[This story is part of a series exploring the experiences of students at Santa Barbara High School who have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. An introduction to the project and more coverage can be found here.]
Lila Gibson planned on going to school on Tuesday, January 4th. While a few friends she had been with on New Year’s had tested positive for COVID-19, she seemed to be in perfectly good health. Furthermore, she had tested negative twice when she took the home tests that were recommended to return to school. But when she woke up, she knew something was seriously wrong. As fatigue seemed to overwhelm every inch of her being, her mom was insistent that she did not miss any more of her classes. To Gibson, a senior, the idea of going to school seemed absolutely impossible. She was not even sure how she could get there: “I was just thinking in my head, I don’t know how I’m going to drive.”
As she tried to get ready, her body seemed to be in full revolt. Gibson said, “I was shaking. […] I was blacking in and out. And I just started hysterically crying because my whole body was hurting so bad and I couldn’t handle any interaction.” Finally her mom relented when Gibson began to throw up. Gibson locked herself in her room as her mom picked up COVID-19 tests from Santa Barbara High School. Gibson says that the test she took showed the “quickest, darkest positive line.” She was stricken by a 104 fever and terrible cold sweats. On that first day, she says that all she could do was sleep.
After what Gibson describes as her ‘24-hours of hell’, some Tylenol helped to break her fever. At the beginning of her infection, she was not even able to look at her phone or watch TV because of the nausea and fatigue, but the rest of her self-quarantine was mostly defined by boredom. She watched movies and tried to make up assignments in her classes, but she says that she is “a very active person,” and she missed exercising. Because her room has a door that leads directly outside, she was able to go on a few masked walks in isolated areas. But even as her worst symptoms receded, she still remained nauseous and fatigued with little appetite, including after she tested negative for the virus. While Gibson’s family carefully brought meals to her door, they all got PCR tested and none of them ever came back positive. Because Gibson says they had all been around each other when she would have been infectious, this is yet another testament to the randomness of the virus.
While her initial symptoms made Gibson consider worst-case scenario ER visits, she mostly worried about her grandma who lives with her. Although her grandma is in good health, Gibson was anxious she may have passed the virus to her and it could have taken a serious toll because of her age. Luckily, her grandma did not test positive, but Gibson remains worried about people who may not be as healthy as her or have access to the same resources. She does believe that the School District’s surveillance testing is making school a substantially safer place to be, and even after her experience, she definitely would not consider a return to online learning given the mental health effects it had on students the last time the District implemented it. After two years of the pandemic, she says that we need to do “what keeps everyone safe” but also “keep moving forward” in terms of living our lives.
Although Gibson was out for finals week, she found all of her teachers to be understanding and supportive. They eased her stress by only asking her to make up as much of the work as she was able. As she completed assignments and rescheduled tests, she was in communication with the principal about when she would be able to return to school. She says that after day four of her infection, she was mentally ready to be back and just waiting for a negative test. As the days dragged on, she went to sleep later and woke up later. But on day eight, her test finally came back negative for COVID-19, and she was able to return to the life that she had desperately missed.