|Image: Me laying in bed while sick and sleepy|
Monday, June 1, 2020
Autism Answer: COVID-19 In Small Town Texas - My Story
“I’m going to isolate myself in the back bedroom. I have a cough, slight fever, fatigue, headache, and I can’t breathe. It seems like I need to stay away.”
I said this to my husband as we drove back with his barbeque sandwich from the Texas town nearest our small Texas town.
For the next few days, I struggled with the cough, barely a fever, serious fatigue, headache, and shortness of breath. I did as I’d heard and read; stayed home and didn't go to a doctor or hospital, did my best to isolate, waited to see if my body could simply fight the illness on its own without spreading to others.
Obviously, I wondered if it was the novel coronavirus 19 but, regardless, I was sick and didn’t want to share that sickness.
However, after a few days (three, I think?) I was left with a cough, horrible shortness of breath, and fatigue, and I began to be scared. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, I felt like I was drowning. Also, my husband is nearly 70 years old and black - and it becomes necessary for him to visit and help our black family members, particularly the older ones, often - most of them specifically at risk, so I truly wondered if I needed to be more forceful with him about the isolation.
In a brief moment of awakeness I looked up the nearest COVID-19 testing center to me. According to my search, it was forty minutes away and I needed an appointment and/or recommendation from a doctor. I was so sick, honestly, that the thought exhausted me and I couldn’t do it. Isolate, social distance, wash my hands, wear a mask, these things are what they would tell me even if I did prove to be positive, so stay home and do that I told myself, passing out and struggling to breathe.
Two days later I was not worse but no better. I called the nearest hospital and asked for advice. “We can’t tell you what to do but we’re here, we’re here,” the woman said kindly.
I was so tired but not sleeping because I couldn’t breathe. I crawled back on my bed and silently cried.
The next day I asked my husband to take me to the E.R.
He took me immediately and when we got there they would not let him in, only the sick person. Me.
They asked me COVID questions, and I answered honestly. My cough was slight, my fever gone, my headache gone, but the fatigue and shortness of breath intense indeed. I had to lean against the wall to answer all of these questions.
When I was seen I answered the questions again, tried my best to be upbeat and friendly, not a suck but honest about my condition. They asked if I thought I had COVID and I answered honestly, “I don’t know but I think have something.”
Chest X-rays showed something small on my lungs, nothing shocking. My oxygen levels were good. We wondered if it was anxiety. I was pretty sure it was something else. “Bronchitis, maybe?” they decided and offered to give me a steroid shot. I was so sleepy and desperate for breath. “Yes, please, anything.”
I wondered why they didn’t test me for COVID, but was too unwell to think straight and ask. I had another moment of shock as they gave me my bill (I have insurance, but over $1,000.00 was left for me.)
When someone from the hospital’s hospitality department called me the next day to check on me, I asked. “Why didn’t they test me for COVID?”
“Well,” she replied, sort of hesitating, “we’re regulated by the state and they have strict rules about testing. We can’t test you unless you have all of the symptoms and we rule several other things out first.”
“Huh, okay. I just wondered because both my husband’s age and race make him particularly at risk. Anyway, thank you.”
Two days later I felt the same, no worse no better, and I called the local medical clinic and made an appointment to see a doctor.
Again, they would not let my husband inside and greeted all of us at the door with COVID specific questions. Again, I answered honestly and was asked to bring my circled paper to the receptionist, pointing out my symptoms as I signed myself in. I did that.
Eventually, after struggling to breathe and trying so hard to be upbeat and friendly, I was met by the doctor. I was immediately lucky enough to suddenly have a long moment of comparative comfort (this did keep happening over all the days of my illness, I would have waves of feeling fairly good and get oh so hopeful that finally I might feel better, only to have the wave crash down on me and bring me nearly to my knees with fatigue and a feeling of being unable to breathe).
Again, the doctor asked the questions and I answered honestly. After he listened and looked and measured, he agreed that maybe I had bronchitis or walking pneumonia. “I’d also like to test you for anemia if you don’t mind having labs done?”
“I’m happy to have lab work done. I’ll do almost anything just to feel better. Will you test me for COVID?”
