Notes from an Immunocompromised College Senior

By Cassidy Keenan

A few weeks ago as a college senior, I set foot on campus for the first time in six months, ready to enter my final year. And yet for all intents and purposes, I could have been a freshman again—because, at first glance, there was almost nothing that I recognized.

Nearly every policy on campus has changed. This year, before we could even move into our living spaces, we had to provide proof of a negative COVID test in exchange for an orange rubber bracelet marking us as “COVID-safe.” Now, as we go about beginning classes, there are faculty members posted outside each campus building making sure that no one enters without a bracelet. Lines for the new prepackaged “grab and go” cafeteria food stretch across campus, everyone positioned six feet apart and wearing masks.

Classes are farther apart than they used to be—my new music theory class is now being held in one of the auditoriums, where group members shout to one another from several rows away. Some have gone completely remote—you haven’t truly known frustration until you’ve tried to do a lab experiment measuring sound waves over Zoom. (I’ll save you the time; it doesn’t end well.)

No off-campus visitors allowed. Only one on-campus visitor in your living space at a time, wearing masks and standing six feet apart. No sports, no concerts, no off-campus parties or events, and definitely no close contact with anyone except your roommate.

The new rules can be chafing, and difficult to adhere to—I can’t be the only one who is getting tired of not being able to see my friends’ faces.

It is intimidating. And overwhelming. There is a collective sense all across campus of frustration and loss. The new rules can be chafing, and difficult to adhere to—I can’t be the only one who is getting tired of not being able to see my friends’ faces.

But this semester, I want to focus on others. I want to be thinking not about what boundaries I can push, but what people I can serve and protect. And this has been at the forefront of my mind, because I am immunocompromised and in a high risk category—and not even a month ago, I had a bad COVID scare of my own.

Being a type one diabetic means many things. First and foremost, it means that I am no more likely to contract COVID-19 than others—it would just likely be worse for me if I did. The autoimmune disease results in a weakened immune system, meaning that my body can’t fight off diseases. Colds and flus almost always turn into something more serious, bacterial or viral infections that require weeks of antibiotics and then probiotics after that. Not to mention, my blood sugar goes haywire whenever I’m sick, resulting in a lot of highs and lows with very uncomfortable side effects.

So when I caught one of the more benign colds floating around at the end of the summer, my body couldn’t fight it off, and it quickly turned into a case of viral pneumonia. After several days of wheezing and one night of fever, I was sent in for a COVID test, and then isolated completely in my bedroom for four days waiting for the results. It was an enormous relief when they came back negative…but I still had pneumonia to fight.

I spent the busiest part of the summer, coughing, barely able to get out of bed, trying to control my blood sugar. After the routine antibiotics, I was thankfully recovered enough just in time to go back to school. But it made me very afraid. Because if a regular cold results in at least two weeks of misery, I am horrified to think of what COVID could do to my body.

And I am not the only one. The elderly, the sick, the immunocompromised. There are people walking around in our society for whom COVID would not be “just like the flu.” And we are all only as strong as our most vulnerable member.

Now is not the time to take risks. Now is not the time to ignore the statistics. Now is the time when we are presented with a beautiful, unique opportunity to think of others and put their needs before our own.

Yes, masks are uncomfortable. Yes, the experts’ advice is conflicting. Yes, we are scared and confused and do not want to believe that this virus is as serious as they say. And maybe, for you, it isn’t.

But there are people who are risking their lives just to walk among you, or go to work, or get essential groceries. There are people like me, for whom COVID would mean weeks of enormous suffering at best. And I see people disregarding social distancing, or not following the safety measures, and I understand, because it is so frustrating. But I wish those people had stopped first, and given a thought to people like me.

This is the time for us to put stake in one another. This is a chance to respect and protect others, because the nature of this quick-spreading virus gives us all a collective responsibility to each other. This is a chance for us to love harder, and understand better, and give more freely. I am entering this semester afraid, but determined, ready to see people and love them. Hoping that people will see me and love me. From behind masks, and from six feet apart.