The Solitude of Immunocompromisation during COVID

Molly Morrissey

Illustration: Isabel Sperry

The global pandemic has compromised the daily lifestyles of billions of people all over the world. For Tricia McKenzie, life has changed a little more dramatically than for others.

 A year of diligent quarantine and the hard choice not to return to her beloved position as a preschool teacher were both precautions she made as she is at high risk for coronavirus. After receiving her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, she is excited to resume activities she has missed out on, including a potential long-awaited return to the classroom. 

The pandemic has made McKenzie restrict her lifestyle to purely covid-safe activities. Already having taken a few months leave to allow for her cancer treatments, she was anticipating returning to work in the spring,but, due to the pandemic, was unable to do so as planned.

This increased risk of being immunocompromised makes it essential to follow public health measures including mask wearing, physically distancing, and avoiding gatherings in which they could be near symptomatic or asymptomatic people. Offering remote learning options for high risk individuals has been important during the pandemic,” Victoria Folse, Director & Professor of Nursing at IWU said. 

Now she has yet to dine at a restaurant or even meet family members without extensive social distancing or mask-wearing practices. She has gotten into the routine of ordering groceries for delivery or heading to Target closer to closing time to avoid crowds. 

“Staying inside has been really really hard at times, almost impossible. Especially a few months in, seeing people become comfortable being around one another made the loneliness worse. But for the sake of my health, I know I am making the right choices,” McKenzie said. 

“Many times those who are immunocompromised are isolating for their health so they tend to have less social contact and interaction which can lead to loneliness and possible depression,” Peggy Jacobs, Professor of Nursing at IWU said. 

To pass her time indoors, McKenzie has renewed her affinity for painting. Since last March, McKenzie has painted over six large canvases. She spends hours a day in her kitchen, paintbrush in hand, dancing to music blasting from her Amazon Alexa. Some pieces she is even considering submitting to galleries in her area. 

“I used to paint all the time when my children were younger, right after I sent them to bed. Now, with all of this time on my hands, it’s been a great opportunity to get back into it. I really forgot how therapeutic it was,” McKenzie said. 

The most difficult aspect of her extensive quarantining, however, has been the lack of interaction with her students. Northfield Community Nursery School in Glenview, Ill. where McKenzie has worked for the past four years, resumed to completely in-person instruction, making her unable to return in the fall when students returned to the classroom. 

“It is such a privilege to be given the opportunity of influencing other people’s children for hours of the day. Not only did my routine change drastically when my treatments began, but the magic of knowing I have influence in so many children’s lives sort of diminished,” McKenzie said. “Now when I see kids playing outside when on long walks, it leaves a bittersweet feeling. I also really miss my colleagues-they made going work a blast.” 

Connecting with students and staff has been very beneficial for teachers and professors everywhere. Faculty at  IWU have voiced similar  struggles over the past year and how they have been able to connect through online learning which has now turned into hybrid style classes. 

I was working with senior nursing students and we had to go from in person clinical to online learning which proved to be challenging. We were able to connect via Zoom as a group or individually and continued to use email, texting, and phone calls to maintain communication,”Jacobs said. 

She also expressed how much of a positive change it has been to work mostly in person. “For me having the in person interactions were a welcome change. Connectivity for me is stronger and more enjoyable through in person interactions,” Jacobs said. 

Although McKenzie has spent nearly a year being withdrawn from typical interactions with others, she is looking forward to the possibility to return to some normalcy soon due to her receival of the COVID vaccine. She is hoping to return to the classroom in the fall depending on the state of the pandemic, but until then, she is looking forward to going to the movies and finally spending time with close family indoors without masks. 

She is specifically looking forward to going out for breakfast with her husband, as soon as he becomes fully vaccinated to celebrate finally reaching the light at the end of the tunnel. 

McKenzie is one of the many that has had to compromise their lifestyle for the sake of protecting their health. Numerous Illinois Wesleyan students had to choose remote learning to limit exposure to Covid-19 as they are high risk or for alternative reasoning. Social interactions with friends as well as relationships with professors have been strained due to such a heavy reliance on Zoom. With the extensive rollout of vaccinations across the county, the lives and well being of such students are anticipated to improve immensely come fall of this year as they hope to finally return to campus.

“I’m so excited to finally order the apple pancake, a cup of coffee, and a side of bacon at the Pancake House, and of course, give my family members tight hugs” McKenzie said.