February 14, 2021

SMITH | Feeling Sick During a Pandemic

Print More

Aside from the random “there was just something stuck in my throat” cough or the odd sneeze, I’ve been notably illness free… in the midst of a pandemic. I’m not alone. COVID-19 is affecting the cold and flu season, even if only temporarily. England released a communicable and respiratory disease report for 2020 that announced lower cases of common respiratory illnesses. Given COVID precautions, this makes sense. It’s all a little mind boggling that someone could wake up with a congestion or fever and have the cause not be COVID-19, however it’s still possible. Despite all the vigilance, it’s difficult to be one-hundred percent effective in our daily efforts. That’s part of the reason why, when I had the opportunity this past week to be vaccinated because of my job, I jumped at it. 

I have no regrets, and I encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they’re eligible, but it was really strange to wake up the following morning feeling…  sick. Throughout this experience I’ve felt many different types of under the weather. I’ve felt isolated, anxious and burnt out. I’ve experienced all kinds of COVID-19 era “ailments,” such as quarantine brain and Zoom fatigue. But in all honesty (and I am privileged to say this), I haven’t really felt classic, run of the mill sick.

That day at work, complaining about feeling “off” had a different feeling from the times I’d offhandedly told a coworker about a runny nose or some aches in 2019. Instead, I immediately followed it up with “because of the vaccine.” When a patient heard me say I felt feverish, I was quick to follow it up with my refrain. When my supervisor told me to go home an hour early, I felt like I was playing hookie because I kept telling myself it was “fake” sickness. My body wasn’t making the same distinction, but my brain was. 

Laid up in bed sipping soup and water and re-watching Euphoria felt exactly like my pre-2020 memories of sickness. But because I knew all my symptoms were vaccine related, I felt oddly… relaxed. While no one particularly enjoys being feverish, fatigued, vaguely nauseous and sore, I was able to experience something that not many people have been able to in the last year: mild sickness symptoms without any anxiety of being an incubus of viral plague. 

 I was able to plan on being a fully functioning member of society within a few days of rest, though maybe a little bit more dehydrated than usual. I’ve spoken about the “new normal” in this column before. My vaccine experience, however, seems to be a blend of the new and the old normal. I felt ill, but I didn’t feel fear or paranoia. I wasn’t afraid that I would get my housemates sick with the virus that is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. I wasn’t nervous about getting some groceries on the off chance I became a contact tracer’s nightmare. It all felt so un-2020 (aside from the fact that the only reason I felt ill in the first place was that I had just been vaccinated against the virus causing the global pandemic). Par for the course in 2021.

Emma Smith is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at esmith@cornellsun.com.