covid tent at centra hospital

What I Learned About COVID 19 While in the Emergency Room

Here’s what I learned about COVID 19 (the novel coronavirus) when I ended up in the local hospital emergency room this week.

Coronavirus, or Going to the ER During a Pandemic

Sometimes, I get really frustrated listening to the news and perusing social media. It seems as if everyone has a different opinion about the novel coronavirus or COVID 19. Some people act like it’s an imminent death threat while others believe it’s a lie promulgated by progressives to derail the election.

I’m in the “it’s real, it’s serious, but don’t panic” camp, although at first when the virus made its appearance in February I was skeptical of its seriousness. This past month, I learned more than I ever thought possible by speaking with frontline healthcare workers when I myself landed in the emergency room.

More Than Tired

Labor Day weekend passed in our usual blur of work. When I’m not working on writing projects or novels, I’m managing editorial calendars and course writing for clients worldwide, and, on the weekends, I’m working on our hobby farm. Labor Day weekend found me picking apples alongside my husband, canning 27 pints of applesauce, cleaning the house, and baking spice drop cookies, vanilla and chocolate biscotti. I also baked two loaves of bread that I managed to completely ruin when I poured too-hot milk over the yeast and killed it. Oh, well. At least the dog is happy with the tiny pieces of bread he’s still enjoying as training treats.

I sat down on Sunday night and felt depleted, drained. On Monday, I barely had the energy to start weeding the garden, but once I began, I enjoyed the warm sunshine, bird song, and the occasional farm cat wandering by for a hug and a kiss. Two hours of weeding passed in a happy blur of activity.

However, when I came inside to take a shower and relax, I found myself so exhausted it was hard to keep my eyes open. A slight headache had formed behind my eyes, especially behind my left eye. It was annoying. I took ibuprofen, then more ibuprofen, but it didn’t touch the headache.

I went to bed around 9:15 with a headache thinking, “I’ll sleep this off.”

Sicker than Sick All from a Stupid Tick

I awoke at 11 pm drenched in sweat, shivering, my head throbbing so hard I couldn’t move it, shooting pains running up my neck, and a thirst that couldn’t be quenched.

I spent the night staggering to the bathroom, drinking glass after glass of water, changing my sweat-drenched pajamas every few hours, and huddling under blankets wondering if I had meningitis.

Tuesday morning found my wandering about the house, wrenching open cupboards in search of a thermometer, any working thermometer, to see if I had a temperature. I was positive I had a fever and the shivering alternating with sweating told me it was probably a high fever but I couldn’t find a thermometer and gave up. I remembered my husband dropping our old mercury thermometer on the tile floor in the bathroom a few years ago and the two of us chasing mercury balls around the floor in a panic hoping the cats wouldn’t find them.

We’d never bought another thermometer. We’d never needed it.

Sitting through meetings on Tuesday was a nightmare. I could barely stand the bright light in my sunlight-filled office. I was constantly thirsty. I felt like my head was going to pop from the pressure.

I finally told my husband on Tuesday night that I was sick, begged off walking the dog, and crawled into bed.

By Thursday, when I still didn’t feel any better, I made a video appointment with my doctor. She listened to my symptoms, asked questions, took one look at my face through the slightly blurry computer monitor, and said, “I don’t like what I am hearing. I want you to go to the emergency room.”

I was positive I did not have COVID 19 and my doctor was fairly certain I didn’t but nobody wanted to take chances with a woman who shows up at the ER with a fever of 101.9 (finally, a working thermometer) that’s lasted three days.

Our rural hospital is the designated COVID testing center for the area. When you show up to the ER there is a triage nurse sitting behind a folding table under the awning in front of the emergency room doors. There’s a screen, a folding chair for patients, and taped lines on the pavement to help you keep your distance.

The triage nurse was also fairly certain I did not have COVID 19 but already told me I’d have to have a test. I just shrugged and said, “Sure, why not?” Hey, why not? Maybe I’d be one of the lucky asymptomatic ones and would no longer have to worry about catching the dreaded coronavirus. I still had my sense of taste and smell despite feeling like crap for three days and I had no upper respiratory symptoms at all. I hadn’t left my house except to walk the dog since July 31. I figured I was very low risk for COVID so…no worries.

Couldn’t I just go right into the ER?

Nope. They made me sit in the COVID cooties area until a nurse could come out and escort me into the ER.

This is the COVID tent at our rural hospital:

Grim looking, isn’t it?

