BY LORIN MCINTOSH
Back in my day, I lived through the COVID-19 pandemic. I remember in January 2020, we started to hear whispers of a new virus in Wuhan, China. We heard that the virus had spread quickly, and there had never been anything like it before. It was soon all over the media. At the time, I was a fourth year medical student, on an obstetrics rotation in hospital. To me, the virus honestly seemed like the latest news topic. Personally, I did not take it too seriously when I first heard about it. I had never imagined that five months later I would be sitting in my room writing about this virus in social isolation.
A couple months after the whispers began, all medical students were pulled off placement until further notice. I will never forget the dean of medicine hosting a zoom meeting, for international students, to explain to us that the borders would likely be closing, and that there would be no consequences if we decided to go back to our home countries to be with our families during this unprecedented time. That was the moment that I realised that I had only a week to make the decision as to whether or not I would go back to the United States, likely until the end of the pandemic. At this stage, the United States had a low case count, and my parents asked me to stay in Australia in fear of the “lockout”. I stayed in Australia, and we began to practice social distancing.
Over the next few months, I quickly learned that stage 3 restrictions meant I could only leave the house for four essential reasons. Social isolation meant you could only be in groups of 2 people. Face masks and social distancing were the new trend, and toilet paper would never again be taken for granted. Grocery shopping became the only weekly/fortnightly outing, and it became stressful. I would often buy what I could find, and rarely could get everything on my shopping list. My partner had to bribe someone at Chadstone (where he worked) for toilet paper. Zoom conferences all of a sudden became the daily norm, and gas cost 89 cents per litre in Melbourne. Also, the VIA was cancelled and OSCEs became pass/fail.
I watched in horror as my home country hit over 1.8 million cases and 100,000 deaths and many of the states began to re-open (pre-maturely). Some of my extended family fled New York City. Most of my extended family lives on the East Coast, in heavily affected areas. Currently, my Mom, Dad, and brother are in social isolation until further notice. My Mom and Dad are in the vulnerable population. Their state has completely re-opened, but is getting over 1,000 new cases per day with no signs of slowing down and ICU beds are starting to reach capacity. My family has made the decision that I will not return to the United States until there is a vaccine. The virus is too out of control. To give some perspective, their state has the same population as Victoria. My family is fortunate to be in the position to be able to continue to isolate. Some of my family and friends are in the frontline essential worker group, and many of my friends began their careers in the medical field during the coronavirus pandemic. I also have friends who have lost their health insurance during the pandemic, which (in America) makes healthcare unaffordable.
Now, in Australia, the restrictions are easing and the curve has flattened. This week, I enjoyed my first dinner (at an actual restaurant!) in five months and can finally leave the city to go hiking again. We are very lucky to be in one of the safest countries in the world right now. I am sharing this perspective because I feel, as an international student, that it is a unique perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic and as a reminder to check on your international friends. Many other countries have been heavily affected, and some international students are still overseas. I am very lucky that I have an amazing support system to help me through these unprecedented times.