I have been sick with a “mysterious virus” for 2 weeks now. Symptoms were mild last Tuesday (3/17), but still mirrored what I was seeing in the COVID-19 symptom list. Because I’m a mom and was looking at a whole lot of extra time spent in close proximity to my son, I went to a walk-in clinic last Tuesday to get tested. I have a digestive disorder that puts me in a high-risk group (because it makes my immune system crap), so my test was easily approved.
I sent my son to his dad’s house while I waited for the test result, just in case. (Spoiler: The test result took 6 days.)
Last Tuesday, I felt fine enough to paint my kitchen and assemble shelves. Wednesday on… not so much.
My symptoms kept getting worse. Persistent fever. Horrible cough. Heavy chest. Body aches. Headache that wouldn’t go away. Test result wasn’t coming. I knew the result wouldn’t necessarily change the treatment, but at least if it was negative, I could see my son.
Monday (3/23) – 6 days after getting tested – I finally got my results. Negative. Oh, okay. Great. I assumed it was bronchitis. Still had a fever, though, so Fisher stayed at his dad’s another day. Tuesday morning, I woke up feeling much better and had no fever, so Fisher came home. We had a lovely day of Beyblades and Beyblade video making. We walked the dog. We picked through the garage and made quarantine plans.
By Wednesday evening (3/25), I had uncontrollable chills and a fever of 104. I called Fisher’s dad, and he came to pick him up.
I wasn’t sure if I should go to the ER. My lungs were rattling, but I wasn’t having trouble breathing, per se. My high fever and extreme lethargy made my breathing shallow, but it wasn’t really my lungs. I had a negative test result. And I’d already read over and over again to treat and quarantine at home, if possible - to leave room in the hospitals for people who needed ventilators and intensive care. I’d also read to call 211 if you weren’t sure what to do.
So I called 211. The young man I talked to was nice enough but totally confused. I told him about my symptoms and asked him if this was the point I should go to the ER. He said he couldn’t advise me in that way. He said I could call a nurse’s hotline, but it had closed 20 minutes ago, and I’d have to call in the morning.
I hung up with the young man from 211, and I called a hospital emergency room.
The first thing the nurse at the emergency room said was, “You need to call 211.” I told her I had just gotten off the phone with someone at 211 who said he couldn’t give me that kind of guidance. The nurse with pronounced irritation said, “That kind of guidance is exactly what they’re SUPPOSED to be doing.” Then she told me that she really couldn’t tell me whether or not to come in. I felt stupid for calling.
I hung up with the hospital and decided to just go to bed and let the fever break. This decision received pronounced disapproval from all of “my people”.
The next morning, my fever was gone, but I was extra weak and woozy.
I looked up stuff about how accurate our current testing is. I read something about a 10-15% rate of false negatives (which apparently is pretty standard compared to similar tests for influenza). One reason for a false negative was to test too early, when the viral load was too low to be detected. (https://abc7news.com/6053940/)
After a shower, had I not found my way to the bed, I would have passed out on the floor. That’s when I called the walk-in clinic where I had originally been tested for COVID. Unfortunately, that clinic had since been closed to sick patients – reserved for family medicine only.
I talked to three different people in the same clinic system. I cried on the phone with all three of them. I had already cried on the phone with my mom and with Manfriend. It was a heavy cry-day. I’m not sure why, other than I was really tired, really missed my son, and just wanted to feel okay again. Eventually, a nice nurse who called me “hon” a lot said, “You really need to be retested, but CDC has to approve you for testing, and I’m not sure they’re going to do that since you already had a negative result.” She thought I should go to the hospital but wanted me to talk to someone at urgent care first.
So I talked to someone at urgent care, and she said “Come here, instead.”
My mom came to my house (more disapproval from our collective people) in a mask and gloves and drove me to urgent care. A chest x-ray said no pneumonia, just a lot of inflammation. Despite the increase in the severity of symptoms, I was not approved for a COVID retake. I asked, “then how will I know if it’s safe for my son to come home?” She told me that if I can go 3 days without a fever, he can come home.
I was sent home with a nebulizer, prednisone, and an antibiotic, and no diagnosis - just “some kind of virus, maybe multiple viruses coming in one after another.”
My tale is very mild. I am doing just fine. I’m not on death’s door. I have a steady income. I have stuffed cabinets and a full refrigerator; and my son has a good dad and a safe place to be. But take my situation and plug in different circumstances. Consider someone with more severe symptoms, fewer resources, fewer supports, and who has to self-care at home with one or more children.
On one hand, whether or not it’s COVID doesn’t necessarily matter. It doesn’t impact treatment at this mild-moderate level. Even if it’s COVID, you still lock yourself in the house and treat symptoms until you recover. There is no COVID cure.
But here is where I believe it matters very much:
1 – I don’t know if I’m safe for my son or anyone else I love, some of whom also have compromised immune systems.
2 – Without question, the numbers being reported in Iowa and beyond are well below the actual spread, because testing is simply not available at the level it needs to be. Everything we are seeing is an UNDER-representation… NOT an OVER-reaction.
3 – It will continue to spread, because people who don’t know they have it are in line at the grocery store behind you and handling the gas pump before you. They don’t know they have it, because: (1) they can’t get approved for a test; (2) they got a false negative result; or (3) they assume they’re probably negative but are still waiting for the result.
In lockdown, I’ve had reading time. The last two days, I’ve been reading the 73-page “Lessons Learned” report from the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak (published in 2016). I’m also reading the report about the Crimson Contagion simulation from 2019. And it is 100% clear that we were NOT “blindsided” by this at all, as Trump has said. Current administration was warned over and over and over again – WITH GREAT SPECIFICITY -- that this EXACT thing was coming, and that our current system was not equipped to handle it. Even after these repeated and explicit warnings, Trump disbanded the teams appointed to strengthen and prepare for a pandemic exactly like the one we are currently experiencing.