I have taken lockdown orders seriously since they were enacted in Los Angeles County. I try to get all of my weekly shopping done in one trip, have not even bothered with outdoor dining, and do little more to leave the house than take a walk a couple of times a week — which took three months to work up the nerve to do.
With few exceptions such as shopping for a new place to live, I have engaged in only one non-essential social outing; one that was masked, physically-distanced, and outdoors. It has been three months since I have ridden LA Metro, almost five since I last touched another human being, save for one person who seized outside the grocery store on the Fourth of July that needed my assistance.
And yet, in late July 2020, I kept waking up tired. It started just two days after my last period ended. Though I am usually rather energetic once the crimson tide goes out, I thought perhaps something lingered and didn’t think too much of it.
Yet I still needed a third or fourth cup of coffee in the mornings, kept reading the same page over and over in books, had a mysterious headache that would come and go, and unusual aches. These symptoms were only mild, but persistent and felt unlike anything else I had experienced before. I could not do anything or get enough sleep to make them go away.
By Saturday morning, on August 1, I almost burned my eggs when I realized I was zoning in and out within an hour of waking despite getting otherwise perfect rest.
It was time for a COVID test.
My nose was swabbed on Monday, August 3rd. By Friday, my test results came back negative. I wasn’t surprised and yet I was not confident about the result either. I was symptomatic, although mildly, and the patient rep even stated, “the virus is no longer present in your system.” They agreed that I probably did (or do?) have it, but either that it was the wrong time in the infection or it was not strong enough to yield a positive result.
I asked three times to confirm whether or not I still had to isolate myself. It also happened to be the morning my symptoms suddenly abated; I felt refreshed, ache-free, and mentally clear.
Two days later, my temperature that had remained rock-steady all week suddenly jumped one full degree. I can feel the difference; I am warm all over but not quite feverish. A post-nasal drip has begun. I called the clinic again. They said not to worry until these persist for a couple of days or if the temperature rises.
If this is confusing, understand that is increasingly becoming the norm rather than the exception. This the CDC’s own guide about viral and antibody test results, where they acknowledge that both false positive and negative results can occur with no confidence rating.
While I awaited my own results, Alyssa Milano shared her experience with negative viral tests but positive antibody results — and she was far more ill than I. California’s rate of positive cases is rising but hospitalizations and deaths from the virus are declining.
I spoke with some friends who had been infected and received positive viral results; we had identical symptoms. I kept recalling a mysterious respiratory illness I had in late February and early March. At the time, I presumed it was related to allergies gone bad and sincerely doubted it was COVID-19 because the cough was neither productive nor did I have a fever. But now I have doubts.
Although it only took a few days to get my results, I stressed myself with the what-ifs. What if I was imagining it and was perfectly fine? What if my results came back negative but my symptoms returned or worsened? What if I have something else or a mutation?
The worst thing about the stress was telling people and learning the hard way that it’s now a need-to-know basis. Of course, the first people I told were my housemates. We immediately enacted a “facemask in the house outside of our bedrooms” policy and made sure we were never in a room together.
Next came the outpourings from other friends. Constant requests for my status, roughshod attempts at contact tracing, speculating and sharing stories. It was sweet to see that people cared and just wanted to do something in a situation where it is so easy to feel helpless but it was daunting.
Despite making it clear that my symptoms were mild, it seems as though people are treating any possible infection as a guaranteed death sentence, which resulted in the strangest impostor syndrome. I was fine! Just… not fine. But not so not-fine that I needed to offer hourly updates.
I felt as though I was gaslighting myself. It didn’t help that one of my symptoms was fatigue, and it was rather draining to answer so many well-meaning questions. (A gentle reminder for those with loved ones awaiting a result or riding it out at home: trust that they have a contingency if things go wrong and they will update you if/when they feel better!)
This is Schrodinger’s Pandemic: the virus that is both everywhere and nowhere, the one that anyone can have but don’t until they do.
The most frustrating part is that we are months into this outbreak in the United States and things are still this unknown and completely out-of-control with little management or leadership.
This will not end anytime soon. My story is just one, and it has no real beginning or end. Its only message is that this scenario is confusing, nothing is reasonably certain, and we are all on our own.