Rosendale woman (barely) survives COVID-19 in Italy - BlueStone Press
December 3, 2021
From the BSP Neighbor's Page

Rosendale woman (barely) survives COVID-19 in Italy


I was more interested in Italian wine and Italian boys than I was in Michelangelo when I decided at age 19 to leave everything I knew and fly off to Italy to study art history, painting and art restoration at Lorenzo de Medici International Institute, located in a Florentine castle. The home of the Renaissance was now my home.

By my second year I still hadn’t learned much Italian, but I had dated some really cute European guys: Swedish, Spanish, and all the countries in between. I had also made friendships that would last a lifetime.

Classes were about to start for the last semester of my final year. It was Italy, I was 20. I expected to wake up with the usual slight hangover, but this morning something was different.

The friendly bald guy in red-rimmed glasses who always stood outside in front of his leather store waved at me as I walked past to get my morning cappuccino. My arm felt heavy as I waved back. I felt a little flushed. Did I have a fever? After my coffee, I decided to lie down, expecting to feel better when I got up. But I woke up to my flatmate Leah complaining she felt so sick that she wanted to go to the doctor.

It was mid-February. We couldn’t decide if it was hot or cold so, dressed in layers, we walked the 20 minutes to the doctor.

My temperature was 104. I was in the waiting room when Leah came out. We were both coughing now. She also had a temperature of 104. This made sense, since we shared everything from toothpaste to ashtrays.

We stopped on the way home to fill the prescription list, written in Italian. I felt so sick I was ready to take anything without reading the label. I started popping the pills like candy. The next day was the first day of the semester. A day I couldn't miss.

But about 3 a.m. I was awakened by a cough so bad I thought I'd broken a rib. My pale pink silk sheets were drenched in sweat. On hands and knees, I crawled around my apartment looking for boxes of medicine and prayed as I took them that I would not miss the first day of oil painting, my favorite class.

By 7 a.m. the first day of class was the least of my worries. Leah came into my room sucking an inhaler and looking ashen. We’d been living together for a month. Neither of us had been sick a day … hung over, yes … sick, never.

There was an eerie quiet broken only by the muffled background noise of the Italian family who lived in the apartment above. My roommate started to cry and asked me to go with her to the hospital. I wanted to, but I didn’t think I would even make it down the stairs of the four-story apartment building. No elevator.

I took her temperature before the taxi came to pick her up. It was 104.2. It had gone up. So had mine. We had never in our lives been this sick, and we were getting worse. I was a 20-year-old college student in good health. It felt senseless. I wanted Mommy.

Leah returned from the hospital with spinal punctures but no definite diagnosis.

I felt sad, defeated, powerless. Something was taking over my body and my doctor could do nothing to help me. I just had to ride it out. But for how many days could I keep transferring from bed to couch, couch to bed in a haze of fever and pain? How many times could I order food to be delivered and not be able to eat one bite?

The apartment was a mess. It smelled and looked sick. Medicine on tables, thermometers unsterilized, sweaty blankets piled on the couch, crumpled tissues on the floor, uneaten food from days before sitting out, water bottles piling up. I was too sick to pick up, too sick to bend over, too sick to care about anything except that we not run out of toilet paper.

Seven long days passed. My stomach felt the size of a mouse’s but I was feeling better and happy to make it to school for my first week, everyone else's second week. But when I explained to my professor that I’d had the flu he took five steps back from me. Classes went OK. I was catching up, but there was something in the air, something uneasy and almost apocalyptic. The mood had shifted. Leah felt it too.

Then the news started talking about it, a rapidly spreading virus in China, a confirmed case in Italy. You never think it's gonna happen to you. Until it does. I didn’t know what a pandemic was, and then, boom, I was in one. People in the street started wearing masks. People started dying. Schools were closing. This is just a flu, I'll stay calm and it will pass, right?

Wrong. By Feb. 28, friends were fleeing right and left. Class sizes were cut in half. Anxiety hung thick in the air. Drug and alcohol use were booming. As I dragged my hungover self into the kitchen at 7 the next morning, Leah is in tears. Check your email, she says.

Overnight, Italy had gone from Level 2 to Level 3, a “reconsider travel” ranking from the U.S. State Department as advised by the CDC. “What does that mean?” I ask. “Keep reading,” Leah said.

I was being deported out of the country. My friends and I decided to meet for one last coffee before our international crew all fled to their homelands. But the coffee bar was closed, masks sold out, grocery stores emptying rapidly. Even the bald guy with the red-rimmed glasses was not standing in front of his leather store. It was closed

The next day we all said our goodbyes and cried.

My mom booked my flight. I put all my designer clothes in my carry on (my Prada bag was not going to be a victim of this pandemic, thank you!) checked my art supplies, then – gloved and masked – I flew back to New York. The first tear I shed froze as it hit the ground.

On top of having to leave my beautiful Italy, my beloved school in its Florentine palace, and all my new friends, I was now required to stay home in quarantine for 14 days. Being an only child in the house for 14 days with your parents is not fun, not cool. Thank gawd for Netflix or I would have never survived my parents’ annoying lectures.

The sound of tires on our gravel driveway. At first I fear it’s Mom home early. I hope she’s not sick. But no, it's the Health Department.

How did they find me? How did they know I was sick? I felt stalked, violated. Couldn’t they just let me be sad in peace? As the situation evolved, it became obvious why they could not.

The health department lady calls me twice a day. I tell her my temperature and she logs it in. I feel like we are friends now. 

I should be grateful I survived, but I'd rather be on the beach in Spain celebrating my 21st birthday with my maybe-soon-to-be Spanish hubby. I’m sure a lot of us can think of places we’d rather be right now. 

The severity of the disease didn’t hit me until I found out I couldn’t fly to see my identical twin sister in Los Angeles, as the virus was rampant there, too. I couldn’t even hug Elizabeth, my best friend in town, because she is 73 years old, and I worry about her and everyone else who is at risk.

Buona fortuna to us all.




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