Nazgul arrive and Frodo says, “They’re here.” Even though there were cases of COVID-19 in California already, the Diamond Princess cruise ship was our symbolic Patient Zero. The question on everyone’s minds now was, “what’s going to happen?”
I overheard someone say this about the person who decided to dock the ship in the Port of Oakland. “Why don’t they just admit they’re racist?” I have to agree with that statement. I saw a video from a dockworker who said that the cruise ship workers tried to evade hygiene protocols and I wasn’t surprised by that. Was there any other port they could have chosen that was not in a predominately POC area? I wish I knew that off the top of my head.
I should also mention that I had been trying for a long time to schedule wisdom tooth surgery. My insurance finally approved it and I was good to go for surgery in two days. Additionally, my parents convinced me to get the surgery ASAP because we didn’t know if I would get another chance. I spent the rest of the day getting ready for my impending surgery.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020:
I didn’t know this at the time, but this was the last day I saw my closest friends. Plus, it was my last full day on that campus before I graduated. I had lunch with three of my friends that day. Coronavirus was not far from our minds. We talked about our concerns if classes didn’t go online. The administration was certainly dragging its feet. Other local universities had already gone online. While we were eating lunch, we got an email from the administration. They weren’t going to move all the classes online. Only classes with 30 people or more would move online. We were appalled at the administration’s response! Their solution wasn’t going to do anything to stop the spread of the virus! The vast majority of my university classes were less than 30 people!
It was awkward thinking of how to say goodbye to my friends. I said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen and I don’t know if I will be coming back after my surgery, but take care!” Then, I hugged them for the last time. I went home that night because I had to be in surgery early the next morning. I took Lyft home because I was scared of possibly contracting COVID-19 on BART. My university wasn’t distributing masks, so I could only get a mask at home. Luckily, we already had a stash of KN95s. We had them for whenever a wildfire hit. It was a happy accident we had them for the pandemic too.
Wednesday, March 11, 2020:
My parents and I travelled to UCSF early in the morning for my surgery. We were on BART and there were a lot more people wearing masks. It was the first day my parents and I started wearing masks. While I was waiting for surgery, I got an email from my fellow students petitioning the administration to move classes online. I signed it while fuming because I couldn’t believe it had come to this.
My surgery went pretty smoothly, even though I didn’t have sedation. I was only getting my upper wisdom teeth out, so it didn’t take very long. The surgeon had to really dig to get my right tooth out. I felt like my head was going to split open afterwards.
We took Lyft home and I was cradling my head the whole way. We passed by the Port of Oakland and this silence fell over the car when we saw the Diamond Princess cruise ship. I managed to take a couple of photos of the ship so that I can honestly say that I was in California at the start of the pandemic when the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked. My Dad made a cross with his fingers at the ship. If I hadn’t been in pain, I would have said, “Dad. That only works in movies.”
We watched movies that night so I could distract myself from my head throbbing. I was living on painkillers at this point.
Thursday, March 12, 2020:
I rested all day thanks to my head still feeling like it was going to split open. I got an email from my uni administration saying that classes were going online. Apparently, there was going to be a shelter-in-place announcement for the state of California. I know putting classes online was the right thing to do, but I couldn’t stop crying.
The week before, I had ordered my hood and stole for Commencement. I received them now and I couldn’t look at them. My last year was cruelly snatched away and I had no idea if Commencement would take place. That moment when you’re in physical pain and then you get emotional pain from bad news on top of that is the worst!
I continued to have moments where I mourned this loss of my school experience. I savoured every moment at that beautiful campus and made some wonderful friends. Later on, we found out Commencement wouldn’t happen. I still don’t know if it will happen. The alums sent my class messages of encouragement and that was another waterworks moment.
Friday, March 13, 2020:
Friday the 13th. What else is new?
Did you know you can get a black eye from upper wisdom tooth removal? Yes, I got one. No surprises there! My head was still throbbing from the surgeon digging deeply around my right tooth. You should see the other guy!
I began to feel better about my classes going online. I got some nice messages from my professors. Classes were resuming on Tuesday. Monday was the day the faculty had to test run the tech they needed for their classes. Glad I got an extra day to recover! One of my professors sent a friendly class invite that said, “Join us for puppets and fun!”
California went on lockdown. We got a phone call outlining details of the shelter-in-place order. I can’t even begin to describe how eerie it felt. You think of shelter-in-place for times like WWII in London during the Blitz or for global thermonuclear war.
The Next Three Days:
My recovery went well. I didn’t get a follow-up appointment because UCSF locked down. At least I didn’t have any complications.
My parents and I began to prepare for the shelter-in-place order. And no, we didn’t buy out all the toilet paper in the store. This was our new life now. I was scared, but now I think that fear has been helpful. Neither I nor my parents have got COVID-19. It doesn’t hurt that my parents have science backgrounds and I studied Data Science. So here’s what I think when I hear about reopening too early.
Well, that’s the story of my last week before lockdown a year ago. What’s yours?