24 Apr, 2020

Voices: A Wake-Up Call

24 Apr, 2020

Brother Noah Kaplan (Arizona, 2021) was on his way home from a trip to Barcelona when he noticed his first COVID-19 symptom, a dry cough. In the story below, he gives us insight on his experience and why we need to heed the warnings of medical professionals worldwide. 

I think we can all agree that everything related to COVID-19 sucks right now. People are out there losing their loved ones, taking care of those who fall ill and doing what they can to survive day-to-day. It’s controlled chaos and it isn’t going to end anytime soon. I’m at the point where I can’t stand staying at home any longer. All I want is to be able to do my part in helping end this pandemic that’s gripped the world and halted everyone in their tracks. Luckily, I can say that I will have that chance after today when I’m done donating blood plasma at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

I’m not going to lie; I was definitely naïve about the entire Coronavirus situation in March. Who wasn’t? It’s not an excuse, but I don’t think anybody expected things to progress as quickly as they did. I’m no medical expert, but I cannot stress how important it is for us to stay home like doctors are warning. It really bugs me that people are going out and intentionally disobeying this. Being stuck inside isn’t ideal but being sick with this virus isn’t the alternative I’d wish on anyone. I should know. I contracted COVID-19 and was lucky enough to walk away alive and healthy.

I’m not trying to be dramatic; having the virus was more than miserable. My symptoms weren’t severe, but I would say having the virus was definitely a wakeup call. The scariest part is that I don’t know where I came into contact with someone else who had it. Things happened so quickly that I can only assume it was on one of the plane rides home from my spring break trip to Barcelona for Abroadfest. It was the beginning of March; nothing had been shut down yet. My friends and I had booked a trip to Spain that would last eleven days. Little did I know that trip would be cut in half. U.S. study abroad programs in Spain were being cancelled, and the parents of friends I was meeting there were trying to work on getting their kids home. Even my parents were looking into flights home as soon as I landed. It ended up being a stressful week of travel and I left Spain on Wednesday, March 11.

Traveling home was definitely bizarre. I thought the airports would be packed with people coming back to America. Instead, the concourse looked like a ghost town. By the time I had left the country, a lot of U.S. colleges and universities were making the decision to move to online courses for the rest of the semester. I was supposed to fly back to Tucson for school but managed instead to reroute my flight to Minneapolis so I could be with my family. I was jetlagged, exhausted and had been in five different airports in a 24-hour period. I started to notice a cough but didn’t think much of it. I’d always had a sort of cough, so was this really something to worry about?

Brother Kaplan (left) with his family.

My mom seemed to think so and looking back, I’m glad she did. She took my temperature on Thursday morning. 100 degrees. Nothing to sweat over, but definitely something to keep observing. My mom, being the Jewish mother that she is, insisted on calling the doctor and getting me an appointment to get tested for COVID-19. After my test, I was quarantined in the basement until my results came back. I was mad — ignorant even — but my symptoms only got worse. My fever grew higher and the cough persisted. I developed chills and I couldn’t taste or smell anything. I had no idea if dinner was actually food or cardboard. Then, the call came about 72 hours after my test. Again, I was hoping they were just going to tell me I was negative. After all, none of my friends from the Barcelona trip had gotten it. I was shocked when they told me I had the virus.

There was only one thing on my mind in that moment: my family. I didn’t want to get my parents sick. You hear all of these things in the news about how older people are more at risk. It’s not like my parents are old, but the last thing I wanted to do was infect them or put them in jeopardy. Now I was glad they had taken all of the extra precautions that they did. It’s mind numbing to think that this was happening to me. Everything I had read about was becoming real all at once.

I was in constant contact with the Minnesota Department of Health during my recovery period. I never had to go to the hospital or be put on a ventilator, thank G-d. They recommended that I stay isolated for seven days or until my fever broke, and then an additional three days after that. I was sick for eight days and ended up spending 11 in isolation. Ironically enough, my brother came home from working in Chicago and ended up getting extremely sick. He was hospitalized for six days but tested negative for COVID-19 twice. Twice. He had all the symptoms I did, so I question if the tests are completely reliable. Luckily, my parents and sister all tested negative as well and never got sick.

Once I was healthy, I wanted to do whatever I could to help others affected by the virus. I had heard that groups like the American Red Cross and Mayo Clinic were looking for plasma donations from people who were sick — but recovered — so they could use it for research. I got the call from Mayo Clinic on Tuesday, April 21 that I was cleared to donate. At the end of the day, I don’t feel as if I’m doing all that much to save someone’s life. There’s a lot of inspiration out there to want to help, and so many people are sick and dying that I told myself if doing this can save even one person’s life then why wouldn’t I donate?

I don’t know if and when we will go back to normal. Truthfully, I don’t think any of us know. Isolation is rough, and I’m lucky to have had my AEPi Brothers to get me through this. At first, I only told my pledge class and housemates about contracting Coronavirus because I didn’t want to make a huge deal out of it. Every day, the Brothers would check in on me and FaceTime. It’s important for Brothers to be checking up on one another right now because you never know who needs that one text.

Now I’m just like everyone else out there waiting for the world to open back up. I think we all just want this to be resolved. Even though it feels like we’re stuck in limbo, we have to realize that life keeps moving and we have to keep our head up. I can only hope that I’ll get to return to school in the fall and that we’ll have a regular life after this, but we can’t get to that point if others are out there putting us at risk. I’m just grateful that I’m alive and fully healthy again. I know every researcher and doctor out there in the world is doing their part to figure this out and I can’t thank them enough for that. Don’t dismiss this virus though, it’s not something to scoff at. Stay vigilant and healthy, Brothers. We will make it through this together.