1/24 million: junior Diana Stinkova shares her COVID story


Philippa Steinberg/creative commons/via Innovative Genomics Insitution

The COVID-19 pandemic rages on, impacting over 24 million lives around the globe. Junior Diana Stinkova joined those ranks early in the month of January.

Emily Wyrwa, Feature Editor

“At any moment, someone that you love might die. You don’t know what’s going to happen so the unexpected is eating you up inside.”


This is Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School junior Diana Stinkova’s reality. On Jan. 1, 2021, as the rest of the world rejoiced over the end of 2020, Stinkova learned that her mom contracted COVID-19.


One of her mother’s co-workers tested positive for COVID-19 after traveling to Florida over the holidays. The virus began to spread around the office. 


“[My mom’s coworkers] didn’t get any symptoms except loss of taste and smell,” Stinkova said. “They couldn’t even notice it though. They had no idea [they had COVID].”


During the week leading up to New Year’s, her mother took multiple COVID tests, all of which came back negative, until she received a call on Jan. 1, 2021, and Stinkova’s mother joined the ranks of upwards of 25 million Americans who have tested positive for COVID-19.


Stinkova and I spoke over the phone numerous times over the course of two weeks, and initially, she had three questions on her mind: ‘How can I avoid getting this myself? What’s going to happen to my parents? What are the long term effects of this?’ 


For the first week, Stinkova woke up alone in her room and put on one of the masks she kept on her bedside table. She armed herself with her Clorox wipes as she took the journey to her kitchen and made herself breakfast, and then cautiously returned to her bedroom, where she ate her breakfast at the same desk that she logged on to her virtual classes each day.  


“We have one bathroom for everyone so that kind of sucks, but [we use] the Clorox wipes,” Stinkova said on Jan. 6. “It’s a complicated process. Just trying to disinfect as much as possible. I hope I don’t get it…. As of right now, I’m fine I want to keep it that way. I don’t talk to [my parents]. I text them, trying to keep minimal contact, and recently I’ve been getting school activities where I need an extra person so I can’t do it because I have these people sick, and I’m by myself. It’s a challenge.”


A day later, Stinkova told me she was sure she had COVID. She noted that her blood pressure had dropped massively, she had “immense headaches,” and was experiencing a level of fatigue that made it hard for her to get out of bed. She sprayed her Bath and Body Works perfume all over herself and couldn’t smell a thing. 


“It hurt to cough, like I coughed and then everything hurt in my entire body,” she said. 


On Jan. 11, Stinkova’s suspicions were confirmed when her COVID test came back positive. 


“I wasn’t surprised,” Stinkova said. “The symptoms kind of lead up to it. I was still a little bit hopeful like, ‘maybe it’s not COVID, maybe it’s just a cold,’ but I wasn’t surprised.” 


One of the things that most struck Stinkova was the intensity with which she lost her sense of taste and smell. Almost immediately after testing positive, she ordered herself sushi, and was disappointed that she couldn’t enjoy it in the slightest. 


“It feels like you’re eating, like there’s something stuck in your mouth, like if you were to chew a big piece of gum for a really long time, over time… you don’t get any taste – it’s just something in your mouth,” Stinkova said. “You just eat it, it doesn’t really fill you up because the taste buds aren’t really working. But what really worked was really salty or really sweet food, but not always…. I mean, I ate an onion, and didn’t taste anything.” 


What has weighed on Stinkova the most are not her symptoms, but the underlying fear of losing loved ones. Her mother has luckily made a substantial recovery, but COVID-19 has gone on a rampage through Stinkova’s extended family. Stinkova’s great aunt, who she has not come into contact with since before the pandemic, had to be hospitalized because she contracted COVID-19 at her place of work. Although her great aunt has since been discharged, Stinkova lives in fear of losing her. 


“We have a really small family and I feel like at this point if anyone close to us like that died, it would have a big impact on us,” Stinkova said. “It’s just the helplessness, that feeling that you can’t do anything…. I would never have thought that I could worry so much about an unexpected thing…but now it’s changed completely and you have to be ready for anything. It forces you to be ready for the worst.” 


Stinkova was incredibly COVID-cautious throughout the pandemic. She turned down invitation after invitation at the end of the summer, at Halloween and during the holidays, and stayed home except for her socially distant, masked dance rehearsal, where she only encountered two other people. 


“The SAT and ACT should be my number one concern right now,” Stinkova said. “I have to still work on that, but I have frickin COVID. I didn’t think it would be this way. But it happened. You think that you’re not going to be hit; I thought I was going to be safe… and then you get hit [with COVID]…. I hate seeing my family, relatives in a bad condition.”


Stinkova continually conveyed that she hopes to see more empathy from her peers and the country at large. 


“There is a lot of selfishness out there. I understand. And I feel like everyone is going through their own battle, I know that, but there could be faster progress if there was more empathy,” Stinkova said. “I feel like if people were more responsible for their actions and wore a mask, we could have been going out through 2020 into this year a lot stronger.”