Neighbor Liesl McQuillan was feeling sick with a bad cough and a fever when she went to get tested for the coronavirus. She described her experience on Facebook and agreed to let the Advocate republish her post.
Ladies, I know we’re all battling misinformation, so I thought I’d share some of my recent experiences as a person suspected of being positive for COVID-19. I’m also a person in the vulnerable category. Plus, I work in prisons and parole offices around the state. When I called my doctor in tears to tell him I was dizzy, had a bad cough and a fever, he did not hesitate to practically order me to go to the emergency room. They knew I was coming before I had my overnight bag packed.
When I arrived at the emergency department, I discovered that you enter through a tent in the ambulance bay where they take your temperature and ask for some basic info. No one is friendly. No one smiles — as far as I could tell with the mask situation — and you are not allowed to sit down, or so it seemed. Then they take you to a small room in the tent where you can sit in a chair, but they don’t tell you what is going to happen next. They leave you there without a word, and you simply wait, not knowing if you will ever see your family again. I admit that I sat there and sobbed for a few minutes. I was trying desperately to be the brave person I think I am, but I also knew that I was in this utterly alone — a fact that everyone who becomes desperately ill from this virus must face sooner rather than later. That lonely realization hurts, and it’s scary. You do not want to experience it. Trust me.
I had my first COVID-19 test in the tent. I found out later that they have a special team, “the swab squad,” at the hospital. They are the only ones allowed to do the tests. I had heard that it was quite painful, but I didn’t think it was that bad. I was lucky to be taken to a room in the emergency department pretty quickly after that, a function, I suspect, of having a doctor who is always entirely on top of my care.
I spent several hours in the emergency department, learning that the doctors were fairly alarmed at the way my kidneys and liver were functioning — or more precisely, not functioning. They did a CT scan and asked if I was in renal failure. What? Renal failure? At some point, I noticed that my door had an intubation kit taped to it. I’ve spent a lot of time in the emergency department due to a clotting disorder that was particularly hard to control when I was first diagnosed, and I have never seen an intubation kit taped to a door. I’ve also never had a call from the administration before even being admitted to the hospital, asking if I had a “Do not resuscitate” order on file. Or did I want them to intubate me if it came to that? I joked with the admin lady about who knows what while I told her I didn’t want to be intubated. Tell them, whoever “they” were, to let me go if it got that far. She softly responded, “I understand, and I’m sorry.”
Here’s where it gets weird. At about 4 a.m., they came in and told me I was being admitted to an isolation floor. No, my test results weren’t back, but they were sure I had the virus. They asked if I wanted to be taken to my room in a wheelchair or on the gurney. I asked if I could just walk. They said no, so I chose the chair. As I awkwardly crawled into the chair, the nurse told me that this was not her choice, but she had to put a sheet over my head for the ride to my room. As I was being wheeled to my room in my low-rent ghost costume, one nurse pushed the chair, another nurse walked behind her and another nurse led our little procession, loudly proclaiming: “Clear the hall!” over and over. I admit, I snuck in a few “Bring out your dead” whispers. No one ever told me why I had to do the ghost impersonation.
I later found out that no one is allowed into the hospital unless they work there or are a patient. You cannot have people drop things off for you and, of course, no visitors. No flowers, no balloons. When the nurse came in to see me — No CNAs in the rooms — he or she wore two masks, a long gown, gloves and, sometimes, a face shield. Before they left the room, they would peel the extra mask off first, then the gloves, then the gown. Then they would sanitize their hands and put more gloves on. Doctors simply called you on the phone, or, if you were lucky, talked to you through your in-room iPad. Mine was missing. There was one positive thing about the gown situation. You know those paper gowns doctors and nurses wear that we’ve all seen in movies and on TV? When the pandemic hit, the company that makes those gowns went from charging 30 cents per gown to $30. A nurse told me the hospital immediately lost $8 million. The solution was finding a company that made reusable gowns, causing less waste in the long run.
The next day, I wrote this about what I was experiencing on the isolation floor:
There are a lot of scared people on this floor who I hear crying and begging to see their families. We all tend to become quiet when there is a code alert over the loudspeakers, as if everyone holds space for one of our own. It breaks my heart. It should break everyone’s heart.
Finally, they really wanted me to have a chest CT, but the people in CT would not do it. They didn’t want to take a chance of spreading the virus. The CT department you go to is different from the CT in the emergency department. Also, there was the issue of payment. My crappy insurance company decided that because I tested negative for the virus, we didn’t need to investigate the crazy things they were seeing in my lungs on the chest X-ray. I still don’t know what was going on in my lungs. What I do know is that the infectious disease doctor would not say I didn’t have the virus, despite two negative tests and negative antibody tests. We know that I had some nasty food poisoning and, at some point, mono. We know that my liver and kidneys were shutting down due to sepsis. Was it the food poisoning? Maybe. We don’t know.
So, the next time someone claims this disease is overblown or a conspiracy or whatever crazy thing they will think of next, tell them about the patients on the floor I was on. Tell them about the sobbing and the begging and the bargaining. Tell them about the compassionate care of the nurses and doctors, many of whom would stay in my room a little longer to talk about their fears for the future, all while reassuring me and practically begging me to tell them what I would like for them to bring me. It was as if they were worried I would be intubated and lose my last taste of cherry Jell-O. Finally, tell them about how I burst into tears when they said I may have to be quarantined for two weeks because I knew that I couldn’t fulfill my promise to my boss if I was prevented from going into the prison system. Tell them that, like so many of us, I was way more afraid of losing my income than I was of dying. And then, remind these short-sighted people that none of it had to be this way.
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