It started with a cough, and then my lungs felt heavy (I have asthma, so that may have exacerbated it) and then my body ached. The doctor told me I didn’t qualify for a test, but she gave me a breathing treatment and told me to self-isolate.
Two days later, I had a fever of 102.3. It stayed with me all day and night.
My worried mom called to say she’d done some research. She’s a bit of a Luddite, so I assumed she went to the library and looked in the card catalogue under “lung problems.” I was about to scold her for going outside, but she said she actually used the internet, so I knew she was serious. She said with my symptoms, I could qualify for a free telehealth visit. I told her whether I had the coronavirus or not, I would probably do the same thing: self-isolate and watch my symptoms.
Then my mom pulled a move she’s never pulled before: She said my dad would be disappointed in me if I didn’t call. My dad is dead. Guilt is a powerful motivator.
I won’t bore you with the obstacle course of how many people I had to talk to (one of whom wasn’t sure asthma was a pre-existing lung condition, two of whom “accidentally” hung up on me) or how many hours I was on hold (I memorized the hold music, which was intermittently interrupted by messages about COVID-19, which I also memorized, and then performed for my family).
The hardest part was finally setting up the app for telehealth on my phone. The person on the other end of the line kept asking me to check my email for an invitation. I hit refresh, and let her know that the only message that came through was an alert that someone on a dating app wanted to meet me.
She said, “Now might not be the time to date strangers.”
“Now... or ever,” I responded.
After an hour full of glitches, we finally got the app up and running, and then it was another hour before a provider came on the line. The picture went black.
“I can’t see you,” I said.
“I can’t see you either,” she said. “But I can hear you.”
“So… essentially this is a phone call.”
“Yep,” she said.
After discussing my symptoms, she sent me to a drive-thru clinic to get the test.
The parking lot of the clinic had been transformed into a series of white tents, where there were people dressed in space gear telling me to stay in my car.
The workers checked their computers, and couldn’t find the orders for my test. I pointed to the door of the clinic, and said, “The people who ordered it are right inside there.”
They spoke into “comms” in their hands. (I can only describe them like the ones from “Star Wars.”) And for 20 minutes, we waited for the OK that eventually came.
Two people with space helmets and oxygen tanks swabbed the back of my throat. Then they pulled out a longer swab. I swear they did this slowly, and with a bit of gravitas.
“This nasal swab won’t be as pleasant,” one said, breathing deeply through his mask in a Darth Vadery way.
They shoved the yard-long swab up my nose and scraped the back of my brain.
“Are you using the whole fist there, doc?” I asked. But they were apparently too young to get the “Fletch” reference.
They told me to expect a call within 24 to 48 hours. I like to think I was patient and understanding while waiting in isolation for the results.
I will admit there was a point where I got a “no-contact” delivery of french fries (ordered with extra fry sauce). Once I had disinfected the bag, I ripped it open and… they had forgotten the fry sauce. I sent a scathing message to the delivery service.
“What am I supposed to do with french fries without fry sauce? Throw them at the coronavirus??”
To which they responded, “We’re not sure what you mean. Would you like to teleconference about it?”
“Gahhhhhhhhhh!” I responded, eloquently.
After 48 hours without a call, I phoned the clinic. No results, but they expected them the following day.
The next day, I called. No results, and they said they could no longer guarantee when I would get results. But they asked if I wanted a nurse to call me back within 15 minutes to discuss my symptoms (which had gotten worse).
I said yes. The call came two days later. By then, I had just received my results.
I let my family and the few friends I’d shared this with know. We all celebrated. We gathered together and opened bottles of champagne. Then with the empties, we played spin the bottle.
Kidding. I am slowly getting better, my strength is moseying back to my muscles. It’s strange to be celebrating the flu. But these are strange, stressful times.
Although there was confusion every step of the way, and it was a lengthy and frustrating process, I have to thank every single person who treated me despite my alarming symptoms. Those on the front lines and behind the scenes. Even the food delivery people, who will never forget my fry sauce again.
Oh, one last thing.
I’m focusing on the benefits of isolation. I have learned a lot about myself. Namely, I can stick my big toe in my mouth. Easily. Without even straining. I never knew this. And I never would have known if I wasn’t bored out of my head. I’m not sure what to do with this discovery, but it’s got to be good for something.
I encourage you, during these strange times, to find things out about yourselves too. Try the toe thing first.
Brodi Ashton is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in the Salt Lake City area. She’s also an occasional columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.