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Uncertainty And Frustration In The Time Of COVID

Rapid test covid, Medicare

After 21 months of dodging COVID 19, keeping my mask on, avoiding crowds, and staying within my circle of friends, I had my first real scare with COVID in the middle of September.


By Al Norman

After 21 months of dodging COVID 19, keeping my mask on, avoiding crowds, and staying within my circle of friends, I had my first real scare with COVID in the middle of September.

On a recent Friday night, I suddenly broke out in a cold sweat. My teeth were chattering, my head aching, my temperature rising to over 100, my heartbeat elevated. I tried to sleep it off, but by Saturday morning I had turned to Extra Strength Tylenol to cut into the fever and chills.

Many of my symptoms were similar to a number of potential causes: the basic Fall flu, pneumonia, Lyme disease. Or, perhaps my luck at dodging COVID 19 had finally ended.

My wife bought a couple of COVID rapid test kits at Walgreens. I read a news report that the rapid home tests were rapidly disappearing from pharmacy shelves in many parts of the U.S., after plummeting testing demand over the summer.

My wife and I both did the tests, swabbing our nasal passages, inserting the sticks in test cards, folding up the package. 15 minutes later, we both had one solid pink line on the card window: Negative. This was not full relief, because home tests leave you wondering how many false negatives they produce.

My condition didn’t improve on Saturday. I was still experiencing chills, my hands were shaking, and I felt a low-level nausea in my throat. That night I bundled up in bed, and after a fitful night of feverish sleep, my cotton sheets were drenched with sweat. My reliance on 2 Tylenol capsules every 4 hours to knock down pain and fever seemed an inadequate strategy. My fever was hovering a little over 100. I needed a new plan.

On Sunday morning, I called a nurse at my Primary Care Physician’s office. Her advice was check myself into the hospital Emergency Room. I hesitated, knowing from past experience that it took hours to get anything done at the ER. My three daughters all conspired in chorus to tell me to report to the ER and stop self-diagnosing.

patient-centered, Social Security, ageist, nursing, COVID, Trump, vaccineI checked into the ER around 4 PM, and after a short wait, I was shown into the Intake room. Because I was showing COVID symptoms, my wife had to remain in the ER waiting room for the next 5 hours. I was escorted into an ER room—still wobbling like a top. I put on a Johnny, and for the next hour and a half, it was only me breathing into my K95 COVID mask for company.

An RN eventually gave me a sodium chloride drip and another infusion to lower my nausea. They did their own COVID test, took a lung X-ray to check for pneumonia, and took some blood to search for bacterial infection. I passed the next two hours alone, waiting for my lab and test results.

By 8 p.m. they pulled back the curtains to my room and the RN shouted through the door: “COVID Negative.” They immediately let my wife into my room. About half an hour later, the ER physician came in and informed us “your chest x-ray looks fine.” Pneumonia negative.

The last thing the ER doctor wanted to look for was Lyme Disease, or New England tick disease. They drew another vial of blood, started me on a second drip of saline solution, and sent me home around 9:30 pm with 10 pages of written Discharge Instructions. My instructions: Drink plenty of fluids, stay well-hydrated, increase potassium intake (bananas and orange juice), use Tylenol to control fever/pain.

Sunday night was uneventful. I stopped taking extra strength Tylenol to see how my body would react when it was not masking my fever or blood pressure. I made a follow up appointment with my primary care physician, but couldn’t get an appointment until 12 days later. When Monday and Tuesday went by with only marginal improvement, I decided to see any doctor at my primary care office — rather than to wait for my own.

On Wednesday afternoon I met with my new MD in his office. We agreed to do another blood analysis, a seasonal flu swab, another COVID test, and–at the suggestion of an ER doc in California who is friends with my midwife daughter — a D-Dimer test, to measures the presence of blood clotting activity in my body.

On Thursday morning, the RN in primary care office called to tell me my D-Dimer levels were “elevated,” and they urged me to get a CT Scan of my lungs to rule out a pulmonary embolism. I went back to the hospital as an out-patient, did the CT Scan, and waited nervously until Friday late afternoon to learn that there was no blood clot in my lungs and that my clotting activity was a normal. (The extra wait time was because my CT results had been dropped in the wrong doctor’s in-box—not the doctor who was waiting for it.) Fortunately, the CT lab technician told me informally that I had no pulmonary embolism.

Lyme disease and New England tick disease tests both came back negative. One week after my first symptoms, the only test still not back is my second COVID test. In the past 7 days I had a total of 4 COVID tests. The scary diagnoses were all ruled out: COVID, pulmonary embolism, pneumonia, Lyme. I’m left with a discharge report which simply says: “Febrile Illness with Uncertain Cause.” It’s a little anti-climactic, but in the Time of COVID, I have new respect for the word “uncertain.”

      Al Norman worked in the field of aging in Massachusetts for nearly 4 decades, and has been writing editorials for the 50 Plus Life for almost that entire time.

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