A Reflection On Dealing With The Pandemic For A Year

Hello everyone, it’s been a while since I have last written a blog. I am currently on spring break and trying to enjoy every second of freedom and study-free time. Today, I just wanted to do a well-needed reflection on what this year has been like and how the pandemic affected it. There is so much that has changed and I thought it would be interesting to look back and see what COVID-19 did.

Last year before the lockdown happened, I was preparing for an end-of-the year brunch for my student organization. I was so excited because everything was finally coming together; the panelists were being booked, the venue and food was already under the organization’s name, and the flyer was already done. I was even going to invite my family members to it and I was hoping at the end of the event, I would let everyone know that I was planning on going to medical school. Oh, yes, medical school. After a looooooong application cycle, I was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Things were just working out perfectly. I was going to graduate with Latin honors, something that I wanted for myself since the beginning of senior year, and I was going to finally complete the last rigorous class for my Bachelor’s of Science in Biochemistry. I was also fulfilling my requirements for my minor in French which is something I thought I would have dropped junior year. And finally, I was about to complete my research project and present the findings at an education conference in the near future.

During this time, most of my close friends went to Miami to celebrate our last spring break, so I was ready for them to return and make more memories with them before we had to depart. I was thinking about having our last ride on the CABS bus, our last time getting smoothies and playing racquetball in the RPAC, our last class, our last exam, our last picnics and events. I was looking forward to finishing off strong and starting the next chapter of my life.

I knew that COVID-19 was impacting China and then Italy but I never knew it would hit America. That’s happening in a different country so I won’t be a problem for us, I thought. Boy, was I wrong. After the first case of Covid hit Ohio, I remember things changing so quickly. In the biochemistry groupchat I was in someone posted this:

Umm, what? School is getting canceled? Nah, that cannot be true, it cannot be true.

I remember texting my friends thinking what in the world is going on! But it turns out, the nightmare was true: school was getting canceled, just for two weeks. I knew however, that this was just the beginning.

Slowly, many events were being canceled including the one I planned for almost seven months and my Outstanding Senior Awards ceremony. I was completely devastated but I thought, it’s ok, as long as I have graduation in person, it will all be worth it. During that time, I was still working as a phlebotomist, scared that I would catch this new virus from a patient, especially with some of them looking deathly ill. “Everything is changing so quickly, what if I do not get a graduation?”, I told my coworkers. “Do not worry, you will, Oumou, you will”.

But my second worse nightmare came true. Graduation was not canceled, they were still planning it in the future when things would be safer, but it would be a virtual celebration on graduation day. I was DEVASTATED. I mean, I am the first in my immediate family to graduate college and the oldest of five, I did not want to celebrate this moment virtually. I literally went in my room and cried. Why was this happening to me? Just why? Just when things were going perfectly.

My future medical school also said that we might have a virtual white coat as well. So great, first a virtual graduation and then virtual white coat, two of my most important life events. Later on, school started back again virtually and it was truly difficult to focus. I was in the house with all of my other siblings and my parents, so studying was extremely hard. Our internet was also trash and I spent a lot of time watching 90 day fiance instead of doing the assignments. I just did not feel like doing anything.

Slowly, things got a little better. I started talking with classmates and friends via zoom in order to get some work done and started to enjoy the conversations we had about how this pandemic affected us. I started taking time to complete my assignments and met weekly with my research group via Zoom. I even had two medical school interviews via Zoom, which was stressful, but helped me solidify my choice of going to my current school (I talk more about this in the interview blog). I was also almost done with my coursework and graduation was right around the corner. I really could not believe that despite the odds, I was still almost done! However, I was sad about Ramadan coming up because for the first time in my life, I would be completing all the nightly prayers at home with my family instead of going to the mosque.

When Ramadan came, I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed it. I got to fast with my family and break it without feeling the need to rush to the mosque like we did years prior. My dad, who is usually AWOL during the holy month, led some of the prayers at home. I got to be apart of many Quran group Zoom meetings with friends and felt a great connection with many of them. Even though I missed how it usually was, I actually liked the COVID version.

Virtual graduation happened during Ramadan. My parents still made me dress up in graduation regalia and cheered me on as I walked down the stairs listening to the Pomp and Circumstance Graduation Walking March song. Most of my friends who graduated that year participated in a zoom call so we could watch the ceremony together. Honestly, it was alright and it did make me feel like I sort of finished. Afterwards I did my makeup, took pictures with my family and posted them in LinkedIn (before I deleted it). It was not the graduation that I thought I would have but hey, we did the best that we could.

