As I prepare to exit self-isolation, it appears that we know even less about the coronavirus than when I started quarantine two weeks ago.
Two weeks ago I tested positive for COVID-19. I am in quarantine on the second floor of my house right now.
I went to the emergency room two Wednesday’s ago for what seems to have turned out to be completely unrelated symptoms.
Several days prior I began experiencing shortness of breath and that Tuesday evening my chest began to hurt as well. I felt better the next morning but I’m in my early forties, used to be a heavy smoker (like, last year. And I still vape a lot. But maybe that saved me.), and even I’m not that obstinate so, after a week of pain and discomfort, I finally went to the emergency room.
Long story short, I had an anxiety attack. A goddamn panic attack.
My heart is working fine said an ultrasound, X-ray, and CT cardiac scan – quite a relief for a former heavy smoker. My original symptoms abated entirely within a day. I had and continue to have none of the other symptoms of coronavirus; no coughing, aches, congestion, headaches, chills, loss of smell, fever, etc. I probably had a fairly low viral load said my refreshingly candid doctor who told me to quarantine myself and take vitamin C and Zinc.
As for how I was infected, there really is no way of knowing. I figured it beyond likely that my roommates gave it to me as I work from home and leave the property maybe once a week. Except they both tested negative.
I don’t go shopping often and nearly always use self-checkouts (these days while wearing gloves or using wet-wipes to touch the buttons). In a given week I’ll speak with maybe four people in person, and they all live in the two houses on this 30 acre rural property. I’ve been social distancing for years. I’m practically a hermit. But I got it anyway.
However I was exposed, it’s here. And for the past two weeks I have been even more of a shut-in than usual. I do feel fine now and have no symptoms at all. To be completely honest, I’m not sure this did much for my anxiety but thankfully that blessed doctor said that a shot of bourbon before bed is permissible.
Now, tomorrow it will have been two weeks since I went to the hospital so a few hours ago I called the doctor for advice on what to do when my quarantine ends in a few days. This is what they told me to do when I asked about this in the ER: “Things are changing rapidly. Call us in two weeks when your quarantine ends.” The frustration the nurses and doctors in the hospital must be feeling comes through pretty acutely in that quote I think. Two different nurses and a doctor told me variations of that.
Call us in two weeks for what to do because we have no idea what our advice will be in two weeks.
As frustrating as it is to hear that statement, I’m certain that it would be similarly aggravating, perhaps even more so, to have to repeatedly say it to people counting on you for what could be literally life-saving advice.
I’ll be honest, I was skeptical about COVID at the beginning. I am not burdened by admiration for how the press has covered this or, quite frankly, with the news media as an industry right now. I thought that this was yet another example of the news hyping up as much as possible because “if it bleeds, it leads.” I thought the greatest danger was that we will reasonably ignore warnings of an outbreak in the future because experience has taught us that the warnings are designed to sell papers, generate clicks, and sell ad space. Not to protect us. Coronavirus coverage seemed to tick all the right incredulous boxes for me.
But as news poured in from my family and friends in places like Italy and New York, and my friends and colleagues in China told me more about what was happening I figured I better start wearing a mask, carrying wetwipes and gloves, standing six feet away from people when I do go out, and generally taking this more seriously. All of which I did routinely since the end of February or beginning of March. But I was infected anyway.
Now, it’s two weeks later and what did they say I should do next?
The doctor’s office told me to continue in quarantine until I can speak to a doctor. I won’t get a test. Just a consultation over Zoom. On June 1st.
I have to remain in quarantine for another two weeks until somebody looks at my face over the internet? No. This is stupid. This is an admission of one or two of a few things: 1) they have no clue what the actual risk is, regardless of testing; 2) there is far less risk than acknowledged; 3) the tests are far less reliable than acknowledged; 4) the extent to which our medical establishment is compromised by disorganization and herd mentality is severely underestimated.
Frankly, I suspect that all four are correct in varying degrees. I have been horrified and embarrassed to watch our national calamity so vividly demonstrate our institutional incompetence over these last few months. I’ve written about it. Now, I’m stuck in a personal episode of this incompetence. It is one thing seeing it on TV and hearing my friends and family and colleagues overseas ask me repeatedly, “What in the hell is wrong with you Americans right now?”
It’s quite another to be in the middle of it. This is bullshit. We’ve spent $3 trillion dollars and this is the advice I get? It took over a month for the US government to tell people that wearing masks was a good thing. The CDC and FDA have spent much of the last four months doing things like preventing states from importing personal protective equipment. The mayor of New York City in mid-March was encouraging New Yorkers to continue going out. President Trump has personally delivered a staggering amount of misinformation on an impressively consistent basis.
Who can get corona virus? Who is at risk? Why two weeks? Can pets carry it? Are children more or less susceptible? Can anyone even tell me for sure what the fatality rate is? Will I be contagious after this? CAN I CATCH IT AGAIN? Nobody knows a damn thing from what I can tell. But a video chat is going to give me the all-clear? Forgive my incredulity.
Is this really what the largest economic shutdown in human history stems from? From this side of an extremely uncomfortable swab up the nostrils it seems like much ado over comparatively little.
I am still under quarantine. I will remain so until my doctor says otherwise. But I’m really thinking my original opinion on this is being borne out: a lot more people will lead with skepticism the next time something like this happens. It took two months of lockdowns before Americans took to the streets in protest and they’re still a very small minority. But the majority of COVID cases seem to be, like me, not exactly serious. Definitely not life-threatening. Kind of inconvenient. Not worth an economic depression.
There will be another epidemic. This is a functional certainty. When it does there will be many millions of people who are going to demand that our doctors and journalists get the facts right before they ask us to stop hugging our grandparents, not pet our dogs, frighten our children, and endanger the livelihoods of billions of people around the planet.
Stay safe folks.
I “met” with a doctor over a streaming service I’ve never heard of because Zoom has been giving them headaches. The meeting lasted about 5 minutes. I’m free and clear.
As a final aside on the insanity of our medical system: I asked about donating antibodies but I’m prohibited from donating plasma as well as blood it seems. This is because: 1. I lived in the UK during the Mad Cow scare of the early 80s; 2. I lived in central Europe during Chernobyl; 3. I’ve been intimate with a woman born in Africa after 1977; 4. another reason that I was honestly too aggravated to remember clearly.
Whatever we do after this pandemic, America’s health care and news media systems need a heavy dose of rationality.
Thomas Brown is a history teacher and freelance writer. He is Senior Writer for The Swamp and is featured in Quillette, Spiked, The Bipartisan Press, Human Events, among others. Follow him at his Medium page and argue with him on Twitter.
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