I refuse to make excuses for the licensed physician who denied me a Covid-19 test during my visit to an urgent care in New York City’s Upper East Side at the height of the pandemic, but I must admit so many unanswered questions have made the recovery more difficult.
Did my crying during the visit seem to be a sign of weakness or oversensitivity?
Or was I too calm, leading him to believe I wasn’t afraid or in pain?
Should I have let him know I had friends who are doctors to show I was educated and had a network? Did I not communicate clearly what I’d experienced the days leading up to my visit?
Was he just unable to understand the severity of my condition because of the color of my skin?
It’s been one year since my favorite items — French toast, two eggs over easy, and sausage from the Triple A Diner in East Harlem did not excite my taste buds as usual. “There must be a new chef in the kitchen,” I joked to my friend and my roommate. The three of us laughed. It was probably the only time since discovering this neighborhood staple many years ago that I did not finish my meal. At the time, there were conversations in the media about the symptoms related to Covid-19, but none of the information suggested one might lose their taste and smell. It would be weeks before I made the connection or remembered my snarky comment about the chef in the kitchen.
After eating, I decided to take a nap. I was feeling abnormally tired, but I chalked it up to an early morning of volunteering at the food pantry of the St. Charles Borromeo Church in Harlem. I couldn’t sleep, and began to feel achy. I texted my roommate, a virologist at Mount Sinai, about how I was feeling. He asked my symptoms which at the time were fatigue, headache, early stages of sore throat and we assumed I was fine. He suggested I was probably just tired from sleeping on the couch and reminded me that the season was changing.
The weekend I started to feel sick was the first weekend businesses started to close in New York City. On Sunday, Mayor DeBlasio announced that schools would be closing too. I’d tossed and turned all Sunday night and had even experienced some sweats. I should mention that I did not think anything about the sweats as I’d experienced midday sweats earlier during the week.
I have no recollection of Monday or Tuesday! My text history shows very little engagement with the outside world.
By Wednesday morning the wheels had totally come off. I did not sleep and my temperature had risen to 101 and the fear of having Covid started to sink into my mind. My first thoughts were to fight back. I started taking DayQuil, NyQuil, Tylenol, and drank the orange juice from the fridge even though it tasted so odd I thought it somehow must have gone bad.
After days of tossing and turning, temperatures above 100 degrees and my body yelling that something was wrong, I dragged myself to the nearest urgent care. I should mention that I had not been working for almost a year, and as a small business owner my health insurance didn’t offer stellar coverage. That may be why despite all the signs and symptoms pointing to me having contracted the virus, the physician attending to me refused to administer a test.
On Thursday, March 19, between the pain I was experiencing, the fear that had set in, and all the emotions surrounding what would become the inevitable, I cried and pleaded and argued and advocated that I be tested for Covid-19.
The doctor did not test me; instead, he prescribed medication that made me feel worse, and suggested I return home to a space I shared with someone and quarantine for 14 days for a virus I had not been diagnosed with and he refused to confirm I’d contracted.
As one might imagine, actually, screw imagining because I went home to my apartment only to have my temperature rise and fluctuate between 105 to 108 degrees. I later learned that Covid had begun to rapidly and aggressively attack my lungs. I struggled to breathe. One week after the first signs of feeling ill — a week of body sweats, hallucinations, many tears, zero appetite, headaches, and pain behind the eyes like I had never experienced before — I admitted myself into the hospital on the advice of my roommate, the virologist.
I had been afraid in my home alone, and the emergency room at Mount Sinai did not help. After assessing my lung scans the doctor said something along the lines of, “This is bad, very very bad!”
My ears perked up and my mind started racing. What was bad? How bad? She could not be talking deadly bad? I was in and out of sleep, but hearing the groans of people around me and seeing countless people carted in and out of the space made me think I had to get out of there.
I was not as sick as these people. Someone needed this bed more than me. I learned it was the saline solution that had given me a boost. It was enough of a boost to convince the doctor and nurses to discharge me a day later. I did have to agree to come back if I got worse and if anything happened to me the hospital would not be responsible.
I returned home a day after going to the hospital. I did not think it was possible, but I got worse. The pain was indescribable. On Friday, March 27, I puked out all of what was in my body and started to dry-heave for what felt like days. I think at this point I was at my wits’ end. The multiple daily calls and messages from my mother made me want to fight harder to get better. The vomiting that weekend was the final days before my temperature started to drop. Honestly, I might have been in denial for a day or two about feeling better after being so sick for so long.
A few days after consistent drops in my temperature, I slowly started to move around my apartment and outside of my bedroom, where I had been confined to while home. I almost did not recognize myself at first glance into a mirror. I’d lost about 18 pounds and the dehydration was visible on my lips and skin. I refused to leave the apartment and sat for days thinking about where I might have contracted the virus or who I might have put at risk.
As I started to feel better and connect with family and friends, I realized I was moving slower. Some distinct memories of signs that this would be a journey to fully feeling like myself again was how yellow and strong of a scent my urine would be for days. I started to experience pain in the bottom of my feet and penis, which had never happened to me before.
I kept thinking, WTF is going on now!
After speaking with my doctor, I learned that the high temperatures had bruised and broken veins in my penis which resulted in the pain I was experiencing and blood in my semen. He also told me that the pain in my feet was plantar fasciitis and was a result of the length of time I had spent horizontally.
Twelve months later, my morning runs are a little slower and there are moments where I grab the thermometer to make sure my temperature isn’t abnormal. My heart aches for all the families whose loved ones were not as lucky as me and who are unable to tell their story. I am asked way too often, “How do you feel? Were you on a ventilator? Do you have any long-term side effects?” These questions make me want to scream, because I have been able to regain my taste and smell, I have done yoga everyday since May 1st, and I have started to leave my apartment and safely engage family and friends, but emotionally and mentally, I will never be the same. An experience so dark and traumatizing is one that I have not taken lightly.