Welcome back to the Scenic Route to MD. Last week’s post discussed the arrival to the island and first week of tropical living with in person medical school classes. As I mentioned, the initial days went relatively smoothly, but after the first week things pretty much exploded. Well, let’s get into it.
But first, a little bit of backstory for this particular happening.
Before moving to the island, I had emailed the parties that be asking about Covid policies on the campus. The cases were going back up on the island, there were little to no precautions in place, I was nervous and wanted to cover my bases.
What would happen if we got Covid during classes? How would we make up our missed mandatory classes now that online classes were not being offered? Would there be exceptions made if we were stuck isolating at our apartment? Would we be able to write exams online (as we had done for the previous 2 yrs) if we were sick? I knew that once we got to the island things would be moving at an insanely fast pace and any deviation from the plan could be detrimental.
Over the course of 2 months I sent numerous emails with concerns and received zero response. No follow-up, no acknowledgement. Nothing. Ghosted. It was scary as the moving date was fast approaching and I still had no idea what the situation would look like upon arriving.
When You Know, You Know
Day one of classes came and I tried as hard as I could to be diligent. Slowly but surely a few people started appearing symptomatic and testing positive. Now I was getting more nervous. I made it through the first week of classes before I started feeling somewhat shitty, but hey, med student life am I right? Having a headache alongside feeling garbagey and rundown was almost baseline at this point.
I had packed a bunch of rapid tests in my suitcase just in case, as I had a FEELING something like this would happen, but surprisingly was still testing negative as the weekend went on.
But when I woke up on the Monday morning, I knew.
I felt like trash, was drenched in sweat, and definitely had a fever. Hmm this seemed to be a bit more than med student stress… And sure enough the positive showed up instantly when I took that morning’s rapid test.
This Wasn’t Part of the Plan
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. What a fun cherry atop my condensed in-person experience. In my second week. On a Caribbean island where I had no family or support even remotely near me.
Queue every single stressor alarm my brain had.
What do I do now? Finals were the next week, we had 4 mandatory hospital rotations to check off the list, a handful of mandatory small group class sessions, PLUS I had to start focusing on the upcoming shelf exams.
Would these absences even be excused? We had to maintain a 90% attendance record to be allowed to officially pass our classes, and being that this semester was so short, having to miss a full week of class would definitely set me over the allotted amount. Common sense Jess assured my brain that they would be exempt. How could they not? It’s Covid. But the other side of me wasn’t so sure, based on everything else that had transpired thus far.
Then the ethical dilemma came into play. People were obviously sick on campus, so why couldn’t I do it too? It would make my life a hell of a lot easier to put it out of sight and out of mind and carry on with the semester without falling too behind.
No, no, no. I obviously had to tell someone. I couldn’t just show up to class in full fever sweat zombie mode and pretend like everything was all peachy. Plus, I would feel so beyond guilty if I got someone else in class sick and put them in the same stress boat for finals and assignments. We are in medical school after all, we should WANT to make sure we are protecting everyone’s health, right?
The Waiting Game
I was terrified of shooting myself in the foot and screwing myself out of an entire semester, but I emailed the school anyways. I let them know of my shitty situation and attached a picture of my rapid test. I was told to rest up and was essentially put on a “play it by ear” basis with regards to exams, assignments, and hospital rotations.
No tentative plans were put in place, no follow-ups, no check ins; just left to twiddle my thumbs for an indefinite amount of time. Not ideal, especially as a control freak who likes having plans A-Z and making lists of lists.
I should study right? To make sure that I am ready for the finals next week just in case. That plan was quickly kyboshed as I couldn’t even stay awake for longer than 20 minutes at a time on Day 1 and 2. Instead I tried to listen to my body (what a wild concept) and ended up sleeping the day away and incoherently binging movie after movie in between fever dreams of me getting kicked out of school.
Every time I would wake up from the latest sweat-nap, I would panic check my email in case I had gotten an update of a game plan, and each time there was nothing.
Eventually I did receive a message asking me to obtain a positive PCR test to send in, which would require a trek to the hospital – about a 20 min drive and $40USD cab ride away. A little frustrating to put the onus on the sick (already broke af) students to find our own rides for a test that they were requiring, but whatever. It was only one test so it wasn’t the end of the world. Thankfully a fellow Covid ridden classmate and I managed to schedule our tests at the same time so we could split the costs a bit.
