My Coronavirus Test

Update: My test came back negative. I don’t have the virus.

Drive-through virus testing at Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill, Mass.

Let me begin this post by saying that, as best I can tell, I’m doing fine. I’ve quarantined myself since Tuesday, but so far my symptoms are somewhere between minor and imaginary. Nonetheless, I got tested Friday, and I should hear results Tuesday or Wednesday.

OK, let’s go back and tell the story from the beginning: My wife has a large number of risk factors, so we are terrified of what would happen should she catch Covid-19. Both of us are in our 60s. She had a lung collapse during surgery several years ago, and it never fully reinflated, so essentially she gets by on one-and-a-half lungs. A different medical problem resulted in half her liver being removed. And she takes a drug that drags on her immune system (though I don’t think it’s that bad; she throws off colds fairly well).

So our household is hyper-vigilant. That gets tricky, because I have a number of conditions that mimic coronavirus symptoms: An allergy causes me to wake up congested every morning and spend my first waking hour coughing and blowing my nose. If I sleep in the wrong position, I’ll have a muscle ache when I do that coughing. As for aches and pains in general, I already mentioned that I’m over 60. In short, most of the early-warning symptoms of Covid-19 are normal for me.

That leaves me focused on the one symptom I don’t ordinarily have, which is fever. Quite the opposite, in fact: My body typically runs cool. A normal morning temperature for me is below 98, and can run as low as 97.4. It tends to rise through the day, but hardly ever hits 98.6.

Anyway, first thing Tuesday, I’m having my morning cough and feeling a little more discomfort in it than usual. I take my temperature and it’s 98.3 — fine for anybody else; not fine for me. And I think “Probably nothing, but …”. And then I think “If you wait until you’re sure, you’ll have waited too long.”

So I call over to my wife, tell her to keep her distance, and explain what’s happening. She grabs some stuff, and goes to occupy a room on the second floor. (While our new apartment is under construction, we’re living on the top floor of a friend’s three-story Victorian. It was bought years ago for a family with five boys, and only two of them are still here.) Except for one trip I’ll describe later on, I’ve been up here by myself ever since. My housemates prepare plates of food and leave them on the steps; I retrieve them like a caged animal. Thank God there’s a bathroom up here.

I expected the temperature thing to resolve itself by Tuesday afternoon, but it didn’t. I kept getting readings that would top out at 99 or 99.1 in the mid-afternoons. (Again, no emergency for anybody else.) Friday afternoon, the digital ear-thermometer I was using went completely wild — I couldn’t get the same reading twice — raising the possibility that the whole episode is an equipment malfunction. By the time I got hold of an old-style mercury thermometer, I was showing more normal temperature patterns, which have continued for the last few days. What to think?

Anyway, Thursday afternoon I emailed my doctor, who did a Zoom-meeting with me Friday morning. She agreed with me that (1) these are pretty sketchy symptoms, and (2) I’m in a situation where I should pay attention to sketchy symptoms. Apparently, though, tests are now plentiful enough to justify getting me one. I suspect that wouldn’t have been true a week before.

There is a drive-through testing site at Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill, Massachusetts, about a 40-minute drive away. (I should add, though, that you can’t just drive up unannounced. They require a physician order.) I went downstairs for the first time in days, was careful to touch nothing until I reached my car, and drove myself to Haverhill.

The picture above is one I took through the windshield. I had to wait in line behind two or maybe three other cars. A young woman swathed in protective garb talked to me through my open window, had me sign a form (with a pen she refused to take back), and stuck a long Q-tip-like thing up each of my nostrils. It was fast, and while I would never do it for fun, it wasn’t that bad. She told me to expect results Tuesday or Wednesday. (Those 15-minute tests you’ve been hearing about apparently aren’t in wide use yet.) Results would go to my doctor, and I shouldn’t call Holy Family. Meanwhile, she said, I should consider myself quarantined for 14 days or until I get a no-infection result.

So now I wait. And in truth, I’m not even sure what I’m rooting for. No infection would be nice, but in some ways the best result of all would be to get away with a minor-symptom case and then have some kind of immunity. On the other hand, I also have heard stories of minor symptoms that suddenly turn bad, so I get anxious every time I start to feel tired. It would be nice to have that over with.

