I got COVID. Here’s what I learned.

Recently, on a Thursday, I was tested for COVID as part of the process ahead of a minor outpatient procedure.

I learned the following Tuesday that the results were positive.

The five-day delay in my notifications was the perfect preface to a set of experiences that showed me just how disorganized our response to COVID is. It set off a string of differing “protocols” among our public health response and wide variation in guidance from my local medical professionals.

I’ve written previously about how good the hospital care experience was for my uncle that got COVID. But, if you’re not in the hospital setting, my experience leads me to think you better be ready to handle this on your own.

Here is what I mean.

Here are four observations drawn from my COVID experience that I have clarity about now that I didn’t know before I had COVID.

 

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1.  COVID testing is a mixed bag

The experience for testing at drive-thrus varies across county lines, as well.

In one county, results from my colleagues and family were back within 24 hours. In another county, it took 72 hours. In a third county, at least one of the results just never came back.

However, I could go to the private clinic up the street and get my tests back reliably within about 30 minutes. It cost me something, how much I don’t yet know. We will see if my deductible picks it up or if health plans are still covering the cost of testing.

 

The variation in testing across clinics and medical professionals was wide.

At one primary care clinic where I had been a long time patient, I was told I could only get a COVID test if I were also getting a colonoscopy. That seemed a price too high to voluntarily pay.

However, my in-laws got in the next day for COVID tests. I didn’t ask about the colonoscopy part, but it didn’t sound like that was part of the care experience. They got right in and right out with test results almost immediately.

I went to another primary care clinic, who also had an urgent care. It was in a different county. I got right in and out in about 30 minutes with test results in hand. I even got a funny mole on my skin looked at while I was there. Efficient! Sadly, I’ll be changing clinics as a result.

 

This is the disaster that is my home office/COVID quarantine room after completing my protocol here.

 

2.  Like the entire health care system, you need to be your own best advocate

On the day of learning my results from a specialist, I called my primary care office.  After more than 10 minutes on hold, I was able to schedule a tele-health visit with a physician assistant pretty quickly, which was nice.

When I spoke with the PA, she was kind and empathetic. But as she told me twice:

“I’m really only able to advise you based on the protocols for this. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.”

When I asked her about further coordination by my primary care office, I was told that it wouldn’t be terribly helpful.

“I can only tell you that if things get bad and you have trouble breathing that you should go to the hospital. But I can get you  an albuterol inhaler if you think that would help.”

I don’t have asthma. So, I don’t know. Will it help?

My neighbor has been voluntarily tested three times now, a number higher than anyone I know. He is a medical professional and apparently knows what he is doing, and by medical professional, I mean he is a veterinarian. Anyway, here was his counsel.

“They have protocols in place to weed out folks, but if you feel like you need a test, then you just have to game the system, tell them what they need to hear, and you can get a test.”

These were rapid tests with results in minutes, much better than the days-long drive-thru results. You just needed to be able to pay the deductible, act confident you know what you need, and feel comfortable lying your way through it all.

 

3.  Protocols drive everything

Quarantining protocols didn’t seem to fit well with one another.

For example, if you came in contact with someone who was COVID+, but you test negative, the protocol says you should quarantine for 14 days. Last spring, 14 days was the outside range of the number of days in which we thought symptoms might arise. It’s still possible symptoms could arise on day 14, but now we think that range is less than that, statistically speaking.

So, if you are COVID+, you only need to quarantine for 10 days of symptom onset. That may better reflects the data culled from this experience, but it’s still four days less than if you test negative.

Apparently, if you’re a medical professional, the rules are different still. One of my medical professionals told me, “If I test positive, they tell me just to wear a mask here at work.”

 

4. What happens next is totally your call

Contact tracing is a sound bite. It’s not a program I came in contact with. I still haven’t been contacted by anyone about contact tracing.

Of the 9 or 10 folks I know who have had COVID, not a single person has been contacted by a contact tracer that I know of. Admittedly, I haven’t grilled my friends on this, but the experience with contract tracing that we’ve discussed so far is the lack of experience with contact tracers.

Instead, we did all of that ourselves, letting everyone we had come in contact with know about my diagnosis.

It showed us that our circle had widened over time. A family birthday. Colleagues at work. A few friends from the street. Everyone tested negative, sometimes twice.

 

You need a plan for when you or a family member gets COVID or needs to quarantine. We had one, thankfully. I knew where I would go and where I would sleep. I shut the door and did my time.

Maybe as an effort to help me cut weight, it took a little time for the folks outside my quarantine room to realize I still needed food and drink. I packed in some items, but one can only live on bottled water and bananas for so long.