The pandemic through the eyes of young people
We have been working with young people in the county to tell their stories of the pandemic
We’ve told you before about our aim to help build back Northamptonshire’s local journalism community. A big part of this includes working with young people and other groups to teach them reporting skills.
Thanks to funding from local charity C2C we have been able to run a series of workshops with the Northampton-based Silhouette Youth Theatre group. They have been working hard on first-person accounts of their experiences of the pandemic. We’ve been amazed by their talent and wanted to share a couple of their pieces with you today.
As I sat in the car, my mask sticking sweatily under my chin, where I’d shoved it down with the promise of less-stuffy car air and unclouded glasses, I looked out of the window. I regarded the familiar scenery of Northampton General Hospital with the same lazy indifference as I always did: it had mostly stayed the same in my almost decade and a half of life.
‘What are they building?’ I asked my mum, who is a critical care nurse in the Intensive Care Unit, as I noticed a nearly constructed building which seemed to have replaced a good chunk of the car park overnight.
“That? Oh, they’re building a new critical care unit.’” she said.
“Oh, is it in case of the second wave?” I asked.
“No it was commissioned before that, but it’ll still be useful.”
She continued with a lengthy explanation consisting of measures like closing hospital theatres if the second wave comes, but my mind was already wandering, wondering really, why this change had jarred me so much.
I remembered one of the standard, greying experts, now a regular on our TV screens, had talked about the possibility that the virus could perish in cold temperatures, so winter could be the beginning of “getting back to normal”, whatever normal now was. I didn’t take much heed - we were already allowed to go to restaurants (more like openly herded towards them with the promise of naan for half price), spending days at the park (albeit only with our families), and buying ice cream from a van (with a guy in a mask, gloves and hand sanitiser at the ready behind a plastic screen) - I didn’t want to get my hopes up for the current situation to last, let alone for it to improve.
I guess that I, more than most people my age, felt that the fragile sense of normality that we were experiencing was precious, and could not be wasted. I ignored the calls of my friends who were asking to meet up in the park, the shopping centre, just anywhere to try to claw back the months we had lost of our tantalising teenage time. I swapped books (which had become a scarcity with all the libraries closed) and instead began more frequently asking my mum for stories about the hospital.
It seemed as if the entire country had suddenly realised that the NHS consisted of real people doing a difficult job. I vividly remember her bringing home food after every shift, as it would just get spoiled if it was left there. A local Chinese restaurant paid for dozens of meals and donated them to the hospital. Lush gave away a truckload of face masks, soaps and other assorted smelly stuff - cakes, biscuits, chocolate, you name it we got it. Soon, every night she came home, our hallway was littered with assorted packages that me and my sister would descend on like starving animals, desperate for some sort of excitement in the mind-numbing ordeal that was lockdown.
These donations eventually, slowly but steadily ran out. Clap for Carers was a similarly surprising, but bizarrely, communal experience. My memories of it consist of leaning out the window, banging my pot, listening to it echo through my usually quiet neighbourhood, feeling somehow connected to the people who were the closest social contact we had in an isolated period of time we had.
The new anecdotes that my mum brought home each night were not nearly so cosy. Stories of the sickbeds filling up and of the lingering promise of death which hung around the wards, like an unwanted family member who had overstayed their welcome.
There was sadness - like the woman (under 40) who passed away from Covid, with no pre-existing health conditions other than type 2 diabetes, leaving three children behind. The countless others whose lives were reduced to numbers at the end of the day, on the TV screen, while politicians told us to keep going, keep trying for just that bit longer.
A man, who was in a critically unstable condition from Covid but refused to believe that coronavirus existed. Likewise, his family did the same. They stated that the hospital was making him sick, and even when he died, they refused to believe it. I sometimes wonder how they would grieve, believing that he died because people who pretended to help him made him more ill, never realising that in fact he passed away from a disease that had claimed so many others.
But there were also stories of miracles, of joy and hope. One man who was not expected to make it, had his family from all around the world take turns to read Quranic verses and pray to get their family member back. Truly, this was a miracle over Skype- he actually survived. Another woman, who had just given birth only to find herself with blood clots in her lungs, wept for the life she would never have with her baby, but ended up recovering.
