Test Unavailable: My Mysterious Illness Was Likely COVID-19
I heard about the coronavirus like many others; through the news, web, and peers. When my friend, Sarah, flew in from Texas on Wednesday, March 11th, we thought we knew what we were up against. Her ticket was nonrefundable, which meant she had to make the best of her time in New York City—on the verge of a pandemic or not.
Like some young, healthy millennials, we believed we were invincible to illness. With our known ride-or-die party-history, we believed our immune systems were indestructible, if coated with enough vodka to kill any germs that may enter.
The first night we stayed in my neighborhood in Bushwick, Brooklyn. We went to Artichoke Pizza followed by my favorite dive bar, Cobra Club. The night ended late and I had to be up early to catch the L Train into the city for work the next day.
The L Train was an experience of its own. The death glares while riding between Jefferson and Union Square were ominous. If someone dared cough, the watchful eyes of fellow riders would immediately fall upon them.
After work on Thursday, Sarah and I went out again. We received an email from the House of Yes earlier that day that stated that night would be their last open until further notice. Wanting to give her an authentic Brooklyn club experience, we went.
On Friday, we went to ChinaTown for dinner. The streets were bare and the restaurants were empty. I took Sarah to Nom Wah Tea Parlor, a vintage dim sum restaurant, as well as Apotheke Cocktail Bar right next door.
Saturday may have been the most irresponsible day for us yet. We started the afternoon at The Charleston Bar in Williamsburg.
Eventually, we made our way to Freehold where the day party was raging.
Following our day drinking escapades, we made our way back to Bushwick where we waited for the Lot 45 lounge to get started.
A Strange, Slow Onset
On Sunday, March 15th, Sarah flew home. I went into post-party recovery mode. By Monday, I came down with a very strange headache.
This headache was unlike any other I’ve experienced before in my life. My head felt dull, grey, and electric. It was as though there were two super-charged layers of electricity penetrating my brain, and working together to bring me down.
The headache was still there on Tuesday. No matter how many Ibuprofen I took, the pain remained. That night—two days in—I experienced my first fever outbreak.
When I awoke on Wednesday morning, I was full-blown sick. The body aches, the headache, the fever, and the slow onset of a cough were settling in.
I eventually crawled out of bed and made my way to the urgent care clinic. As an individual without health insurance, paying out-of-pocket is something I have to take into consideration. If I was going to drop $200 on a doctor visit, I better be getting that COVID-19 test.
I called CityMD in Long Beach, NY as I was quarantining at my boyfriend’s house. I asked the individual on the phone if they had COVID-19 tests on-hand. She said yes, and that it was first come, first serve. So I made my way to the car, and drove the short distance to the clinic.
By the time I arrived, I was sweating profusely. I walked up to the clinic and saw two children inside, so I stayed outside until the doctor took them back. After I entered, I immediately requested a mask. The staff wanted me to fill-out a form, so I made sure to wash my hands before I touched their pen.
The clinic was surprisingly empty, and I was called back almost immediately. The doctor, and assistants, were decked to the nines in gloves, face masks, and medical gowns. I thanked everyone I could for the work they were doing, as they were all sympathetic to my condition.
At this point, my fever reached 101.6 degrees. The medical staff tested me for the flu. It came out negative.
“Hmmm, a lot of negatives on the flu test,” the doctor told his assistant. “Well, I can’t give you the COVID-19 test because you’re not elderly and you’re not a health care worker,” the doctor told me.
“How old are you?” he asked.
“Thirty,” I responded.
“Alright, well at 30, you stand a good chance of naturally recovering. So, I’m going to send you home. But if you start to feel severe respiratory problems, come straight back and we’ll take x-rays.”
The cough began to set in heavily on Wednesday evening. By Thursday morning, I could barely walk. The fever came in waves; its inconsistency drove me nuts. But, I battled the chills at every moment. The body aches were everywhere from my wrists, to my collarbone, to my ankles. There was no place left untouched. I lived my life in bed that week.
I finally got through to a representative after spending over two hours on hold. I could tell he was exhausted from the minute the man answered the phone.
“I’ve had one day off in the last 30 days,” he told me.
“Bless you for the work you’re doing,” I responded.
He took my information and “filed my application” for a test. “The Department of Health will be calling you to schedule an appointment on when you can go,” he told me. “And no, I don’t know when they’ll call.”
By Friday, March 20th, my symptoms got worse. To top it off, I woke up with an earache at 4 a.m.
My boyfriend’s house had no thermometers, cough syrup, cough drops, decongestants, heating pads, vicks vapor rub, etc. “Do you ever get sick?!,” I gripped at him. “No,” he said.
Since I couldn’t go into a store to get meds, and I didn’t want to shell out the funds for products I already had at home, I made my way back to my apartment in Bushwick where I quarantined for the weekend.