I’ll update this post when my results come in.

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  • DC Timberlake  On April 6, 2020 at 10:52 am

    Best wishes to you and hopes for no more symptoms. Your account of this process was helpful and you are in good hands there. Also your speech in the other post today was perfection and we can only wish…! Thank you for your work which enlightens and fortifies us every week!

  • Sharon D Updike  On April 6, 2020 at 10:56 am

    I am so glad you were able to get the test. I have thinking that the way we all get back to ‘normal’ is that one by one we get tested for the antibody – meaning we had it and didn’t know it or it barely registered with us. If you have the antibody you should be able to move about freely and help those who are still at risk. Be well, I cannot overstate how much I look forward to the Weekly Sift!

  • marganaseidolem  On April 6, 2020 at 11:07 am

    Feeling for you. I’m in a similar situation (disabled better half, both of us in our 60s) except she’s bed-bound and is the one with low normal temp (94.6-96.4). After 25 years together we *still* have to remind any healthcare provider that her 99 degree temp is actually a 101+ fever and deserves closer examination.

    I have been trying to barrier-nurse her after a fashion, and we have self-isolated for years. Every time I use a bus I have to sanitize as best I can on my return, to try and ensure that I don’t transfer anything I may have picked up to her.

    So, much empathy from this quarter.

    She has severe allergies, helped considerably by Claritin D-12 (OTC but needs ID at the pharmacy). If you haven’t tried a similar medication I would recommend one, assuming you have no contra-indications.

    Hoping for a negative result for you – Peter

    • Tracy Flanigan  On April 6, 2020 at 1:52 pm

      Best wishes to you and your wife. I’m glad you were able to get tested.

    • weeklysift  On April 6, 2020 at 7:30 pm

      Thank you Peter. Much empathy back. For us the ER nightmare is explaining Deb’s half-collapsed lung, which has refilled with some kind of fibrous something-or-other. Apparently it looks alarming in an X-ray, and several years ago it took a while to find a doctor who would take our “It’s always that way” seriously.

  • Nancy Browning  On April 6, 2020 at 11:12 am

    I’m sure I speak for all The Sift readers that we intend you are well and that your wife stays healthy, too. Awaiting your results…

  • Laurie Bass Groves  On April 6, 2020 at 11:16 am

    Good luck Doug…you and Deb deserve a medical break at this point!

  • Jim Lusby  On April 6, 2020 at 11:42 am

    God bless you, Doug. Health, peace, and joy to you, my friend, and to all you love.

  • Kenneth  On April 6, 2020 at 12:06 pm

    I’m hoping for the overactive imagination! I have all the low-key warning signs that an out of shape 60-year-old has anyway, as well as running cool. I, too, have been paying attention to my temperature.

  • Jacqueline (Bonin) Gargiulo  On April 6, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    Prayers for the best possible outcome.

  • Jim Lloyd  On April 6, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    Best wishes for a clean test and a future vaccine. Immunity is still uncertain (especially, I would think, from a mild case) and being immune wouldn’t stop you from passing it on through contact. Still, you take what you can get, I suppose. Good luck.   Jim    

  • Ed Blanchard  On April 6, 2020 at 12:31 pm

    Read your Friday post today. Hang in there my virtual friend. As Mr Green would say on closing another “Red and Green” Show, “We’re all in this together”. Seriously, I my wife and I will hold good thoughts for you, your family and your friends. I depend on your excellent, well-thought blog posts. Truly, they help me to digest (or, regurgitate) the news cycle that continues streaming out of Washington.

  • cpetty235  On April 6, 2020 at 12:41 pm

    You and your wife are in my prayers. I read your articles every week to help me make sense of the news without being overwhelmed by the media frenzy. Thank you for the work that you do. I hope your results come back soon and that they are negative!

  • Nancy Daugherty  On April 6, 2020 at 1:26 pm

    All the best to you, Doug. We’ll hold you and Deb in our thoughts, and light a candle for you here at our house.

  • amyhouts  On April 6, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    Take good care!

