On Wednesday, March 11, I returned from a trip to the UK – the first vacation I’ve taken from my entry-level position at a huge Chicago corporation – and crashed into bed. When I woke up, I had a sore throat and felt unusually warm and totally exhausted. I blamed my jet lag and my 3+ days of wine and fast food. But in an effort to make sure I could get my paid sick leave, I went to the doctor, where I was tested for the flu, strep, and COVID-19.
The first nurse practitioner I saw said she didn’t have a COVID test, but thought I wouldn’t need one. Then a second nurse delivered the news that tests had JUST come in – lucky me! (PS: if you’ve never had a nose swab, this is reason enough to try to stay inside and avoid contamination).
I did everything right including getting tested for Covid-19
For a well-enough-paid healthy 24-year-old with insurance, this whole doctor’s visit was low risk. Hopefully, I’d get some drugs to make me feel better, but whatever happened, I was going to get a note that said “she was at the doctor,” and I’d be home free.
On Saturday, I finally got a call that my strep and flu tests were negative. They said I was low-risk for COVID, so the lab did not run my COVID test. By then, my office was WFH (work from home) anyway so it didn’t seem to matter much, and my cough wasn’t bad, so I wasn’t nervous.
A few days passed and I was still feeling awful. Sore throat, dry coughing, dog tired and, I’m told, impossible to wake up in the morning. I had booked a ticket to my parents’ house for the next week to take care of them, so I decided to get a telescreening. This is just a FaceTime doctor’s exam, where the doctor asked me questions about my symptoms and exposure and decided AGAIN that I did NOT QUALIFY for a COVID test. She diagnosed a sinus infection and told me to keep doing what I was doing.
I tested positive for corona virus
Fast forward to Friday morning. I got a “this is urgent, call us back!” message from my doctor. I called back. The nurse told me that the CDC had found a better way to test samples, so they were able to run my test from that first swab from 9 days before.
It was positive. This thing on the news was in my body.
It was a bad day, starting with the Bad Day Telethon – phoning everyone I’d seen, hugged or shared a pizza within the past weeks to tell them that I was COVID-19 positive. Thankfully it was a short list, but two of the people on it were my roommates. One is my partner who was on the trip with me, and who had no symptoms and had been going to work in an office all week. The second was my best friend, who had just started having mild cold symptoms. Ugh.
These were tough conversations, even though my roommates are the most generous, compassionate people in the world. The interesting part is that once the news breaking was over, NOTHING changed. We are still at home, triple washing our hands, and carefully tipping delivery people extra to drop (several) pizzas on the front porch.
What has gotten me through the guilt and weirdness is knowing that I did NOT go to my parents’ house as planned or let my roommate see her grandmother. We were, as we all should be, willing to be thought of as overreacting.
Embarrassment/shame/being dramatic are such delicious alternatives to endangering people whose immune systems are weaker than yours. I had to text my downstairs neighbor (and her newborn baby) to give them the news, and I was shaking with shame, but I was SO relieved that I got to say “but I haven’t left my unit in a week!”
For my own sanity, I have to remind myself: I did SO MUCH RIGHT. I got a test when I was sick, I stayed home, I washed my hands, I covered my coughs. STILL, I endangered people on my few trips to the grocery store and coffee shop between Wednesday and Saturday.
The doctors who helped me did SO MUCH RIGHT. They gave me the resources they had and the knowledge they had. It still wasn’t enough.
As someone who has ZERO medical knowledge, but IS now a confirmed walking contagion, here are my takeaways:
Here are my takeaways from my Covid-19 experience
• DON’T ASSUME YOU’RE NEGATIVE. A medical professional telling you that you’re too low-risk to test does NOT mean you are NEGATIVE or SAFE. You are a potential danger to folks who aren’t as young or healthy as you.
• DON’T RISK IT. This is the craziest, most mysterious thing in our lifetimes. Knowing that each of us could be a walking weapon, why would we risk harming those we love, or those more susceptible than we are? Even if we are all clear, the costs of putting someone at risk do not outweigh the benefits of us getting to walk through the world as we want.
• ACT AS IF YOU’RE POSITIVE. Testing is so much less important than staying safe and protecting your community. There are not enough tests to go around, so get comfortable with not knowing, and err on the side of caution.
By–A Low-Risk Woman in Chicago