I was not a person who took COVID-19 seriously. Never would I have imagined that wearing a mask in public would become the norm. I steadfastly believed that it would be all over in a month, two months tops. I was worried more about my plans for the Super Bowl than I was about a year-long pandemic.
It wasn’t until I caught COVID-19 that the actual gravity of the situation really hit me. I caught the virus at the tail end of April, and what started as nothing more than minor symptoms turned into a five-day hospital visit and $3,000 of medical debt. I worried more about the debt than the fact that I could have died, worried more about getting behind in class than I did about the medical debt.
It turns out I was worrying about the wrong thing.
I lost my senses of smell and taste once I was admitted to the hospital. There really was not much to eat in the hospital except ginger ale and graham crackers, both of which I could not taste.
It has been seven months since I was first admitted to the hospital, and in those seven months I have not had the joy of being able to smell. My sense of smell is completely gone. My sense of taste is so distorted that no foods taste the same as they did before I had COVID-19.
When I say that COVID-19 made me vegetarian, I am not being hyperbolic. I have only shot a gun once in my life, but one thing that I can never forget is the smell of firing a gun. It’s a pungent smell, a smell that's metallic and sulfuric. It is not a pleasant smell, and I am sure anyone who has ever fired a gun will understand. That smell, the sulfuric gunpowder smell, is what I taste every time I eat.
When I eat a spicy chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A, it tastes like gunpowder. When I try to enjoy a nice filet mignon from Amy’s Steakhouse back home, it tastes like gunpowder. Almost every food now has a sulfuric taste, except for the majority of fruits and vegetables. I am now entirely vegetarian, which is not something I would have ever wanted to call myself.
With being vegetarian, there exists a certain sort of pain that is a pain unlike any other, which I call “the pain of going to dinner with your friends, only for you to find out that the only vegetarian options on the menu are salad, french fries and onion rings.”
I did not get COVID-19 from going out to parties, or even from friends. I suspect I caught the virus from simply working as a cashier at Publix, before masks became mandatory.
Frankly, I am over the pandemic as well. I’m sick of it, and I am sick of hearing about it. I am sick of having to wear a mask everywhere, and I am sick of being expected to stay cooped up in a dorm. I’m selfish. I want to go out and have the full college experience. I want to be able to actually have class in person instead of over an 11-inch screen.
I understand where people are coming from. I understand why people still go out. I understand why Midtown is packed every weekend. But I do have to ask: now that you know what happened to me, is it really worth it?
Gabriel Acosta is a UF biochemistry freshman.