I might have the coronavirus, but I may never know!
On Tuesday, March 10th, I was at work when I started to feel what I thought were cold symptoms. I had a scratchy throat, the sniffles and a cough all of a sudden. I didn’t think it was of much concern, and it was near the end of the work day. Typically, I would’ve just stayed the last hour of the workday and gone home. But given the sensitivity surrounding the coronavirus, I decided that I didn’t want to get suspicious glares and awkward looks from my co-workers. So I immediately packed up my stuff, left my cubicle and went home.
Once I got home, I took some over-the-counter medicine to prevent the “cold” symptoms from getting worse. I stayed home from work the next two days, and on that Thursday, I called my doctor’s office to see if I could get an appointment because I had some congestion, and I was concerned that I had an ear infection. I was told that the doctor’s office was only taking patients who were likely coronavirus cases, but that I could go to the Urgent Care facilities that my physician was associated with. Because I didn’t think I had anything more than a cold and/or ear infection, I didn’t go to the Urgent Care place; it didn’t seem “urgent.”
I was also experiencing tightness in the center of my lower chest. I thought it was either gassy indigestion, or food that didn’t settle well in my chest and needed to just "pass through." I 1st noticed this on Wednesday, and it persisted through Thursday. Thursday I took some antacid tablets, believing it would release the pressure in my chest.
Not feeling as bad as I had the prior few days, I returned to work on Friday (although the tightness in my chest was still very much present). But early in the workday, I had a free moment at my computer, and I read an article outlining symptoms of the coronavirus. The prevailing symptom seemed to be a fever, which I didn’t have. I had a cough, but it wasn’t particularly strong or dry. However, I did have a very noticeable tightness in my chest. And it was that symptom of the coronavirus that made me think that I should go see a doctor.
This time I actually just went over to my doctor’s office. Despite the tightness in my chest, his staff let me know that he was unavailable for anyone who did not have a fever and a dry cough (but especially a fever). So I immediately went over to the Urgent Care facilities. Fortunately, and perhaps surprisingly, there wasn’t a line. When I finally got checked out, I was tested for strep throat and the flu. I tested negative for both. The doctor did note that there was fluid in my lungs. To further establish this, I was placed on a nebulizer for a few minutes, and the difference in the sound of my lungs seemed to confirm to the doctor that I had pneumonia (or possibly bronchitis). I was given a prescription for levofloxacin, and told that if my condition worsened after taking the medicine, then (and only then) would they test me for the coronavirus.
If you are wondering why I would be concerned about having the coronavirus after I had already been given a diagnosis of pneumonia, it is because many people who have COVID-19 (the disease caused by the coronavirus) are actually dying of pneumonia. And though I didn’t have the common fever, not everyone who has COVID-19 presents with a fever, or noticeable symptoms at all. I was also concerned because if I indeed had COVID-19, I could unknowingly pass it to others, like my wife and baby daughter.
After my diagnosis, I spoke with some of my friends who are doctors and nurses, and who are seeing COVID-19 patients. One of them told me that at her hospital, the pressure in my chest alone would have been enough to warrant a check for coronavirus. But not in my area of the country.
And this is one of the problems with how we are approaching this crisis. There is no uniformity in testing criteria for it, and there aren’t enough tests.
So I could be a carrier of the coronavirus and contagious. But because I didn’t meet the criteria of my local health officials to be tested, I may never know. Basically I need to run a fever, have a cough and still have tightness in my chest.
Fortunately, since I began taking the levofloxacin, the tightness in my chest has substantially decreased. But as a precaution, I have not touched my wife or daughter in days. I’m staying in a separate room and using our guest bathroom exclusively. Yet I am worried that my wife and baby daughter are at risk because I could realistically be coronavirus positive and contagious.
Here is the critical question that we face as a nation:
If you can have the virus without showing symptoms, but we’re only testing people with the most obvious symptoms, how are we ever going to be able to stop it?
So I may indeed have the coronavirus, but because of the mishandling of this crisis, I may never know!
-Dr. Boyd “The Chemist”