EDITORIAL: More COVID lessons learned through experience

August 13, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

This is an editorial piece. It does not reflect information given by medical professionals, only experiences lived by the writer.

On September 11, 2020 I sat at this same desk and wrote an editorial about my family’s experiences with COVID tests and questions we all had regarding the transmission of COVID. On that day I was quarantined, as were my kids, due to a close exposure and lost test results. Some of us were sick, others weren’t. We all wondered if we were doing the right thing, considering not one bit of information as to how to deal with COVID-19 was confirmed as fact by anyone in any position of authority. We all felt like guinea pigs and, in a way, we were. And are.

It hasn’t been quite a year since then, but it’s pretty close, and here I sit writing again about information my family has experienced firsthand. I wish I could say we have gained a lot of information since then, but we really haven’t. Sometimes it seems like COVID doesn’t care what we do … because we’ll probably get it anyway.

Anyone who thinks they have the answers is foolish. None of us do. We’re all winging this just about as much as we were at the beginning of 2020.

Here is what I learned in the last two weeks. Again, I want to remind you that I am completely on the fence as far as all the speculation goes; I am truly an objective observer until some sort of substantiated proof comes to light about any damn part of this whole equation. I’m just waiting and watching.

Ten days prior to the start of school, my youngest began to cough. It was a bad cough, but she was fine otherwise and it went away in about four days. Then one of my twin girls got it and she was laid out for three days, but then got better (she’s still showing signs of perpetual fatigue, though, and that was a week ago). Then I got … something. It was relatively mild, but it was there.

At the same time, two people who were exposed to two different members of our family tested positive. We thought maybe we had COVID. The health department didn’t list that they were testing anymore, and I couldn’t find any appointments through the pharmacies. My own doctor was out sick, so I called the Millenium walk-in clinic in Englewood. I asked what I should do to come in and be seen, and to get tested, when I had possible exposure to the virus and had symptoms. I was told to come on in the waiting room and register, then go back to my car and they would call me. So, I did that. When I walked in the waiting room and it was my turn, they asked me the questions we have all become so accustomed to. When they asked if I had been exposed and I said yes, the audio level in the room got a little quieter. When he asked if I had symptoms and I said yes, there was dead silence.

I was immediately told to go wait in the car, which I did, and finally was called to go in. I got tested with a rapid test and a PCR test, each of which cost $100 and was not covered by insurance because my doctor didn’t order them (remember, he was out sick, and his nurse said no one else there was allowed to give the authorization).

I was ushered out the back door. When the nurse who was escorting me opened the door, I saw a tent set up there behind the building where occupied cars were sitting. I asked why that drive-through testing site wasn’t offered to me, and she told me it was only for patients whose doctors ordered the test. That seemed weird to me.

Two days later, on Wednesday, I was lucky enough to find a CVS pharmacy on the Venice bypass that had one lone appointment available, but it seems I can’t catch COVID for nothin’ because all three of those tests were negative. I assumed if I was negative, my girls were probably negative as well.

If you’re wondering, the reason I went back two days later to get a second test was because if you just started displaying symptoms, you still may not have enough “viral load” in your nose for the test to pick it up. Most doctors say the best day to take the test is five days after you first experience symptoms, which for me was that Wednesday.

After the cessation of the coughing my youngest first experienced she had about four more days of being “well,” but then she came down with what appeared to be an upper respiratory infection, and it was a doozy. The barking cough was back, but this time it was more productive. She was congested, she was burning up at night but was also sweating, she was up all night with the cough and you could see in her eyes she was flat-out sick.

So, this past Monday I started making the rounds of the places where I might be able to get the child tested, or at least seen by a doctor. Every store and pharmacy was booked up for days in advance. I knew that Millenium would charge at least $100. I then went on the hunt for an over-the-counter test that a friend had told me about called Binax Now. I couldn’t find any; everywhere was sold out. Amazon had them, but they weren’t expected to arrive until late August. Walmart couldn’t pinpoint when they would receive a new shipment in.

My youngest was getting worse, so on Tuesday I called the brand-new insurance company the state had sent me paperwork on just the day before. I had no knowledge of the plan, of the doctor the kids had been assigned to, where that doctor was … nothing. The insurance company listened to my story and told me to take her to the emergency room, and that was what I did.

We arrived at the Englewood Community Hospital emergency room at 11:45 a.m. on Tuesday. I sat in the parking lot and called the main number, asking to be transferred to the ER. The operator asked what I needed, and I told her I didn’t know what the protocol was for bringing someone in with potential COVID exposure and COVID symptoms. She told me, “Oh, just take her in. You don’t need to call ahead for the ER.” I thought that was strange, but I parked my car and took her in.

Within seconds of explaining what we were there for, we were whisked outside and told to go wait in the car, in a parking lot with spots that had “Doctors Only” signs posted on them. We found ourselves waiting amongst a row of other people in their cars, and by the end of the time we sat there, which was almost four hours, the parking lot was full of cars idling while their occupants waited anxiously, hoping to see an ER employee come to their car next.

When we made it inside, the feeling of frustration emanating from the doctor and the nurse in the little triage room was palpable. They were very kind, but very much in a hurry … and rightly so. I explained her symptoms to the nurse, gave her health information, and she was examined.

The doctor turned from his computer and said, “I can’t COVID test her. We are out of tests right now.”

“That’s OK,” I said. “I’m pretty sure that’s not what this is. I think it’s bronchitis, maybe RSV, something respiratory.”

I explained as quickly as I could the details of what had happened in the last two weeks. He said he would write her an antibiotic prescription, and we then hoofed it out of there to wait in the car for another hour to get the prescription. Suddenly the wait wasn’t so bad, considering what all the other people around were going through.

In summary, here is what I have for you:

1) Go out and get yourself a Binax test or two. Each box contains two tests, a box costs $20. You do it at home and get your results in 15 minutes. If you’re not satisfied with the results, or feel like you administered it improperly, take another one. If you take it and it’s negative and you’ve just started having symptoms, wait a couple of days and take another one. The doctors I have spoken with say they’re pretty good tests – at least as good as the rapid tests you get anywhere else. They are worth having in a pinch, because there will be times when you can’t find a free, or cheap, test anywhere. All those tent testing sites that popped up everywhere last year are gone. And if you have children, it’s much easier to administer that test at home than it is to try to do it yourself in a drugstore drive-through. Believe me.

2) Avoid the ER and the walk-in clinics as much as possible unless you absolutely have to. If you have to go, stress that you are coming in for a COVID test or appointment. Then stress it again. There is no reason anyone who thinks they have COVID, or any other highly contagious medical issue for that matter, should have to walk into a waiting room full of people who are there for regular bloodwork, follow-ups or injuries.

3) If you do have to go to the emergency room or walk-in clinic, be prepared to wait. If our little hospital is that crazy on a Tuesday at midday, you can be sure that most of the other hospitals around here are experiencing the same thing. Don’t go in a car that overheats, bring a book, empty that bladder, bring snacks. The same goes for the big testing sites in Sarasota and Fort Myers, and sometimes at the pharmacy drive-throughs as well. Wait times this week at the big sites were up to five hours.

4) There are other illnesses out there right now, not just COVID. Even if you take a test and it’s negative, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to take care of yourself. And even though your test is negative, it doesn’t mean you don’t have COVID. Most doctors now will tell you, if you were exposed to someone who tested positive and has symptoms, and you have symptoms, consider yourself a COVID-ite. It takes the guesswork out of the game and keeps people around you safe when you quarantine.

As of this writing my cough has started to become productive, my lungs hurt and I can’t taste things properly. Yay. I guess the dog will be seeing more of my face around the house this week.