  • SamuraiArtGuy  On April 6, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    Good grief, Doug. As a fellow member of the “grown-up” risk group – you take care. Wicozanni yuha. Here’s to best outcomes.

  • joeirvin  On April 6, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    Doug, hope the test comes back negative, of course! At 84 with COPD, and with the same morning cough-and-blow routine, I understand your concern completely. So we’re using a lot of wipes and staying indoors. So far, only seven confirmed cases and two in hospital in the old hometown.

  • Dave Weissbard  On April 6, 2020 at 3:01 pm

    Doug, I read a long article a week or two ago which said that the 98.6 standard is way out of wack — it is from another era and does not reflect modern norms.
    One member of our congregation in Canton NY had a positive test – even out here in the boobies! I hope yours is negative.

  • scotusjd  On April 6, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    Wishing you a quick return to the best of health. Your weekly columns keep me sane here in Quincy, and I share them with all my friends.

  • Anonymous  On April 6, 2020 at 3:56 pm

    Wishing you and your wife well, sir.

  • ccyager  On April 6, 2020 at 5:15 pm

    I hope you receive a negative result and you and your wife come through this just fine. I can relate to the paranoia, though. I’ve been in isolation since 3/19 because of multiple ways I’m in the high risk group, including lung disease. Last Thursday, as I was watching “Star Trek Picard,” I suddenly got a terrible headache over my eyes. I didn’t feel well. But I was breathing fine — no wheezing, for example — and it was a headache, nothing more. But for 2 hours I was a basket case of anxiety. To break it, I finally fetched my thermometer and took my temp. It was normal. And then the headache went away. My lesson — anxiety can cause symptoms, too, especially headaches, and it feels lousy physically. I will still double check symptoms, but I think it’s important to remember the psychological effects this is having on people.

  • Anonymous  On April 6, 2020 at 5:19 pm

    Patty and I are hoping that this is nothing more than a good writing exercise for you. With Patty in emergency services I pray everyday that COVID-19 won’t slip through and infect her and her team. Though one person has come down with it. I too am a Weekly Sift groupie. You, The Nation, Young Turks, Recount and my alternative radio station on the Pacifica Radio Network, KPFA helps me to sift through all “alternative facts” to find some measure of truth. Blessings of health and sanity to you and Deb during these dangerous times. Geoff

    • weeklysift  On April 6, 2020 at 7:37 pm

      I think I can guess who Anonymous is, but never mind that. Anybody in emergency services is a hero these days.

  • carlajbradford  On April 6, 2020 at 6:20 pm

    Doug- thinking of you and Deb and your housemates. Keep us updated?

    • weeklysift  On April 6, 2020 at 7:39 pm

      Will do. As you can tell from the article, I’m still not terribly worried at this point. I probably wouldn’t have mentioned the whole episode at all yet if I hadn’t realized that whether or not a random person can get tested has news value.

  • nicknielsensc  On April 6, 2020 at 9:06 pm

    Best wishes. Hope it’s just the flu, although Covid-19 antibodies would be nice to have.

  • Sandi  On April 6, 2020 at 10:26 pm

    Best wishes! I hope you get well soon, whatever it is! Thank you for sharing! I do enjoy your weekly posts!

  • nancygrahamholm  On April 7, 2020 at 4:11 am

    Dear Doug,

    We don’t hear enough about the ones who contract the virus but survive, and there are many. Your fan base here in cute little Denmark will hold you in our thoughts. Mondays just wouldn’t be the same without you.

  • Michael Flanagan  On April 7, 2020 at 12:14 pm

    Happy to hear that you’re Clear! I betcha Deb is, too!
    Mike & Leann Flanagan

  • Guest  On April 7, 2020 at 5:01 pm

    Be well, Doug, we are all pulling for you! ❤

  • frankackerman0617  On April 11, 2020 at 4:34 pm

    Hi Doug,

    Thanks for this post. While covid-19 spreads easily, there are only a dozen reported cases in my community (Butte, MT, pop 35K). No close acquaintance has even been tested. A few 1st person reports in the media, but nothing personal.

    No results yet? Hope they come back clean. I’m 81 with additional risk factors. Scary.


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