This is part of Essential Voices, a series of interviews with people confronting COVID-19.
David Vega is a fourth year-medical student at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Earlier this year, he was in Africa for one of his courses. He had heard about the coronavirus spreading in China, but didn’t think much of it.
He returned to the U.S. in early March, stopped in Florida to visit family and friends, and then came back to Indiana. He told Side Effects that his symptoms started a couple days later.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and length:
Vega: I remember waking up that morning with fever, chills, fatigue, loss of appetite. It felt like a flu, at first. Thankfully, I had a doctor's appointment scheduled for the next day on Friday the 13th. They ended up doing a flu test on me, and that came back negative.
I did not think it was COVID-19. There were only a few outbreaks. I didn't hear about many in Indiana or in Florida. My provider told me to stay home and self-quarantine until I got my COVID results back. I had no desire to do anything -- mostly staying in bed and just watching Netflix all day.
I think the worst part was just the duration of symptoms, because usually, I've had a flu in the past, and fever chills might last two or three days. But this thing was lingering. And that was scary.
So I actually had to wait seven days to get my results, so on the 20th I finally find out that I was positive for COVID-19. It was a very busy day. So actually I had a financial aid meeting that morning via Zoom, talking about all the debt that I'm in as a medical student. So that's already putting me in a sort of funk. And then I got my results an hour before I found out where I was going to match for residency for emergency medicine. So I think all these things -- it was a lot to handle in a day.
I was a bit in shock. I was expecting her to call and say, ‘Hey, your COVID-19 results came back negative.’ But when she said ‘positive,’ I was like, ‘Really?’ I think by that point in time, I just figured it was something else, another virus.
Once I received that phone call, they told me to self-quarantine for another seven days. And they said, ‘Yeah, once you're done with that you don't have to stay at home.’ But then of course, Indiana issued the stay at home order, so it was kind of like continuing the quarantine.
But just finishing that 14-day quarantine, I was very, very conscientious and a bit paranoid about the fact that I know I just recovered from COVID.
Because, you know, we're not quite sure about viral shedding times and things like that. I just wanted to make sure I'm still keeping my distance even more so, if I'm going out in public.
I think once I finally accepted the fact that I had it, I think I understood even more personally, the severity of this virus. And it knocked me out for about two weeks. I'm someone I consider relatively young and healthy. I don't have any medical conditions or anything like that. I try to exercise and eat, eat healthy, and it's still probably the most sick I've ever been in my life. And I can only imagine what it's doing to other people with other medical conditions, other people that are older.
If anything, I think it makes me more excited to join the front lines. I have some sort of immunity, I'm a little less scared to treat these patients. And having it firsthand, I can empathize a bit better with those patients, as well.
Actually, the governor of the state of Indiana issued an executive order to allow fourth year medical students to graduate early and allow us to help out with this pandemic. So I was planning on moving back home, but just seeing the help that's needed, I decided to stay here a little bit longer in Indiana.
This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health.
Side Effects, WFYI and Indiana Public Broadcasting are asking Americans about health issues, as part of America Amplified: Election 2020. The public media initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, uses community engagement to inform and strengthen local, regional and national journalism. Follow on Twitter at @amplified2020.
If you have a personal story to share from the front lines of this pandemic, wherever that may be, email email@example.com.