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Since the day we learned about this virus, the information that has gone out about it has been, at best, clear as mud. I understood, and still do, that we were dealing with something new, so I wasn’t too upset about it at first and did what I was told like a good little citizen. Then I went to eye-rolling at some point. But now I have resolved to feeling just plain mad if I think too hard about it.
Mad because of the unintended consequences of so many lives ruined and upended by just a small percentage of people in power who have decided how the rest of us should live. Mad because of the theatrics played out by our government and media, the fear and panic they’ve induced, and terrible mistakes they’ve (knowingly?) made. Mad because of how divided we seem to be. Mad for personal reasons: my kid losing a job; other kids abruptly moving back home to finish college online (did you know you can’t take a cadaver lab at home?); my husband working from home, getting a pay cut, having to take forced furlough weeks, and a freeze on bonuses. Please don’t “at least he still has a job” me. Believe me, I know we are still among the fortunate ones. Truly though, I’m mostly mad because of what this seems to have done to make the healthcare system practically collapse on itself, especially in the area of preventive medicine.
My story is very minor, and to this layman it now it feels more like a comedy of errors, as if the Three Stooges were in charge, but if it’s any indication as to how other people in worse situations have been treated, we have a big problem.
Back in January, I left a job I liked because of a boss I didn’t and took a month off before starting to look for another. I was close to getting another one when this thing called the Wuhan Flu hit. The job and others like it vanished into thin air because suddenly we weren’t meeting in groups anymore. That was ok though, because it turned out that I couldn’t have worked for a good six weeks anyway because in mid-March I got sick. It started with an annoying dry cough that became relentless. It was not a throaty cough, but one that I could feel in my lungs. It hurt to take a deep breath. Danger, Will Robinson. I’m not an alarmist, and I knew I hadn’t been anywhere to contract the virus, but at that point we knew that was a main symptom.
It could have been allergies, even though I never had seasonal allergy problems before. The toilet paper and coronavirus jokes were going around my house and every time someone coughed we’d yell “2319!” like in the movie Monsters, Inc. However, I got a fever soon after and called the doctor to inquire about a check-up and test for corona. I was told by my doctor the tests were not readily available and that I should just isolate for 14 days and seek immediate help if my breathing was labored. So I isolated. In between coughing (a lot), sleeping (a lot), eating (also a lot) and twittering (entirely too much), I watched videos of celebrities, sports stars, and politicians recount their experiences about getting the coronavirus test and how they spent their time until getting the results after four or five days. Heroes, all.
This didn’t feel like “the flu,” which I’ve had a couple of times, and I won’t bore you with every detail. Mostly because I already feel like one of those senior citizens who recounts every hangnail as an epic life-changing circumstance by sharing this with you. The story does get better though, including a pinched nerve in my back that I suffered with for 10 days in the middle of this and couldn’t get treatment for because we were being told to not go to the doctor if you were in quarantine unless it was an emergency (warning: when you’re in your 50s you can hurt your back when you reach into the dishwasher). I never had any kind of back pain like that so I had no clue what to do about it. When I called for one of those great new telemedicine appointments through our health insurance company about it, I was put in a queue and they took 15 hours to call me back just to tell me, you guessed it, to go see my doctor. Since that wasn’t happening because I was in isolation, more laying around, ibuprofen, and icy hot patches would suffice. Silver lining: now I know what to do about back pain!
After the isolation period, I still wasn’t getting well so I made an appointment and physically went to the doctor. I had to trudge through a gravel desert landscape and go around to the back of the building where I waited at the locked door. Like a leper, I was handed a mask and ushered in through the back entrance and taken into the very first room in the back hall. After an examination by a doctor I hadn’t seen before, it was determined it was most likely COVID-19, although I was told I still couldn’t get a test and the virus didn’t typically last that long in otherwise healthy people. I mentioned my daughter who had gotten both a flu and strep test just before I got sick, both of which were negative. So she had some unknown virus as well. I was told “they really weren’t doing chest x-rays right now” so we would just treat it as the ‘rona. No mention of any other problem it might be, although I asked. I got a prescription for cough meds and an inhaler, but no antibiotic, and was told to go back home and isolate for another week. So I did. At this point, I was a bit irritated at the fact that I couldn’t get any further tests or treatment “because.”