It looks like something from ET: The Extraterrestrial. Remember the ending of the movie when ET gets sick, and the scientists show up and set up the bubble tent around him? It was like that except the nurses and doctors wore normal scrubs and masks instead of bubble suits but I bet they wished they had those dorky hazmat suits for protection.

I can’t imagine being sick with COVID on a cold, rainy day and sitting in this tent.

A nurse came out to escort me into the ER, they got me into a treatment room quickly, and within an hour or so had figured out what was wrong with me. I had an excellent nurse and fortunately, a doctor who immediately recognized someone in the early stages of a tick-borne illness when he saw it. A lot of tests later, the verdict was in: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever with a dash of Lyme, thank you. I had the tick two-for-one deal and I was sicker than I’d ever been in my life.

The COVID test? Yup, had it. Swab in the back of the throat, thank you, not the up the nose with a stick swab. Came back negative.

The doctor explained that anyone who showed up at the emergency room spiking a fever had to be tested (my fever had climbed back to over 102 while I was getting tested for everything.) I said, “But I haven’t had any respiratory symptoms and I still have my sense of taste and smell.”

“We’ve seen everything under the sun,” the doctor said to me.

He told me several stories of patients he had personally seen in the ER who came in thinking they had a mild flu or food poisoning who ended up testing positive for coronavirus. Some had more serious symptoms they weren’t even aware of yet, like low blood oxygen levels.

The only thing, the ER doctor told me, that we really know about coronavirus is that we just don’t know a lot yet.

The emergency room had been updated to deal with the pandemic and the changes were positive. Glass doors now instead of curtains around the cubicles. Special air filters inside each patient room. Disposable masks given to patients (I pocketed my homemade cloth mask, a gift from Bonnie, sadly bidding the cats sipping red wine pattern goodbye until my next shopping excursion.)

Everyone I spoke with in the ER said the same things about coronarivus:

  • It’s serious
  • It shows up with different symptoms in different people
  • Take the precautions seriously
  • If you get a negative test result, it doesn’t mean you don’t have it. (One nurse said they had a patient come in for a test, get the test, test negative, and four days later, he came down with symptoms…tested again, he tested positive.)

So what does this tell me?

  • Everyone — medical professionals, the CDC, the government — is doing their best to deal with a brand new virus. Be patient with your doctor, nurses, healthcare workers, and everyone adapting to the changes necessitated by the pandemic. They’re not thrilled with the situation, either, but they are all coping as best as they can.
  • Information distributed by the CDC and other health authorities to help us combat the virus keeps changing because their understanding and knowledge of the virus changes, too.
  • Forehead scanners at the doors to clinics, etc are stupid and useless and give a dangerous sense of security. Case in point: I showed up at the hospital’s emergency walk in clinic first before they finally sent me to the ER. The person at the door scanned my forehead and announced “97.5!” and in I went. My actual temperature, when taken with a real under-the-tongue digital thermometer, was 101.9. That’s a big jump from 97.5 and a definite fever. How many sick people are walking past the so-called door scanners and into buildings? Doesn’t anyone realize that if you sit in your car with air from the A/C blasting on your face and then walk straight into a building your forehead temperature is going to be low?

If you’re one of these people who don’t believe in wearing masks, or that this threat is real, I don’t know what to say to you. Rocky Mt Spotted Fever has a 10% potential mortality rate if left untreated and COVID has around a 1-2% mortality rate, depending on the stats you look at, so technically, yes, there are things around in the environment that have a much greater chance of killing you than COVID 19. I happened to have had one of those scary things and let me tell you, it was no fun. No fun at all. I don’t want a repeat of it.

However, after taking antibiotics for 10 days and receiving medications in the emergency room, I recovered (hopefully for good!) COVID patients have a rougher recovery and there’s no medicine except supportive therapies to help them.

COVID is also a roller coaster with symptoms all over the place and the length of recovery a lot longer.

I’m taking coronavirus more seriously now that I’ve actually spoken with healthcare workers who have seen it and treated people with it first hand. I won’t live my life in fear, but in prudence and respect for others around me. That means limiting my excursions to the store, wearing a mask when I do venture into a public space, maintaining distance from others, and washing my hands as if my life depended on it.

Because it just might.

About the Author

Writer Jeanne Grunert is the author of the Majek Family mysteries and works of paranormal fiction. Her latest novel, I See You, is available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.