How I survived Ross Hall COVID-19 isolation

Ross Love sign over the entrance doors to Ross Hall. Photo by Mae-Mae Han.

MAE-MAE HAN | STAFF REPORTER | mhan@butler.edu

By the end of the in-person semester, cases of COVID-19 spiked in the Butler community, and more and more students were placed into isolation in ex-first-year-dorm Ross Hall when experiencing symptoms, before getting tested or after testing positive for COVID-19. Uncertainty and loneliness have left many students’ mental health devastated. 

The following account was my experience being placed into Ross isolation, and how I left with some semblance of my sanity intact.

Saturday, Oct. 31

On Halloween, I was feeling absolutely great. Sure, I had a mountain of homework and studying looming over my head, but I still had much to look forward to; an organization I am a co-leader for had a performance the following Friday, I had a bomb Halloween costume Elizabeth Holmes of medical industry scandal “Theranos” infamy — and I was going to be hanging out with a new guy that I have been “seeing.”

That afternoon after taking a nap, I woke up with a sore throat and a hacking cough. I thought to myself, “just post-nap dry mouth, right? There is no way I am sick.”

I chugged some water, but then I noticed that I was feeling abnormally hot. When I was completing my daily health screening earlier that day, my temperature had been normal. When I retook my temperature then, the beep of the thermometer let me know my temperature was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the wise words of modern philosopher Bruno Mars: “I’m too hot — hot damn.”

I took my temperature over and over and over again. In my left armpit, in my right armpit, under the tongue, after taking off my sweater. Each incessant beep of the thermometer ― hey, dummy, you have a fever! ― mocked me and dashed all hopes that I could somehow just will my fever away.

New-guy-that-I-have-been-seeing texted me: “OMW” ― that means “on my way” for our more seasoned readers.

Me: “I took a nap and now I’m coughing”

Him: “… lol”

A million thoughts raced through my mind. The absolute irony of the situation! I am a pre-pharmacy major, I have a performance next week and my roommates and I are incredibly cautious about pandemic safety. I do not have room in my academic schedule for being sick while also trying not to get hate crimed for being a Chinese American during pandemic xenophobia. New-guy literally gets tested for COVID-19 every single day for his job, and after his most recent negative test, I had legitimately joked that his negative test was essentially a labor-free negative test for me, too. 

Others were partying maskless for Halloween, how was I the one being punished by the universe by being cursed with sickness?

At this point, I entered a self-imposed isolation in my room in Fairview. I let my roommates, my family and organization co-leaders know about my situation. My roommates, being the absolute saints they are, were willing to bring me anything that I needed. When they brought me dinner from Atherton, the Brita to refill my water, Ibuprofen, et cetera, they entered my room wearing a mask and left the delivery on the counter next to the door while I stayed at the other end of the room.

The rest of Saturday night was spent primarily panicking, fever-sweating my butt off and video calling new-guy until I went to bed. While I had completed another daily health screening with my suspiciously COVID-19-like symptoms, all it said was to call Health Services. Considering Health Services is closed on the weekends ― a serious oversight on the part of the university ― this was pretty useless. This might come as a surprise to administration, but transmission of the virus does not stop just because the work week is over! 

As new-guy so kindly put it: “that o chem exam does not care if you’re alive or not :/”

My RA had no answers for me and my roommates. My only options were to wait to get tested until Monday or put my roommates at risk by having them drive me to an outside testing facility since I do not have a car on campus.

My student organization had rehearsed for the next week’s performance that previous Thursday and Friday. If I had COVID-19, did that mean that I had put everyone that was at rehearsal at risk? Would we even be able to have a performance? Did I put my roommates at risk? Would it be safe for them to go to class on Monday, or would that endanger their classmates? I had an organic chemistry lab on Monday; would I be able to go to that?

The not-knowing was the worst part of my COVID-19 scare, especially for all of these incredibly time-sensitive matters. Did I have COVID-19? Was it the flu? Or am I just so burnt out from this semester that my stress has manifested into illness?

All I wanted was to be tested, but because Health Services was closed, I simply had no choice but to wait.

Sunday, Nov. 1

On Sunday, Nov. 1, I was still isolating in my room, experiencing fever, cough, et cetera. My roommates brought me lunch. I was fatigued, but I felt guilty for taking naps because of all the homework I needed to do.

After about 24 hours of experiencing symptoms, I finally got a call from a contact tracer in the afternoon; when cases were spiking mid-November, I heard from one of my roommates that it is now taking even longer for Butler’s contact tracers to call people as they are being overwhelmed with new positive cases. It certainly would be advantageous to hire more as to avoid overburdening the already-understaffed contract tracing team.

As confirmed by the contact tracer, I would have to wait until Monday morning to get tested ― just absolutely brilliant. Soon after that call, I got an email to move into Ross Hall for symptomatic isolation. This included information about my move-in process and a hefty PDF about isolation procedures. I was so convinced that I would test positive that I packed just enough for a few days to hold me over until I was forced to go isolate at home.

As I morosely walked over to Ross Hall, I felt a twinge of humiliation, as if my walk of shame was a scarlet letter branding me as some reckless partier ― which I am not. I prayed no one I knew would see me and judge me.

I entered Ross using my student ID and picked up my room key and a drawstring bag from the lobby. The bag included flip-flops for the communal shower, alcohol wipes, tissues, hand sanitizer, masks and trash bags. There were also extra emergency toiletries such as toothpaste, deodorant, menstrual products and shampoo set out on a table in the lobby. However, you must bring your own toiletries, bedding and towels.

