WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — When Lacey Mathis finished cheering with her William & Mary squad at the Colonial Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament in Washington, D.C., in March, she had no idea she carried with her a surprise souvenir.
“I started feeling symptoms. Nothing really awful at first, like a sore throat, a cough, body aches. Those were my first symptoms, and then the next day, I just went completely downhill. Like all of the symptoms: fever, headache, stomach ache, cough, chest pain, like, all of the things,” Mathis said.
Sure enough, this otherwise healthy 19-year-old from North Carolina tested positive for COVID-19.
“It was a bit shocking. It really was,” she said. “It was early, so I think we were all just like, ‘We just went into lockdown. We just went into quarantine. How do I already have it?'”
Her doctors kept reassuring her: “‘Kids your age have been doing great. You’ll be over this in two weeks maximum. It’s going to be OK.”
While studies show that is true for many young people, it was not true for Mathis. Not even close.
“I had this extreme mental fog over me. I don’t fully remember how painful it quite was,” she said. “I slept a lot. I slept probably about 20 hours a day … the body aches, the stomach aches, the chest pains, the headaches — the fever alone could knock anybody on their butts for like a month.”
For Mathis, it was three months with those symptoms, including a fever between 100 and 103 degrees every day.
“I definitely was scared, but because I couldn’t fully grasp the situation because I was so out of it, I think that helped a little bit,” she said.
She said doctors tested her for COVID again in May and her test once again came back positive.
“So, that’s how they knew I still had COVID and all of these symptoms were still COVID along with a kidney infection and a sinus infection and all of this other stuff,” she said.
Mathis said she barely got out of bed while she was sick. She said her friends were stunned every time they reached out to her.
“They would just call maybe a month in and they just kind of assumed I was feeling better or alright,” she said. “They would FaceTime me and I was on my back, in the bed, very groggy, and they were like, ‘Oh my gosh! You still have it!'”
After nearly 100 days, Lacey began improving.
She said she still does not have full energy and she still does not have her sense of taste or smell, but she is thankful she survived. She said her battle with COVID-19 has taken a toll on her mentally.
“Whenever you are flat on your back, like not only in isolation, but literally cannot get up and staring at the same four walls every single day, it really makes you appreciate what you had, you know?” Mathis said. “I really miss college. I miss my friends. I missed being able to even hug my mom, you know? Because for that whole three months, she couldn’t come within six feet of me.”
She added, “Even now, like, I didn’t realize how almost depressing it is to not have your sense of taste and smell, and not only is it absent, sometimes all I can smell are horrible things, which is an awful experience at times. I didn’t realize the impact that would have.”
The 19-year-old said she is seeing mental health professionals to help her deal with everything. She said she is still not herself and she knows it will take some time to get there.
In the meantime, she is focused on going back to William & Mary and she is excited at the thought of being on campus again. She said she feels confident in William & Mary’s plan to try and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The university is doing a lot to try and track the virus on campus, and we have an entire dorm set up for quarantine, so I’m hoping that they’re very diligent about that so that I can feel safe in my dorm,” she said.
Mathis said she is going to make sure she does her part as well.
“I know, personally, I will be very diligent about making sure I’m not touching my mouth and face while I’m out during the day, wearing my face mask, staying away from people,” she said.
So how does Mathis feel about students avoiding large gatherings?
“I wish I could say, ‘Yes! Absolutely! I think they can do it!’ I’m a little hesitant just because no group of college students is perfect,” she said. “As much as I love my college, I am a little cautious. I have hope that we can all kind of monitor each other, you know, and somebody can be that voice of reason all the time in making decisions on campus, but I’m cautious for sure.”
Mathis said she will not hesitate to be a voice of reason herself.
“Just be mindful that it may not affect you personally, but it could affect someone that you really care about and, you know, just don’t be selfish,” she said.
Mathis is scheduled to go back to campus Labor Day weekend, which also happens to be her birthday weekend.