“Well,” he began, “we’re regulated by the state. I can’t test you for COVID unless you meet so much criteria and until I rule out a whole bunch of other things. Even if I call them I’ll be on the phone for over an hour only to hear no.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s not cool.”
He didn’t reply, but sent me on my way for lab work and promised to be in touch with results. He also prescribed steroids and antibiotics for bronchitis and pneumonia. (And I was gifted with another bill of nearly $600.00 - thank goodness they let you pay later at these places.)
Before I even picked up my meds, at the urging of my mother who had just easily gotten herself a test for COVID in California, I tried finding a testing center again.
This time I found one only 35 minutes away in a town I am familiar with. Something about how desperate I was to feel better had been stopping me from being able to do a better job of seeking help for myself, but this time I didn’t feel as overwhelmed and called to ask them if I could come in.
“Of course! Come on in! We’re open till 8PM. No need for an appointment, just bring your insurance.”
“Oh, wow! That was so easy. Everywhere else has shut me down.”
“Really?” she asked, sounding authentically surprised. “But, why?”
“Something about being regulated by the state.” I had a sudden crash of uneasy breathing and fatigue, so I quickly thanked her and hung up the phone.
The next day I showed up wearing my mask, coughing, and struggling for breath. They asked me to wait in my vehicle while doing my paperwork. They met me out there to first ask my symptoms, check my vitals, and swab me for flu and strep. Simple tests that were not fun for me but seemingly pretty easily done.
The flu test came back positive for flu A, I was negative for strep. Yay! I had the flu! Now I made a little more sense to me. Why on earth had nobody tested me for flu before this?
I waited a while and was met by a physician’s assistant who did the COVID-19 test. She asked questions and agreed with my doctor, only she had more information having done the flu test and sounded more certain, I had a flu, and now I probably also had atypical pneumonia and maybe bronchitis. I admitted to her that the doctor I had seen the day before said the same thing, prescribed medications for me but I had yet to pick them up. “Take the steroids and the antibiotics,” she said, looking at me with piercing eyes that cared. “If you don’t this will probably get worse. Tell me you’ll take them.”
“I will, I promise,” I said, almost shyly and slightly ashamed of being caught not taking care of myself.
I did as I was told: took my medicine and got better.
A few days later I got test results back. I was not anemic and I tested negative for COVID-19.
But boy did I wonder a few things.
Clearly, COVID is on the minds of every place I went with questions about my health and my similar to COVID symptoms. They were screening with specific to COVID questionnaires at all the entrances, not allowing anyone other than the patient or a minor patient’s guardian in because of COVID, yet they could not test me for COVID. Not until I somehow proved over and over that my illness was not other things. In the meantime I was given hefty bills to pay and a feeling that they didn’t think it was COVID (since I wasn’t tested). Also, it took several different medical locations before I was tested for the flu. Why?
The state seems to not want to know if I had COVID. My husband thinks they avoided testing me for the flu because there isn't enough money in it for them. I don't know about that, but I do know that I wasn't going to be tested for COVID-19 easily, even though I had several symptoms and was asking about it, so whatever the numbers are regarding COVID positive people in rural Texas, there's no way they're right. No way. We aren't tested unless we work at getting tested and it isn't as simple as going to our local hospital or clinic.
I was sick and admit I wasn’t the best advocate for myself. The energy it took to show up, answer their questions, was a lot. I did ask about the test, but didn’t push for it. I admit I didn’t feel I needed to know whether or not I had COVID I just needed to know what I did have. I knew I was sick, so I isolated, washed my hands, was a much better person regarding caring about not spreading my illness than I ever have been and I plan to be that way from now on (I am grateful for learning that during this strange time in the world. How my, “oh, I’m fine, I’m okay, I don’t have to be careful because I’m tough and rarely get sick but if I do I’ll handle it,” attitude was not just foolish for myself but putting others at risk.) but I do think that knowing the numbers of people who do have the virus is useful for the state.
A state that regulates the test into barely being used.
I'm glad I feel better, I'm glad I didn't have COVID which is a highly contagious selfish virus. But I only know that because I kept working at knowing it.
I did not need to be added to the COVID-19 positive people here in rural Texas, but how many of my neighbors did or do? It is really hard to know.