Coronavirus, Chronic Pain, and College Life: A Student’s Perspective
Kiara A. Almendarez
The coronavirus pandemic is striking fear in people across the entire world, but how is this invisible enemy able to do this so effectively? As a student, I would say that the main reason is the anxiety produced by the uncertainty it’s produced. Personally, I’ve found the “lockdown” challenging to deal with as a college student. Once my university announced the transition to online classes, classes got increasingly difficult for me. Given the new circumstances, some professors were apt to give more assignments on the assumption that we now had more leisure time to spend on them, but this overlooks the fact that many students faced other severe challenges at home–including, most obviously, illness from the virus itself. On April 8, 2020, my younger cousin informed me that my maternal uncle and aunt had passed away. I had to restrain my emotions in order to finish an assignment that was due before midnight that night. It was extraordinarily difficult to do, but I had no choice.
I’m a commuter, so I drive 45 minutes each way to get to school. From that perspective, the lockdown gave me the advantage of taking classes in the comfort of my own home, but it also disrupted the routine that I’d previously set up for school. Before the lockdown, I’d attended classes and taken notes in an old notebook; once I got home, I rewrote those notes in a separate notebook color-coordinated so as to organize them better. I then had an elegant set of notes as a study guide once I’d finished with the rewriting, the point being to impress the information more firmly on my brain. I’ve read that the longer you look at notes, the better you remember the information.
The lockdown interfered with the first part of that routine, which in turn undermined the whole routine. I started focusing less on schoolwork as a result. Instead of following my routine, I started sleeping in, and blowing off my classes a bit. It was stressful to be in that position in my first year of college, needing to prove to my parents that I can make the grade. Having fallen into this new routine, I began to doubt that I’d finish the semester with the grades I wanted.
Suddenly, my mother fell ill with coronavirus, and on April 11, 2020 she was hospitalized for it on an emergency basis. It was upsetting to see her get into the ambulance looking as sick as she did. Her chances at survival were badly affected by her struggles, since 2013, with a rare condition called trigeminal neuralgia. The Mayo Clinic describes the condition this way:
Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition that affects the trigeminal nerve, which carries sensation from your face to your brain. If you have trigeminal neuralgia, even mild stimulation of your face, such as from brushing your teeth or putting on makeup, may trigger a jolt of excruciating pain.
The condition affects my mother every day; it affects every aspect of her life, and every decision she makes. It consumes an enormous amount of her energy, and my fear was that with two enemies to fight, both the neuralgia and coronavirus, she would lack the energy to win. Most days, even without COVID-19, she tries her best to avoid stress, and when the pain becomes unbearable, she goes into a dark, quiet room with a cold cloth on her forehead. Obviously, when you suffer chronic pain, it’s hard to find the strength to fight any other disease or virus that attacks your body, much less one as deadly as COVID-19.
And so, schoolwork and all, I worry about my mother. During the first few days of her stay in the hospital, her condition worsened, so that the doctors had to put a second ventilator down her throat to help her breathe. Uncertainty remains as to whether my mother will ultimately fend this virus off, and she remains in the hospital. It’s hard to describe the fear of that uncertainty. The worst-case scenario is death, and I don’t want her to leave this world thinking that I failed her. The doctors have told us that my mother is showing improvement, but only time can tell when she’ll be able to leave the hospital. Her illness was a wake-up call to me as a student: I needed to wake up, get back to work, and be the effort-giving student she expects me to be.
I’ve had to change a lot of old habits. Time management has become more important to me. I now do the assignments with the closest due date, and systematically mark assignments off of my to-do list. With a week and a half of the semester left, I’ve managed to finish all of my assignments for every class; the only thing left is to study for finals and finish my term papers. It took the coronavirus lockdown for me to get my act together–to work for, and get the grades I really deserve. The lockdown also put my life-goals back into proper perspective, the perspective I had when I first decided to go to college, and started classes.
I look forward to seeing my mother come home fully healed so that I can hug her at last, and tell her that I ended my first year of college with the grades she’d expect of me.
Kiara A. Almendarez is an undergraduate at Felician University from Elizabeth, New Jersey.