‘It could happen to you’: WKU senior recounts living with COVID-19, encourages social distancing

Even though graduation ceremonies have been rescheduled, graduating seniors congregate at WKU landmarks to take pictures commemorating theirtime at WKU.

Rebekah Alvey

This story was published in the May 8 final print issue. Read the full issue here. 

WKU senior Kayla Andrade and those close to her always joked she had the immune system of a “goddess.” She never got sick.

“I just didn’t think it could happen to me,” Andrade said.

But it started with a tickle in her throat on March 16. After an increase in symptoms Andrade tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the 10th confirmed case in Warren County. Almost immediately after learning her tests were positive, she recalled seeing a tweet announcing a 10th person in Warren County had COVID-19.

“I was like, ‘Oh wow. That’s me,” Andrade said.

While many have assumed younger people, including college students, face no serious risk from the coronavirus, Andrade paints a picture of a dark and painful two weeks of symptoms and strongly encourages social distancing.

After feeling irritation in her throat, Andrade said she developed a fever of 101.4, which caused her to be tested for flu and strep throat, both of which came back negative.

Before testing for COVID-19, her doctor tested Andrade for other viruses, a process which took longer and still returned negative. After going to the doctor, Andrade said she started to have a cough and the fever persisted. The next day, her symptoms expanded and she woke up with “extreme” body aches.

“Even my fingertips hurt,” Andrade said.

Still, she didn’t think she had the coronavirus. It wasn’t until the third day when she noticed no improvement in her health that she began to consider the possibility.

Eventually, Andrade’s sore throat turned into respiratory issues associated with the virus.

In a Zoom class and FaceTime call, she began to have trouble breathing. She said she began to “freak out” after noticing those symptoms. If she tried to breathe normally she said she would feel a tightness in her chest or have a “cough attack.”

”It kind of feels like a paper bag, like you’re not really getting much air or oxygen that you need at any time,” Andrade said. ”I wasn’t able to breathe at all, or I was able to breathe but not as well as I would like to.”

Start to finish, Andrade was sick for about two weeks. She said the first week was the worst and it took a total of 10 days before her fever of over 100 degrees broke.

“It was the worst time of my life because I thought I was never going to get better,” Andrade said. “At night when I went to bed was always the worst part of it because I was just blazing hot but freezing at the same time, and my body hurt so bad. I just, I didn’t know what to do or how to get better.”

At one point she recalled drinking a smoothie with ginger and other immune-system-boosting ingredients. While she could breathe through her nose normally, she realized she couldn’t smell or taste anything.

“Eating anything, it just was weird,” Andrade said about losing her sense of taste and smell.

After the worst of the symptoms subsided, Andrade said she still had some trouble breathing and coughing. Additionally, she said her body has been really weak and low energy.

After tests for flu, strep and other viruses came back negative, Andrade said she was eventually tested for COVID-19.

At this point, she said she already assumed she had the virus.

Andrade said she did not enter the doctor’s office to get tested. Instead, her doctor and an assistant came outside to the side of the building to take her temperature, check her breathing and then swab her for COVID-19.

Forty-eight hours later, those results came back positive.

“In a way, I kind of knew because I have never felt anything like that in my whole entire life,” Andrade said.

After visiting the doctor, Andrade was sent home with some antibiotics and an inhaler to help with her breathing.

Because she went through so many tests before eventually being diagnosed with COVID-19, Andrade said she was already starting to recover and feel better. In a way, she said she wished she was tested earlier but also wasn’t sure what difference an early diagnosis would’ve made.

“When I was sick, I was like, ‘I don’t see an end of this,’ like I forgot what it felt like to feel healthy, I forgot how it felt to breathe normally, how it felt to not have a fever, to taste, to smell,” Andrade said. “It felt like I’ve been sick forever, and that I was not going to get better.”

Denisse Andrade, Kayla’s aunt and a physician assistant in New York has seen the impact of this virus first hand. As a surgical PA, she was moved to an intensive care unit to care for COVID-19 patients after the state cancelled all elective surgeries.

While she primarily treats people more at-risk, she knew Kayla would likely be fine because of her age and health, Denisse said she still had some fears. At her hospital she said there are some “outliers” where young patients with no preexisting conditions would not recover from the virus.

“I was always nervous in the back of my head you know, constantly checking in on her,” Denisse said. “… But I wouldn’t say I was entirely surprised because this, it spreads like wildfire.”

While young, healthy patients do rarely die as a result of COVID-19, she said the primary issue is how young people can spread the disease to more vulnerable populations.

As a medical worker in one of the hardest hit states in the U.S., Denisse said at times she feels hopeless. In this surgical field, she said she typically knows performing surgery will treat a patient. With COVID-19, she said there is no set treatment and sometimes despite many attempts to get them well, patients still die.

“There’s so much anxiety behind it because every day that you start your shift, you don’t know if someone’s gonna die on your shift,” Denisse said.

While Kayla had the virus, Denisse said she primarily encouraged her to monitor her fever and other symptoms to watch for signs of pneumonia, which some COVID-19 patients have contracted.