The testing facility at the hospital was very well organized and quick. We got our results back within the same day (positive obviously as it was only day 4 for me), and informed the school.
Again we were told to sit tight and that we would play it by ear.
Being trapped inside and pacing around your tiny apartment aside from a hospital field trip with no potential plan of action and no way to properly prepare for the upcoming exams was brutal on the brain. Mix that with having absolutely no mental capacity to even properly sit down and study without being overcome with brain fog and frustration – it would be painful for anyone.
It turns out we weren’t allowed to have an online option for classes, even while we were isolating at the apartments (boo), so we had to sit and wait for classes to be done before we could watch the uploaded recording, usually complete with Charlie-Brown-Adult audio quality. It made it insanely difficult to understand what was going on properly, so a lot of those two weeks were self taught with slides and videos.
We (by this point there were a few of us in the same boat) were then informed that we could not come back to class until we had a negative PCR. This opened up a whole new door of stress, as in certain instances, PCR tests can show up positive for up to 90 days. Our entire island stay wasn’t even 90 days in total. How is that possible? There would be no possible way for us to write our final exams and be able to sufficiently prepare for shelf exams.
Again, we tried reaching out to see the status of writing our finals. Would we be able to write online? Could we come in the evening and write when the rest of the students had gone home? Maybe come in on a weekend? We just kept being told to hang tight until we had a negative PCR.
The public health nurse I had become best friends with over this time (honestly the most precious human ever, shout out Nurse F) even tried scheduling me for another PCR the day before finals began. We hoped for a last-minute buzzer beater to save me from my apartment purgatory, but no such luck. Still positive on both rapid and PCR on day 8.
Finals came and went. All exams were now complete, Clinical Skills Assessments were done, and our group’s hospital rotations were finished. I felt sick and my mind started wandering, as it does when one has stressed out cabin fever. Would they possibly make me stay until next semester to rewrite these exams? Would we even be allowed to attend our Shelf exam review course that was supposed to start the following week? Yeah, I guessssss you could say I went into a little bit of a dark place spiral. I mean, if you want to put a label on it.
Focus, Focus, Focus
I tried to calm myself down and focus on studying to pass the time, as aside from a nasty, sharp chest cough I was feeling back to normal. I wanted to be ready to ace these exams when the time came to actually write.
Also just a little shoutout to my amazing boyfriend and family for taking my millions of phone calls. I probably cried (bawled) about the same frustrations time and time again, and they talked me off the ledge each time. I know it couldn’t have been easy trying to help calm down a fever ridden neurotic stress case. Appreciate you guys! <3
Finally on day 11, my rapid test was negative. When I informed my nurse she immediately booked me in for a PCR the next morning. At last we were moving in some sort of positive-ish direction.
Here We Go
I couldn’t sleep that night. I was hoping so badly for this PCR to be negative. Then I could finally at least BEGIN planning how I was going to complete all these assignments and exams. Oh, while simultaneously studying for a whole new set of exams we had in a week and a half.
It’s fine, this is fine. One thing at a time.
One last time (hopefully) I hopped into a cab to the hospital and got my third PCR test done. The rest of the day went at a snails pace. No, slower than that. Molasses uphill in December or however that saying goes. That was exactly how it felt.
I tried to study as I knew the next week would be insanity but I couldn’t focus. I tried watching a movie and even that wasn’t cutting it. (You know it’s bad when I can’t even focus on Jurassic Park properly).
Finally in the evening I got a call from my nurse that my PCR was NEGATIVE. I was ecstatic. But that elation was immediately replaced by terror. How in the hell was I going to get through this next ten days? I would need to balance studying older material while learning new material in class, finish make up assignments during lunch hours, AND pass five exams?
I had no clue. But what I did know: this was going to be an absolute slog. But I could do it. I had to. I didn’t come this far just to be taken out by being sick.
Buuuut I think that’s enough drama for one post. As always if you’ve stuck around this long thank you so much. I hope you all have a wonderful Wednesday!