The Grind

7 days in the can

March 3, 2022, 7:16 p.m.

Every February I can remember I have gotten hay fever. My eyes itch, my nose runs and my throat hurts. So when I woke up with a runny nose on the morning of Feb. 8, 2022, I thought that my old friend Mr. Allergies had returned. 

My life and the allergies continued along as per usual until Wednesday afternoon, when a friend of mine texted me and told me he tested positive for COVID. “Phew,” I thought, assuring myself, “I definitely don’t have it. It’s just my allergies. I feel like this all the time.”

So, I then called another student on campus who I am close to: my brother. I asked him to give me a rapid test. I was going to prove that I was immune to COVID and had a regular case of hay fever. I laid out the Abbott Laboratories rapid test on my desk, did a few twists up my nose, put the drops in the sample capsule — a booklet of sorts — and set a timer for 15 minutes.

As soon as I stood up from the desk, I saw the second line on the test turned a profoundly hot pink. My test results were so positive that it made the blue control line on the test disappear after a minute. 

Immediately, a feeling of horror rushed over me. I’ve caught the virus.

I rush to look up a the phone number for the people who are supposed to tell me what to do. I call the number and they tell me to go to the isolation housing front desk in Escondido Village. Immediately, I go to this desk, masked up. At the desk they tell me to go back to my room and pack, which I proceed to do, and go to the isolation housing front desk. I see my friend who sent me the decisive text and several other of my friends once I arrive there. I get my keys for my home for the next seven days, which read something I don’t recognize — Boardwalk.

Where the hell is “Boardwalk?” I see that there is a Boardwalk apartment building in Redwood Shores and Santa Clara. Oh goodness, am I being sent 30 miles away from campus?

Around sunset, having waited outside for an hour, a white van pulls up. A driver in full scrubs and a face shield comes out and opens the back door of the van. Inside this van there are no chairs. Instead, there are three wheelchairs that are hoisted from the top of the van, none of them facing forward. It was at this moment that I believed I was going to be kidnapped. As I checked my Wells Fargo account to see how much money I could put up in ransom, we were whisked away. To where? My guess was as good as any.

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It was rush hour; each traffic light seemed to take an hour. I tried to talk to another victim riding with me in the van, and we wound up becoming friends. I was still terrified that I would soon lose all my money to this unidentifiable man in a white van, though.

Eventually we pulled up to my temporary prison: Boardwalk Park Place Apartments, named for the blue properties in monopoly, seemingly. There was a pool at the complex and I got a large apartment that was very nice. As soon as I finished settling in, I got ready to order dinner. I received $71 a day in free UberEats credit simply because I had the bad luck of testing positive for COVID. 

As I ordered my pizza, I got a surprise delivery: a roommate. While I initially questioned the wisdom of having a roommate when I was supposed to be in isolation, I quickly realized that there was no problem. What could I do to him, give him COVID or something?

Out of curiosity, I checked my Stanford Health Check. It was still green. I could have gotten a milkshake at TAP that night.

My new roommate and I wound up talking for several hours that night. I called my parents and explained this entire bizarre situation to them, and then tried to turn in for the night. One problem: the pillow was rock hard. So I texted my aunt, who lives locally, and asked if she could spare me a pillow. With incredible generosity, she said yes.

As I went out to the front door to collect the pillows from my aunt, I saw two more people I knew enter their term of confinement. “Hey Mark, what’s up?” We exchange greetings while my aunt watches from her car, confused. I bring the pillows in and sleep very well for the night.

I wake up and Zoom into my military history class. The professor was extremely accommodating and set up her computer so I could listen in and participate in the ongoing in-person discussion section. Then, I got some Chipotle for lunch and “went” to my next class. Afterwards, I had nothing to do. I called some family and friends and started watching history lectures on YouTube just to pass the time as I waited for my Shake Shack dinner to come.

I had no classes to attend on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. So, I said, why not write my final history paper six weeks early? I sat on the couch in my apartment, looked up a few articles, then promptly stopped work and watched episodes of Seinfeld instead.

One of my other great projects while in the can was the creation and composition of a “Party Bangers” playlist, which is now at 144 tracks and is, shall we say, straight fuego.

On Saturday afternoon my brother came over for a visit. We sat at the hotel pool on an 80 degree day in February, both wearing multiple N95 masks and sitting yards apart. My brother texted my parents to let them know that I was indeed alive.

On Sunday I visited a couple of my friends who were also in isolation, and we watched the Super Bowl together. It was probably the most surreal Super Bowl party in American history — feasting off our UberEats credits, all struck by the same ailment, having a fantastic time. It was, in fact, the greatest Super Bowl party I had ever attended.

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Eventually the UberEats got old, and I even started to miss the dry chicken of Arrillaga Family Dining Commons. I missed being able to walk around campus. I missed all my friends who weren’t in isolation. I missed the Main Quad. I missed Hoover Tower. I missed Stern tater tots. I missed all the things that made Stanford, well, Stanford. So, on Tuesday, I took a rapid test. 

Negative, it read, only the control line showing.

At 12:45 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 16, my friend who had left isolation the day before came to Boardwalk Park Place to pick me and some others up and return to campus. When I returned, my roommate said I looked very happy to be back. 

It sure is good to be back.

I want to say thank you to all the family, friends, teachers and more who reached out to me, supported me, brought me things, turned on their Zoom cameras in in-person classes so I could join and called to check in on me. It means a lot that, in my time of need, you all came to support me.

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