For most students, the idea of having classes back on campus excites them. However, when you have underlying health conditions, being thousands of miles away from home while an invisible virus is floating around isn’t ideal.
Madelyn McDonald is a sophomore nursing major at Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA). She knows what its like to have underlying health conditions.
“I have celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that is primarily associated with a severe gluten allergy,” McDonald said. “I have a depleted immune system because of it, and I’m pretty anemic.”
McDonald is the current Discipleship Assistant (DA) of Baxter Hall, an all girls freshman dorm, where she prides herself in being there for her fellow peers physically and spiritually. Being DA constitutes one of the main reasons she came back to campus this semester.
Only four days after fall classes started, McDonald woke up with a severe headache. She went about her day as normal thinking her headache was caused from dehydration from the previous day.
As the day progressed, she felt shaky physically as her symptoms, including a fever and headache, only seemed to strengthen. By the evening, McDonald was completely debilitated.
“I felt everything from like the worst body aches I’ve ever had to horrible lower back pain,” McDonald said. “I had chills where I was sweating and freezing at the same time, and I just didn’t know what was happening. It was kind of scary because it came so fast.”
McDonald began to question whether it was really COVID-19, thinking it had something to do with her celiac disease. However, that doubt faded away the moment McDonald realized she couldn’t get out of her car, calling campus safety for help.
“We ended up calling 911 because I was not very responsive and then paramedics came to check on me,” McDonald said.
The paramedics informed McDonald that she had the flu and encouraged her not to go to the hospital. After returning to her room, her condition only worsened through the night. Her roommate decided to take her to the hospital.
“I was so out of it I signed the forms declining hospital services, only to later arrive at the hospital with my roommate and find out it was not the flu, but COVID-19,” McDonald said.
McDonald’s mother, Cherilynne Hill, was back in Raleigh, North Carolina when she received the call from her daughter that she wasn’t feeling good.
“Obviously being so far away you know it was really hard having her call crying about how horrible she felt and that she couldn’t breathe,” Hill said.
After returning back from the hospital, McDonald moved her things from her car and into her new isolation room. She was one of the first students to go into PBA’s isolation housing.
The three days that followed were a blur, as McDonald was struggling to do anything else but sleep, only getting up to use the restroom or eat before going right back to bed.
Doing simple tasks such as changing her bed sheets was exhausting.
“I know she was just so sick, she was on that spectrum of the ones who got it so bad, and it’s the sickest she’s ever been in her life,” Hill said. “Not having somebody physically coming in the room to check on her, that’s a worry as a parent. It was a scary time.”
Hill, who works in the medical field, was trying to figure out how she could transition from performing cardiac and vascular ultrasounds on patients to hopping on a plane to West Palm Beach. She was forced to question what would happen if she left: Would she be allowed back to work? How long would she have to quarantine for when she returned?
Thankfully, McDonald’s grandpa, who lives 20 minutes away from campus, brought her vitamin waters, soups, snacks and medicine to help her feel better.
“It was hard, I think mainly because I really just wanted to be taken care of,” McDonald said. “Being alone in general is a hard thing to do when you don’t feel well because you have to do things for yourself.”
Midway through her 16 days in isolation, McDonald went back to the hospital; not for COVID-19, but for pneumonia.
Hill was relieved when she was finally able to get time off to fly down and see McDonald in-person, if only for a few short days. Hill was thankful her bosses helped her reschedule her patients. She could resume working immediately as long as she was asymptomatic. Her job required her to take a COVID-19 test four days after her return. The results were negative.
“I was just so glad to see her face and see her smile,” Hill said. “But it was also so gut wrenching to not be able to hug her, and then to have to say goodbye. It is hard to break that motherly instinct, you know, just really wanting to be with your kids.”
While McDonald didn’t fully comprehend that she actually had COVID-19 at first, she shared that in the end, the experience changed her for the better.
“I spent the majority of my summer devoting my life back to not allowing my circumstances to define the way that I live,” McDonald said. “This was the test as to whether or not I am going to come out of it with more character and hope or if I was going to really like wallow in it, and I came out of it with a heck of a ton more character and hope that I went into it with.”
Despite being miles away from family, McDonald’s faith and resilience gave her the courage she needed to push through what might be considered the hardest obstacle she has faced.
By Morgan Therrien