Following graduation, I learned that my best friend would be leaving Ohio to live with her brother in Texas and then go back to her country in Niger. I cried so much that day because for some reason I thought we would always be near other but unfortunately that was not the case. At the same time, I learned that my white coat ceremony was also going to be completely virtual and that they would mail us our coats to put on. When I received mine, I felt like I really did not achieve anything. There was something special about having the coat placed on you by other physicians, so to get it via express was pretty disappointing. But again, what could I do?

Ramadan finally ended and it was Eid day. This was a different type of Eid, no praying in the mosque with hundreds of people, good food and hanging out with friends. I prayed with just my family, went outside to take pictures and watched Narnia with them (this movie is a 10/10 btw). Everything just felt so different and not as joyous as it used to be. I was not looking forward to what was in store for me because I felt like I had already lost so much. But medical school was right around the corner and I wanted to prepare for it so I signed up for a prematriculation course with the current second years.

PreMatric was actually pretty great. I got to meet some of my classmates and formed a connection with them. It made me a little bit excited for what would be in store for medical school and the second years became great mentors. I was also connecting with other black medical students in a GroupMe chat and I was amazed by all of the excellence they exhibited. I am going to become a medical student, this is actually a big deal, I thought to myself.

However, during this time, I also became hyper-aware about the social injustices that impacted Black people. The video that circulated with George Floyd and his death and then the story about Breonna Taylor gave me a lot of anxiety. It is truly traumatic how Black people go through some much in a country that they literally built on their backs. Columbus was on lockdown like many cities and it was such a dark time period. Even though currently things have gotten a little better, I truly hope the momentum continues with highlighting the systemic issues that affect BIPOC. I was struggling to focus on what was going on and planning to start medical school. And that will be a struggle that I continue to have as I pursue this field.

“It is truly traumatic how Black people go through so much in a country that they have literally built on their backs”

Before virtual white coat, my family and I visited Dayton to see what my medical school looked like. It finally felt real, that even though this pandemic made all of the days mush together, I was still starting something new. I also went and visited OSU one last day to reminisce my last four years there. Who knew that everything would turn out the way it did? What would I have told pre-pandemic Oumou if I had the chance to talk with her about what was going to go down?

Finally, it was virtual white coat. I told my friends and mentors about me starting medical school so that they could watch some of the ceremony as well. I remember sitting with my whole family watching the ceremony on T.V., wondering who all my classmates were and what their families would be like. It was truly a surreal moment because I was no longer pre-med anymore. I was now a medical student and it really hit me that moment. Time for the grind to begin.

After my white coat, med school started and it just felt like undergrad but 3x speed. I still, however, was sad about not having a graduation or a white coat ceremony in-person and saying good-bye to my best friend as she left Ohio. My sister noticed that and her and one of my friends decided to throw a surprise graduation/white coat ceremony for me! They invited most of my friends for a picnic themed celebration and did not tell me anything about it. When I found out, I started crying in front of everyone, because I was so overwhelmed with emotion. That was the best thing anyone could have done for me and I so happy that I have people in my life who can do that :).

The celebration my friends held for me!

And honestly, the rest is history. I have already talked about my medical school experience in two separate blog posts so definitely check that out if you want to know what virtual medical school is like. For the most part, my back hurts all the time due to lack of exercise and my head hurts from looking at a computer all day. I have lost many people I considered friends from my undergrad days and I am starting to gain some new and amazing people in my life. Things started to get better, worse and then better from a pandemic standpoint. I get anxiety when I am in groups larger than 3 people and always keep my mask on. I am truly looking forward to the day when this all ends because it’s TEEWW much lool. I want to see my school, classmates, and be in class in person but that will happen before we all know it Godwilling.

Currently, I am about to finish my first year of medical school in a couple of months! Like what?! And I have some good news: I am getting my vaccine next week, my medical school will be starting in person classes soon and OSU said that they will be having an IN-PERSON CELEBRATION FOR THE 2020 GRADUATES!!!! I am soooo excited, especially for the graduation because even though I already started the next chapter in my life, I still want to cherish this amazing moment.

Looking back, I know that God does everything for a reason and that His plan is always the best. But when I am in the thick of the struggle, it is sooo hard to realize that. When things do not go my way, it is very easy to lose hope and give up, like I did when this pandemic first started. But I have learned that even though everything can be dark, it does not mean that dawn is not coming. I am extremely grateful for all the blessings in my life and the lessons I have learned throughout this past year. And I am hoping to use this experience to propel me into the unknown future that medicine will surely bring me. Thank you so much for reading this and I hope you all receive great news as well. Also tell me how the pandemic affected you, I would love to read that 🙂

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