As the fever persisted, I jumped in and out of the shower to clean the sweat off. The nights and mornings were the hardest. Every night I came down with a fever. Every morning, my body was so stiff I could only hobble as I got out of bed.
I was too weak to cook for myself, and I didn’t have an appetite to push through. When I ate, I felt like I was going to vomit. My head felt like my brain was shaking within my skull. The phlegm from my cough made me feel like I was coughing up virus particles, which did not help my emotional state—and yes, five days into this, I was getting extremely emotional from feeling like shit.
The biggest source of comfort came from my friends, family and co-workers who constantly checked-in on me. Some would even apologize for checking-in so frequently, but said they’d still check-in anyway.
Every day was a battle. Nothing was consistent. The fever was random. The mornings were achey. The cough was painful, and my sinuses were draining fluid out of my ears. I was a mess.
Sunday March 22nd, was the first day I didn’t feel worse. I slept from midnight to 4 a.m., but awoke from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m., followed by naps from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. I needed to get a full night of sleep, or I was going to lose my sanity.
I’m a chronic cannabis consumer; I have been since I first hit the pipe at age 15.
Smoking herb is my meditation. Cannabis is the campfire my friends gather around. So when it comes to having a cough, I’m not only uncomfortable from being sick, I’m also distressed when my meditation routine is disrupted. That’s when edibles enter.
Having overdosed on edibles in years prior, I am always hesitant to consume these delicious treats, especially when they’re coming from the streets of an unregulated state like New York. Sometimes edibles are so potent, I feel them for days. Other times, I doubt if there was even any THC in them to begin with.
Fortunately, I knew from experience that each individual edible in this bag of chocolate chips was indeed potent. So, I took a whole one, which claimed to be 50mg.
Two hours later, my brain felt psychedelic—and not in a good way.
One thing that stood out to me throughout this illness is the gnarly headache that comes along with it. Think Frankenstein when he’s being electrocuted back to life. The brain zaps from the rear base of my cranium up through the top of my skull reminded me of the electric probes used to bring the creature to life. It’s constant. It’s painful. And, it’s scary.
On edibles, the feeling intensified. It brought whatever was swarming around my brain to the surface, tenfold. I practically hallucinated while falling asleep that night. I did not like it.
Week Two: Attempt at Recovery
While it’s obvious to think that I may have contracted the virus during that four-day weekend with my friend—none of the other people in our group came down with any symptoms.
As of March 27th, I am currently experiencing the end of the second week of whatever virus has entered my system. The New York Department of Health has yet to return my request for testing at any of their sites.
Thoughts such as, ‘Do I not meet the standards? Am I too young for a test? Are they seriously that backlogged?’ all crossed my mind.
When I really think about it, I was on hold for two and a half hours only to have a five minute phone call. If the same representative who spoke with me, spoke to someone else at that same rate (every five minutes), then, roughly 30 other people were trying to call to make an appointment to get tested for COVID-19.
Now, let’s bring that time up to 24 hours, which is 1,440 minutes. If a call was made every five minutes, then roughly 288 people called within that one day period.
As of March 31st, there are over 59,000 cases of COVID-19 in the tri-state area, with over 1,000 deaths in New York alone.
Why are citizens like myself getting sidelined while athletes, the wealthy, and politicians are tested? How will we ever know the real numbers for this virus if we can’t even get the damn Department of Health to call us back?
While I slowly entered my third week of illness, my boyfriend has begun to come down with the virus. As I write this, he lays next to me with a fever, trying to brace his way through.
And while he’s exhibiting the same symptoms, with the same erratic timeline (fews days of headache, followed by fever, chill, aches)—I am still trying to make my way out of it.
The more intense symptoms have subsided. But, I am still facing a lingering headache that I worry may never leave my body. I was sorely mistaken when I thought that my 30-year-old immune system would come to my defense.
What if there are permanent effects? My mother had lung cancer, what if I am in-line for cancer as well? Will the COVID-19 be in my system when I’m her age? Am I now at risk for future respiratory issues? Will I suffer from this viral headache for the rest of my life? What about when I decide to start a family? Like the Zika virus, will COVID-19 affect my offspring?
The anxiety that stems from the uncertainty of things is an illness in and of itself. The only thing that brings any sort of reassurance is that we truly are in this together. It’s like living in the Emerald Triangle; even if you aren’t a part of the industry, you’re surrounded by soil or nutrient billboards and radio advertisements that thrust you into it.
Even if you don’t have the illness, you’re in it. We’re all in it, now and going forward. We may feel isolated at home, but the truth is we’re safer at home. Our elders are safer with us at home. The sick are safer with us at home. Health care workers, the heros in scrubs, are all safer with us at home. I don’t know if we’ll be out by the end of April, but we are all in this together. For those of you that have tested positive, or believe you’re positive for COVID-19, hang in there. While some people are asymptomatic, others feel the virus for anywhere from two days to two weeks.
For more information on COVID-19, getting tested, and for further peace of mind, visit CoronaVirus.Gov