My mom was worried that if I did not already have the virus, then I would be infected by being in the isolation hall with positive cases. Fortunately, I had an assigned bathroom to avoid crossing paths with anyone else who might be in isolation. So I did not starve, I filled out a form from Bon Appetiít to get meals delivered to me; the employee would send a text after they left my food on one of the various benches or tables in the Ross lobby.

I shuffled into my assigned room. Each room is pretty much the same as they were when they housed freshmen ― two beds, two desks, closet space, a mirror on the back of the door, a recycling bin and a trash bin.

I had a sad dinner sitting at a sad Ross desk. I spilled half of my food all over myself, which truly was just an accurate representation of how my day was going. I scrolled through Instagram, and seeing people’s Halloween posts while I, a relatively good bean, was the one feeling sick and imprisoned in Ross. How unfair!

New-guy and I called again, and I went to bed early. I still had a mountain of homework to do, but I simply did not have the physical nor mental capacity to do anything productive.

As I lay in bed attempting to fall asleep, I thought to myself, “I might literally be the only person in this entire building, and I am going to die alone, haha.”

Monday, Nov. 2

When I woke up on Monday, the very first thing I did was take my temperature, which was back down to normal. Hallelujah! However, I was still coughing and had a sore throat, and ― spoiler alert ― I still have a cough and sore throat to this day.

After taking my temperature, I immediately called Health Services to finally schedule an appointment to get tested. They did four rapid tests that morning ― COVID-19, flu, mono and strep ― that all came out negative.

However, I still had to wait for the results of the send-out PCR test that goes to an off-campus lab, and it would take 24-72 hours to receive my results. In the meantime, I would remain in Ross. The physician’s assistant explained to me that if I tested positive, then I would have to isolate for up to 10 days after I first started feeling symptoms, day one being that past Sunday. Though my permanent residence is only 30 minutes from campus, I was told that I could either go home or stay in Ross if I wanted to.

I trekked back to Ross, did some homework, called new-guy a bunch, et cetera. Even though I had tested negative with a rapid test, I was still absolutely convinced that I had COVID-19. Even though I had not done anything unsafe, why else would I have a fever and cough? I was especially confused considering I had also tested negative for the flu, mono and strep. If I did not have any of these illnesses, then why was I sick?

For some reason, dinner was delivered to me at an odd time that night ― around 4:30 p.m., which is too early for dinner in my opinion. On the meal ordering form, Bon Appetit officially gives a few time periods that meals will be approximately delivered in, and the dinner window is 4-6 p.m., which I found to be an abnormal dinner-delivery time period.

Tuesday, Nov. 3

On Tuesday, I still had the same symptoms as Monday: cough and sore throat with no fever. Though I did not have a fever, what I did have was an email from a professor asking me why I was not in class on Monday and if I was okay. Apparently, if you are in symptomatic isolation, your professors are NOT contacted on your behalf. This was a shock to me because in the isolation informational PDF, it says that your professors will be contacted, but I assume this must only be for positive cases. 

Pro tip: make sure to email your professors yourself. 

Throughout the day, I watched a lot of standup comedy, called new-guy, belted along to “The Middle” by Zedd despite my sore throat and again toiled away at my homework. When I picked up a meal from the lobby, I saw another delivery and realized that there was another person in isolation. I hope they were not able to hear all of my sick-person singing and conversations with myself. If they did, and they are reading this, I would like to apologize.

Around 4 p.m., I got an email notifying me of a message from Health Services. I had a negative result, meaning I could go back to my dorm! I continued with homework and, as per the message’s instructions, waited for a call to be informed of my official move-out procedure. New-guy and I called as I had another 4:30 p.m. dinner, finished packing and ultimately made it back to my long-lost home of Fairview. My roommates greeted me with ― metaphorically ― open arms. I was very excited to be back among humanity and to finally be able to wash my hair using my own shampoo and conditioner.

Wednesday and onwards

Even though I was technically cleared to go back to class in-person, I still attended them online just to be safe, especially since I was still coughing. When I was called by Health Services on Tuesday, I had to schedule a follow-up rapid test for Thursday ― three days after my previous ones. Fortunately, that one came back negative, too. 

That means that in the course of a few days, I had three negative tests for COVID-19, in addition to a negative test for flu, mono and strep. However, I still did not feel totally comfortable going to class in-person or going out much, so I was still on Zoom as to avoid putting anyone at risk.

Even now, weeks later, I am still coughing and have a sore throat. And still mostly on Zoom. Sigh. 

In regards to my academics, just as many others, this semester with no breaks has truly kicked me in the butt. I mean, I was already slightly behind when I got sick, but the physical and emotional burden of having pseudo-COVID-19 set me back even more, particularly so close to the end of the semester. 

The ominous shadows of finals are being cast over my life, even more so than they would have without being sick. If you experience something similar, definitely reach out to your professors; hopefully, they should be understanding and accommodating of the situation.

Honestly, that period of time that I started isolation to the days immediately following it where I was not going to class in-person still feels a little surreal. Squatting in one room for 99% of the day just does that to a person.

However, what really, really, really helped me out was staying in communication with the people in my life. I was constantly Snapchatting and messaging my roommates and other friends. New-guy and I called for several hours every single day, and my mom also called me a couple of times. Even though I was physically alone, I was still connected to the outside world.

Even if you are in isolation, you are not totally alone. Remember that your struggle is not solely your own burden to carry.

You are definitely not the only one who has had to go through the isolation process, and you have people around you ― friends, family, roommates, partners, professors, et cetera ― who are here to support you; make sure to stay connected to them.

When I thought I had COVID-19, I felt completely lost because I had essentially no idea what to expect, so I hope this has helped to alleviate at least a little bit of the uncertainty for you.

And again, just in case, email your professors yourself.

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