Fast forward a few days later on a Saturday when I woke up with another fever and conjunctivitis. I actually laughed like a crazy person as I was telling my husband; I just didn’t care too much anymore. Since my last telemedicine appointment on a weekend was so successful, I waited until Monday to call my doctor. The office had just started telemedicine appointments, so I called the doctor back and this time had a telemedicine appointment with the nurse practitioner. She told me that conjunctivitis was a newly discovered symptom of coronavirus. She discussed what was in my chart with me, took one look at me, heard my cough every time I tried to speak, and prescribed a z-pak and some eye drops. She seemed a little perturbed that this wasn’t the route that was taken by the doctor just a few days before. She told me to have someone else pick up the prescriptions and to isolate for another week or two, as we were still treating it like coronavirus with this new symptom. So I did. I felt a little better a couple of days after the z-pak was finished, but would still have a cough and lack of energy for some time to come.
But wait, there’s more! Also, when you’re in your 50s you can cough so much that you create a hernia from a weak abdominal wall due to a surgery you had two years prior. So after the second isolation period, back to the doctor I went. There was only one other person in the waiting room when at any other time it would have been full. But guess what? No scans or elective surgeries could be done at that time and who cares if it was a little painful; it wasn’t a constant pain and I wasn’t dying from it so that would just have to wait until I could see my surgeon. Since then, the overlords in Arizona have deemed it allowable for me to get the proper scans and surgery if needed. Maybe he’ll give me a discount since he’s the one that caused it in the first place. The problem now is that I can’t have anyone accompany me, not even my husband, so I guess I’ll still have to wait it out. I’m not that brave.
It just so happened that this doctor visit took place on the first day that Arizona was opening up antibody tests to the rubes. Since I still couldn’t get the swab-shoved-into-my-brain test, I got my blood drawn and waited for the answer, which came the next day. Good news, I guess. It was negative. I never had the ‘rona and it felt a little like that scene where Forrest Gump suddenly stops running in Monument Valley when he decides he’s done and it was time to go home. What has all this been about? What now?
Nothing, that’s what. No further tests or inquiries. And I know I’m not alone in all of this. Let me be clear: this isn’t just about me, the corona that wasn’t, a pinched nerve, or a hernia. It’s about the other things going on that are as clear as mud that are preventing a seemingly once decent medical system to be working well. I have questions. Why are doctor’s offices and hospitals not full of people who should be getting treatment for a variety of other illnesses that aren’t COVID related? Why are hospital staff members, aka essential workers, being laid off and entire hospitals and clinics closing during a pandemic that we’re told (and has been proven to be in isolated areas) is very dangerous. How could no one see that anxiety and depression levels would skyrocket by keeping already vulnerable people isolated? How about suicide levels rising? This went terribly wrong somewhere. Somehow we stopped listening to the people who were trained in the medical field and started listening to politicians who weren’t. Many medically fragile people are being left on the sidelines. Which comes back around to an adequate system not being in place to help like it should be. But yay us! there are plenty of empty hospital beds and ventilators just in case. I don’t get it.
Ten weeks later and this is what I’ve learned: the medical professionals’ hands are tied and I do not blame them for this; if this is what socialized medicine looks like, nobody in their right mind should wish for it; when you’re inactive and eating more, you tend to gain a few pounds; and finally, when you’re out in public around other people who are scared, but obviously not scared enough to just stay home, and you can’t stifle a cough, you get the side-eye. Maybe I’ll write “I Tested Negative” on a mask. But what good would it do, since that was a couple of weeks ago. Maybe I’m asymptomatic by now. So many questions. What I haven’t learned: what was wrong with me all that time. Allergies, I guess. It’s clear as mud.
For more insightful rants, look me up on Twitter: @lgadbery.Published in