By Rainesford Stauffer
A few weeks ago, on a Thursday evening, Conor Dillon started noticing he felt a little off. A wave of lightheadedness swept over him, followed by a headache. He doesn’t own a thermometer, but by placing the back of his hand to his forehead, he realized he had a bit of a fever. The 32-year-old, who lives in Tullamore, Ireland, also noticed he’d been developing deep muscular pains in his back — not like the average stiffness or wear-and-tear that pop up from sitting at a desk too long, but brutal aches. He’d felt fine that morning.
By Friday, “I woke up and my head was exploding,” he tells MTV News. “It was as if someone was standing on my head. It was that painful.”
Dillon was diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness that is caused by the novel coronavirus, which doesn’t discriminate, despite the ongoing myth that young people can’t contract the virus, or won’t experience grueling symptoms if they do. According to reporting by BuzzFeed, as of March 20th, New York City health officials said that one in four people hospitalized for COVID-19 were between the ages of 19 and 49. That echoed a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that stated 38 percent of patients hospitalized with coronavirus were between the ages of 20 and 54.
But that hasn’t stopped people who falsely think the disease is something only older people or those with compromised immune systems need to worry about. In Kentucky, a group of young adults held what they called a “coronavirus party” to purposefully defy social distancing; one of them was later diagnosed with the virus. And the Miami spring breaker who went viral for announcing, “If I get corona, I get corona,” has changed his tune, telling social media “don't be arrogant and think you're invincible like myself.” More and more young people are also being hospitalized for the disease: A 36-year-old school principal from Brooklyn, New York, died from coronavirus complications, and a 26-year-old wrote about their hospitalization experience for The New York Times.
Everyone feels invincible until they aren’t.
While he explains he’s not one to google symptoms as soon as he feels poorly, Dillon knew he felt off, and the headaches, body aches, and fever were enough to make him reach out to a doctor. Currently, the United States lacks a sufficient number of coronavirus tests, but because he lives in Ireland, Dillon didn’t have a problem getting tested. A sound engineer, he had been in France, London, and New York in the space of two and a half weeks, which made him a perfect candidate.
“On Friday afternoon, they said, look, we're going to get someone sent to your house,” Dillon tells MTV, explaining that a health official was supposed to show up in a protective suit, ask some questions, do the swab, and provide results in 24 to 48 hours. By the following day, health services had set up a central testing location about a half-hour away from Dillon’s town; a rise in cases now meant that they lacked the bandwidth to send individuals out car by car, person to person. “It was in the carpark of a hospital,” says Dillon. “It wasn't even in the actual hospital, because they want to keep everybody away from the patients in there. Your car was your waiting room.” After waiting in the car, someone from health services knocked on his window and gave him a mask. He was in and out of the tent in which they were giving the tests in five to 10 minutes.
Dillon thinks the early emphasis on social distancing and isolating if you have symptoms, instead of running into the nearest doctor’s office where you risk spreading the virus to other patients and the medical staff themselves, is a difference between Europe and the United States. “We said, ‘look, just chill; it's a tough time for everybody,’” he says, explaining they are focusing testing on individuals 65 or older, or patients who fall into higher-risk populations.
Because there’s currently no vaccine or cure for COVID-19, Dillon’s treatment included plenty of rest and staying hydrated, in addition to the over-the-counter painkillers his doctor recommended. Even so, he would wake up with the same debilitating headache in the thick of his illness.
The most encompassing part of the treatment was quarantining and self-isolation for a solid two weeks, something Dillon took seriously. At his sickest, he didn’t have the energy to do much, but he later focused on small tasks like alphabetizing his record collection to occupy time to keep his brain active as he recovered.
He saw people through his bedroom window, or talked to his family from down the driveway, in addition to keeping in touch with people online. Even his housemates left a few days after they hadn’t displayed symptoms because it was easier for them to self-isolate other places. “It's the global picture of the whole thing,” Dillon says about the role self-isolation has played.
He also opened up on social media, posting a message encouraging others to take the threat of COVID-19seriously. “This virus isn’t fun to have,” he wrote. “Every day is different. It hurts. It makes me tired. It keeps me from the ones I love. But self-isolation is the only way to contain/delay it.”
Dillon pointed out that social distancing, in addition to closing restaurants, bars, and shops, is hard — and yet, it is the only way to protect ourselves and loved ones from the virus’s aggressive spread. The post wasn’t for attention, he wrote. He wanted everyone to have the information to look out for themselves and others — and the response he got was staggering.
“It was mad, the amount of people that came out and just said hello, texted me randomly to see how I was, to call check-in, message me online or wherever,” he adds. “I've gotten more messages in the last week and a half of people that I only see maybe once or twice a year.”
He’s also been keeping up with how other young people around the world are responding to the threat of the pandemic. He recounts reading about someone nearby throwing a 21st birthday party that was shut down by police. “It’s so silly,” he says, explaining that he’s even told friends that, while they may not contract the virus from him, they run the risk even by stopping to get a coffee or a chocolate bar at a local supermarket. “Stay at home,” he says when asked what he’d say to other young people who believe they can’t get this. “It’s not about you yourself.”
Through it all, he credits digital community spirit with getting him through — and with helping other people understand how serious the disease is. “We're all in this together,” he adds. “Even though we're not together, we're in it together.”
You can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Not everyone has the option to stay at home, but if you can, you should! Social distancing is the new normal, and we’re here to help.