While the coronavirus pandemic was just starting to take hold in Europe and the United Kingdom, I was overseas. I learned that someone in a building where I had a meeting had tested positive for Covid-19.
Having a weakened immune system due to untreated MRSA while I was incarcerated, that was cause for great concern. MRSA is one of the many issues called an “underlying medical condition,” which puts certain people and age groups at risk.
When I received the details of the infected person’s locale, I became more relaxed. The person was indeed in the building the same day I was, but on a different floor, in a more isolated office area, and from the timelines, had likely departed the building before I entered. As I calculated the possibility of cross-infection, I thought of it as a statistical improbability. And as the news in the country where I was located had not risen nearly to the level where we see it now, I continued on with my work — worry-free. Until I got home.
My primary health care practitioner here in the United States saw it much differently. I have to go for virus and bacteria screening as part of a long term plan to stay MRSA free ( and thankfully, have been, since 2015). But when I shared what happened during my overseas travels, my doctor was emphatic: “I will write up the paperwork to get you to the drive-through facility they set up at the hospital and let’s get you tested.” He was concerned about my risk of infection due to the underlying medical condition and wanted me tested right away. That was last Monday.
I was then given instructions about when to go to the drive-through (Tuesday). There were people there who took my information, asked for identification, told me when to roll my window down, then up, and when to exit the car, and where to sit for the test. I would also be swabbed for a respiratory virus panel, which was a non-Covid-19 viral screen.
When would my results come back? Earlier, a health care provider told me to ask the person who would call me from the hospital to schedule the drive-through. The person who called me to confirm the drive-though appointment told me not to worry, that the information about timing would be provided at the test site. At the test site, they handed me two sheets of paper, one from the CDC about Covid-19, and the other from the hospital, which said in part, “Your doctor will call you with the results.” When I called my doctor on the way home from the drive-through test, he said: “Didn’t they tell you that at the test site?”
Then my worrying really started. Actually, that’s an understatement. I had acute anxiety.
When I was finally home from the test, I got through to someone at the hospital. They were empathetic and said one of my test panels — the respiratory panel — was being analyzed in house. But my Covid-19 test had to be sent to Washington state. That’s 3,000 miles from the drive-through test center where I left my swabs.
I was also told my Covid-19 test panel would be queued for analysis in Washington state starting Wednesday — if everything worked as it was supposed to. When I asked when I could expect to receive the results, the answer was, “Two or three days.” That meant Thursday or Friday.
Thursday came, no news. Then Friday, no news.
On Saturday my respiratory panel came back negative. But that wasn’t the one I was worried about.
I had tried to call the hospital Friday for an update. But they were no longer taking calls. I listened to a recording that instructed me how to fax orders for testing (if I was a healthcare provider); those needing testing were told by the recording that they would receive a call informing them when they should arrive at the drive-through for testing.
Sunday. My doctor called. My Covid-19 test was negative.
I was unimaginably relieved. But I also gained a first-hand appreciation for the Covid-19 anxiety that can sweep over us like a wave. Having been hospitalized in 2014 while I was still MRSA positive, I know what protocols have to be followed when someone is hospitalized with an infectious disease. I also know how hospital resources are finite. It’s clear. Covid-19 is straining the supply of respirators and other medical devices, not to mention the skilled professionals needed to deploy the hardware.
Today, as I shelter in place (voluntarily, so far), I am thankful for my personal outcome. And yet I know that so many people are very scared, for themselves and for their loved ones. I encourage all of my colleagues to remember that it’s never too late to reach out to anyone who’s part of your network. By a phone call, by skype or zoom, just to say, “How are you today?” That’s probably the least, and the most, we can do for each other right now.