The pandemic has disrupted so many students’ plans and dreams. It has presented unprecedented challenges to people in prison who are studying to turn their lives around. Many Longford scholars have spent the last year studying online when they had imagined learning in a university lecture hall.
For psychology student and scholar Chris Leslie the pandemic became a matter of life or death. Here he tells his own story….
I wake up extremely groggy with a bad nightmare ‘hangover’. My bed is surrounded by nurses and doctors. I remember telling myself thank God I’m awake, I must have slept for ages. The doctors reassure me I’m OK but I know something isn’t right. I try to speak – nothing comes out. Finally, I manage to push out a few raspy words.
I’ve been in intensive care for 4 weeks.
I’d better explain how I got there.
One moment I was sitting in an almost empty (due to Covid) university library applying myself to my psychology degree, the next I’m stuck in my student flat having contracted the virus and trying to keep up with two weeks’ worth of bio- and social psychology reading. I’d borrowed the books from the library – a big moment in itself, as I’m ashamed to say it was the first time I’d taken books out. Considering I’m a second year student, very ashamed!
Anyway, I’d hoped the books would see me through my isolation. Little did I know.
Up until Day 3 I was reading and making well informed notes. I’d be fine in a few days, surely? By Day 5 the pain had become immense. I’m unable to read or even get out of bed, but I’m still positive. I’ll be back to study soon. Day 12 and unfortunately my breathing has become harder and I’ve rung the doctors who send an ambulance. On the way to hospital I have a lovely conversation with the paramedics about my psychology degree and the age old question comes up, “Are you going to analyse us then?” The doctors say my oxygen is low but not to worry. I go to sleep, I’m shattered.
When I wake up I ask for dinner, I’m starving and cheeky me is hoping for some Christmas treats. The nurse replies with a sad look in her eyes, her mask covering her mouth, “It’s January 17th”. What?? I assume she’s got it wrong. She tells me I’ve been in a coma but not to worry I’m fine. Coma? I’ve only been asleep one day what on earth is she talking about? I’m shocked, saddened and puzzled all in one emotion.
The nurse’s eyes well up and simultaneously I’m telling myself, “Smile Chris, this must be a mistake.”
I quickly realise I have no feelings in my legs. The medical staff tell me I’ve been ‘really poorly’, in intensive care for a month. I’ve lost so much muscle from the legs that I can’t walk. Never did I think covid would have this effect on me. Covid-19
Since the pandemic first struck last year, I’d often wondered how it would affect my studies. Never did I think it would play out like this. This after all was the year I was giving my studies 100% effort because, if I’m honest with myself, until this point I hadn’t given it my all. It felt cruel when, after my first submission of the 2020-21 academic year, I caught Covid-19 despite attending lectures online and me personally adhering to all social distancing measures, wearing a mask and gloves. And yet, it still got me.
Three weeks after waking up in hospital I attempt to log on to my university portal. I couldn’t remember my password. Even worse I couldn’t remember my email. How can this be so? Covid-19. Brain fog.
My life pre-study is not one I’m proud of, however since studying I’m incredibly proud of myself. I tell myself, “Focus Chris you’ve got this. Covid 19, you will not win.”
More than one month since waking up to my own nightmare, I’m home now. My mobility still isn’t great. Learning to walk again can be frustrating to say the least but I’m determined and I’ve realised that’s half the battle. One day it hit me, there’s no way I could go on studying so soon after almost dying. I’ve had to face up to reality. I have to get back to full fitness, then go back to uni.
I’m disappointed, sad that it feels like I’ve let down everybody who has supported me. Often in the past I’ve thought about quitting studies for good as I have already repeated year 1 and 2. The prospect of repeating again is emotionally draining.
But, as I keep reminding myself, I must get better first then return to study.
So, at the time of writing this, with the full backing of everyone, I’ve decided to put my degree on pause. I’ll pick up again in September. I’m keeping myself focused by doing some flexible work on my social enterprise and I can honestly say I’m happy. I started my education journey in 2017 and I have had to work my behind off.
I’m incredibly fortunate to be alive, let alone study. I still have my mental faculties, my brain is intact (somewhat).
There’s no way a bug will stop me.
if I have any advice to somebody going back to education after a long absence, it’s that life happens. Things that you never expect to happen, happen! Your resilience is all you need to get through. Studying gave me a new perspective, a new outlook on life, something to be truly proud of. I may have a mountain to climb but I’m going to graduate and I will become a counselling psychologist one day. I will not give up, I can beat Covid.