No Antibody for Uncertainty

After nearly 30 minutes on hold with CityMD, I finally got through. The moment had arrived. Were my test results for the Covid-19 antibodies positive or negative?

To be sure, the stakes were modest. I had read about serological experts pouring disinfectant on the reliability of Covid-19 antibody tests. Even if I tested positive, I would have to discount the results to some degree.

Former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Scott Gottlieb had cautioned about reading too much into the tests. Even if you test positive, he said, you probably should get tested two or three times to avoid a false-positive.

And then there were reports calling into question the meaning of a positive result. No one, it seemed, could be entirely sure how much immunity the antibodies conferred and for how long.

But I still wanted to believe in the test. Like just about everybody else I know, I was desperate for good news about something. Anything.

My family and friends were also rooting for a positive test result. It had been over six weeks since I went into self-quarantine in my two-bedroom Brooklyn apartment. I didn’t want to let them down. After all, they invested their own emotions when I became ill with what may or may not have been Covid-19.

My first symptoms surfaced late on Monday, March 16, shortly after New York City had shut down. I told my wife that evening that I had the chills, which were making the inside of my body convulse. To avoid keeping her awake, I slept on the living room couch.

The timing was unnerving. I had, of course, experienced the chills before, often in the spring, when I’ve suffered sinus infections. But I hadn’t had them amidst a global pandemic. A useless telemedicine appointment later in the week did nothing to put me at ease. With testing unavailable to me, I stumbled through the dark like thousands of others.

Over the next couple of days, I would add a fever, fatigue, and a persistent cough to my symptoms. I had quarantined in the bedroom, my wife trading my spot on the couch. I emerged only to eat lunch and dinner at the table a few feet away from my wife and daughter. Like a thief covering his tracks, I carried wipes in my sweat pockets to open doors and turn on faucets.

More painful than the symptoms was the anxiety of not knowing if I had Covid-19 or not, and whether I could infect my wife and daughter. The robust data we have today were not available then. It wasn’t clear, at least not to me, that that vast majority of people with Covid-19 experienced mild symptoms.

All I heard were sirens blaring nearly all day and officials making dire predictions about hospital beds and ventilators. Even worse, while Covid-19 was supposed to be targeting older people, I was reading about healthy people in their mid-40s like me landing in the hospital.

Ultimately, I was one of the lucky ones. After about eight days, I stopped showing symptoms. My fever and chills faded. I no longer felt exhausted.

For the next few weeks, I wondered: Did I have it? I vacillated. Yes, I had the chills, a fever, cough, and congestion. But I never experienced shortness of breath or lost my sense of smell, those symptoms that seem so particular to Covid-19.

But with more data becoming available, including those from serological tests in New York, I leaned the other way. There was definitely built-in motivation. At one point, it seemed like a get-out-of-jail card. I dreamed of getting on planes, hugging friends, and walking into grocery stores without any trepidation.

So when CityMD answered my call, my heart rate picked up a notch. I felt like a nervous senior waiting to see if he graduated. A tired voice answered and asked for my name and date of birth.

After I gave it to her, she put me on hold again. More waiting.

Finally back, she read from the report. “Your test came back positive.”

It was as simple as that. No explanation of what it may or not mean. What I could and could not do. I was back to where I had started: Anxious and facing uncertainty.

Every New Yorker is experiencing this pandemic differently. But we’re all looking for an escape out of this mess with no map.

Did I had Covid-19? Maybe. Probably? I don’t know. All I know is the beat goes on.

Wear mask. Wash hands. Keep six feet away. Repeat.

Writer. Dad. Husband. Brooklynite.

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