Today, with the giddiness of going back to school on Monday, I still feel a shadow of doubt - is it stupid to let us all out at once? Should we be going back at all? Are we going to go back into lockdown? - all of these questions are buzzing around my brain, but as I remember to stop and calm down, I realise that all I can do now is to live, no matter how bad it gets - isn’t that what we all should be doing?
I didn’t think I would ever catch Coronavirus. That's the truth. The virus seemed to be something that ultimately affected everyone else and I was just watching it, it felt surreal. It turns out I was wrong though, when my test came back positive.
It all started on a Saturday morning. I was sitting at the table in my room trying to do some work when I had a pounding headache come on.
I brushed it off at first, thinking I had been staring at the screen for too long, but after a few more minutes I simply couldn’t take it anymore.
I laid my head onto the table which seemed to relieve the pressure but one thing was for sure I did not feel well. Any desire for food had gone and I had something that felt like a cold and a cough that dried up my throat.
So the next day as a precaution I went to get a Covid test. As a way to reassure myself I told myself it was just a seasonal flu. Goodness was I wrong. I very uncomfortably put a cotton bud into the back of my mouth - which made me gag on many occasions - and rubbed at the sides and then put it up my nose. Fair to say that it was an unusual feeling having a cotton bud go that far into my nose. All I had to do now was wait. It took one day for me to get my results.
My initial reaction, when my sister stood at my bedroom door with a mask on and told me that I tested positive for the infamous virus - was that she was joking. It was the first of December (2020), the beginning of one of my favourite months, because it is usually all smiles and good times. Testing positive for Coronavirus didn’t exactly fit into that category. She had to be joking. A virus that had killed so many people and had taken people’s loved ones, had now infected me?
I couldn’t believe it and as I lay in bed with the shock of it all trying to settle in, my thoughts were: “Am I going to die?”, “Is my family going to become ill now?” and on the more positive side, “I get to miss school, great”.
My first thought, in all fairness, was maybe a little dramatic. Just a little. When you heard people of all ages were dying, it meant that no one was safe, everyone had to be careful. It seemed that almost everyone was catching Coronavirus, especially, it was being thrust into my face every waking second that the virus was dangerous. When I opened my phone: there it was. When I turned on the TV: there it was. At one point it felt like they (the media) were trying to create fear and it was working.
My second thought was the one that worried me the most: my whole family becoming ill. It was inevitable, in my head, and that worry became true when they did become sick. Initially, I had this festering guilt because I was the one who infected them and they were not able to go to work or function as they used to. I was the “spreader”, without any intention of doing so! Not to mention the fact that it was infuriating that I had become infected even after I took precautions like wearing a facemask and using hand sanitiser.
Being in my room constantly was something I looked forward to. No one would disturb me and I could read in peace (I’m a massive book worm), but after a few hours, I began to realise that I couldn’t go this long without annoying my sister or hanging out with her. This made being in isolation even worse. When I caught Covid I did tell my friends (and school obviously) who were shocked as much as I was and wished me well.
My way of communicating in the house was of two options: shout it out or video call them. I think they preferred the second option. Over time my symptoms mainly consisted of a headache and small tiredness; I luckily didn’t lose my sense of taste and smell which would have scared me a bit.
If you can’t tell, I scare easily. To get through boredom I tried watching The Witcher. It was too gory for me so I watched Modern Family for the millionth time. Modern Family were my primary company and when I ate my meals by myself they filled the silence.
For all the bookworms reading this I read :Turtles all the way down (well written book, definitely worth the hype), The girl on the Train (I couldn’t believe how the book unravelled) and Kingdom of Ash ( a book that broke me, it’s from the Throne of Glass series).
Thankfully, after a few weeks everyone was better and the fear that I had evaporated. It was a relief to return to that norm that we are so accustomed to in life and I guess this experience was a testimony to how you can’t always be prepared for every possible thing.
I feel lucky to have been able to recover as quickly as I did and my family also. I know that it wasn’t the same for every family, which made my experience with Covid different from yours or anyone else's. It’s definitely a unique experience for everyone.