Ill and isolated

Once she was confirmed positive, Kayla Andrade said she received a call from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the Health Department asking who she was in contact with and asking for their contact information. She said everyone included was placed in quarantine for at least a week.

Additionally, she had to sign a contract ensuring she would provide daily updates on her temperature and symptoms and would not go outside.

When she was sick, she said the quarantine wasn’t too bad because she simply couldn’t imagine doing anything else and was mainly stuck in bed. Once she recovered, she said it was difficult to stay inside all the time, but understood how necessary it was.

During the peak of her illness, WKU ended its extended Spring Break and returned to online classes. Andrade said she reached out to professors who were understanding and encouraged her to prioritize her health.

Still, she said the transition to online classes has been equally difficult for her because she is a face-to-face learner and “loves to go to class.” Especially because of the virus, she feels it has been difficult to jump back into classes and stay caught up.

“It’s my senior year, you know,” Andrade said. “Graduation was postponed, and then I got the one virus that everyone has been avoiding, trying not to get. So it’s been a roller coaster.”

Before life completely changed, businesses shut down and mass gatherings were cancelled, Andrade said she and her boyfriend went to a concert in Nashville on March 14. Aside from the concert, she said she hadn’t been around anyone displaying signs of the virus and hadn’t really left the house.

In the time before Andrade started feeling really sick, she said she did see a few other people. However, no one else has gotten sick so far.

Andrade shares her Bowling Green apartment with her roommate of three years, Avery Nordgren.

At first, Nordgren said she was nervous she could get sick because they have been in close contact. However, she has not displayed any symptoms. Similar to Andrade, the health department asked Nordgren to report her temperature and symptoms.

With the time Andrade was experiencing symptoms and the mandatory two-week quarantine after she recovered, she and Nordgren were quarantined together for a month. Nordgren said she was a bit disappointed because she had planned to return home to stay with family. However, she said she and Andrade found ways to make the most of the situation.

After knowing Andrade for five years, Nordgren said it was difficult and strange to see her fighting the virus. She described her as a positive and active person, and they would regularly work out and eat well together.

“To see her always like this happy-go-lucky self to like this person who was not leaving her room or anything, you could definitely tell that there was a big difference and shift in her demeanor,” Nordgren said. “It was pretty heartbreaking. It was definitely a 180 from what she usually is.”

‘What are you doing?’ Watching people ignore social distancing

When she was “extremely sick” Andrade said she thought a lot about how the outside world was treating the virus, and especially how college students were reacting.

Andrade, a healthy and active 23-year-old and nutrition major, said she thought about her grandparents or older relatives having this virus.

“I honestly don’t think they would be able to get through it,” Andrade said. “Because there were days where I went to bed and I would cry, I would cry because I felt so awful, and I didn’t think I was going to get better again … I just thought every day was going to be the same day of feeling this horror.”

Now as states begin to plateau or see a halt in the rapid rise of cases, Denisse said she’s become slightly more optimistic but nervous about a second surge. Without a vaccine or treatment, people should not go back to their normal lives or ignore the social distancing guidelines, she said.

“Although it might not affect you directly, you can be the reason that grandma or grandpa dies,” Denisse said. “You know, we had a lot of patients that grandma and grandpa were isolating and quarantining, but the family members came to visit, and now grandma and grandpa have coronavirus, and now they’re dead.”

On social media, Andrade said she has been shocked to see college students still having “coronavirus parties” and ignoring some of the social distancing guidelines.

“What are you doing?” Andrade asked.

From watching Andrade struggle, Nordgren said she hopes everyone, including college students, stays inside. From social media she said she was surprised to see that the social distancing guidelines and other safety actions were not progressing very quickly.

In these cases, Andrade said she believes college students don’t understand the magnitude because they haven’t gotten the virus.

After experiencing the coronavirus first hand, she said she now realizes why some people are dying as a result. She said she wouldn’t want anyone in her life to get this virus because it was a battle she didn’t know if she could overcome.

She pointed to the toll the virus took on her body, and the fact she now has an inhaler after never struggling with her breathing before. She said when you’re sick with COVID-19, it’s hard to know what the right thing to do is.

Should you go to the hospital when you’re struggling to breathe? Or do you stay at home so it can’t spread? She said in that position, you can’t really do anything.

At the end of the day, she said partying and continuing with regular life is just not worth the risk of getting this virus.

“If a college student thinks they can’t get it, you’re wrong,” Andrade said. “You’re absolutely wrong. It can happen to you.”

While there’s a lot of negativity to focus on right now, Andrade said she can still be optimistic. For example, she said she considers how much road work will be done around her since no one is on the road. Or how with the house under construction in front of her, something new and fresh is being built so quickly.

Most importantly, Andrade said she thinks people will be “cleaner” after this pandemic, by washing their hands and thinking about health more.

“I just hope it’s a learning experience in a way,” Andrade said. “I know we didn’t need this to happen to learn from it but at the same time, once it’s all over people realize that if we do get another global pandemic, you take action sooner than later.”

“We’re going to learn from this, be healthier, smarter, human beings,” Andrade said.

Editor-in-Chief Rebekah Alvey can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @bekah_alvey.