The news buzzes in the background like a swarm of angry bees. A string of endless noise about the coronavirus, stock market and how the death toll is rising. Citizens are being asked to stay in doors. Only leave your home for the essentials: food, fresh air, medical attention, the list goes on. I start to feel my breathing labor. I haven’t been feeling myself since we got back to Ohio. It was our first family vacation with my eight month old son, Teddy, and we were in Florida when a national emergency was declared. We decided to pack up and leave early. I wanted to get home as rumors of empty grocery stores started to permeate every group text I was a part of.
We couldn’t make the 18 hour trip in one stretch. We would have to stop. Little Teddy didn’t do well in a carseat for more than six hours at a time. If we were going to have to stop – we decided to at least make it enjoyable. We visited St. Simon’s Island and stayed at a quaint inn near the center of town. Restaurants and shops were still open and people leisurely walked from place to place. We could have never guess how drastically life would change from that moment. As the days passed on our road trip back, a sense of urgency started to bubble inside me. The leisurely feeling I felt in Georgia didn’t last when we stopped in Asheville, NC. I started to feel tired and anxious to get home. In fact, we ended up leaving a day earlier than planned. We drove straight through the night just to make it to our house. The anxious feeling had grown into fear. I feared not making it to the safety of our house before the world imploded. At least that’s how it felt.
After we made it home, I started to feel exhausted. Sick. A cough emerged, followed by a scratchy throat. I quickly googled the symptoms of COVID-19. It didn’t make me feel any better. Everyday there seemed to be a new press conference. Everyday it seemed like more and more small businesses I’ve grown to know were closing their doors. My chest started to feel tight a few days after being home. It seemed harder to breathe. At least I don’t have a fever I reassured myself. But I could tell I wasn’t 100%. It felt like a cold was slowly infiltrating every part of my body.
I felt scared to say I didn’t feel well out loud. I didn’t want to be branded with a scarlet letter. Isolated by family or friends – it was already isolating enough.
But I started to feel worse. Was it the layoffs that were about to happen at my father’s work that had my chest feeling abnormally tight? Was it a virus? Was it the thought of losing my job? Was it just a cold?
I told my husband and we decided it was probably best to at least get my sore throat looked at. If I had strep, I didn’t want to give it to little teddy.
Arriving at urgent care felt like I had entered another world, it wasn’t filled with crowds of people waiting to be seen. There weren’t sick kids and people with clearly broken extremities. It was just me in the waiting room and one older gentleman being seen in the back.
A doctor disinfected the keyboard behind the desk over and over again while wearing a mask. I signed in trying to hold the cough inside my chest. The nurse who was also playing the role as a receptionist asked what was wrong with me. “My throat hurts and I want to make sure I don’t have strep,” I stated. She picked up a piece of paper with COVID-19 symptoms on it. “We aren’t allowed to see anyone with a sore throat, it’s one of the symptoms.” she looked at me concerned. “Where am I supposed to go?” I thought that was an inside thought, but in true fashion I blurted it out of my mouth. She quickly shuffled behind the desk for a thermometer. “Let me take your temperature.” she said matter of fact. She took my temperature through the window as if I was some sort of specimen to be looked at only through the glass. It came back normal. I could tell she was risking it by letting me see one of the doctors, but I think she felt bad for the baby at home. She quickly handed me the paperwork and rushed me to the back.
My oxygen levels and blood pressure looked good. A physicians assistant entered the room and asked once again what was wrong with me. I explained as he went through the usual routine; looking in my mouth, ears and finally listening to my chest. He didn’t suspect strep throat, but swabbed me anyway. We waited for the results and it came back negative. He didn’t know what was wrong with me and in fact didn’t prescribe anything. He was intent on getting me out the door. “Should I be concerned about COVID-19?” I asked. “Are you having trouble breathing?” he questioned. “I feel congested and I don’t know if it’s my anxiety or sickness that’s causing me to breathe harder.” I felt stupid, but it was the truth. When my anxiety is really bad my chest hurts. It’s hard to breathe. It could stay like that for days.
Do you know what he told me? He said that the hospitals could not help me unless I am really having trouble breathing. There is no cure. I could call the health department for further information. After that he ushered me out the door. I left confused and honestly scared. The prescription was go home and pray it doesn’t get worse.
I decided to make a Teledoc appointment, which was rather easy. I selected COVID-19 concerns. No shame I said to myself as I submitted the request. After waiting a few hours the doctor called and asked a series of questions. She didn’t think I had COVID-19, but rather a bacterial infection. So amoxicillin was prescribed. She would have prescribed the Z-pack, but there is an unfortunate interaction with my anti-anxiety/depression medication. I obviously wanted the Z-pack because of the whispers of its effectiveness against COVID-19. “Anxiety wins again,” I thought to myself.
I decided to go into Walgreens to pick up my prescription. Blue X’s were actually marked on the floor. It looked like a treasure hunt to the pharmacy counter. The X’s showed you how far you needed to be from one another in line and how close you could get to the pharmacist. It felt like we were miles apart. Even if I had a running start, I I wouldn’t be able to make the jump to the X in front of me.
I had been blowing my nose for what seemed like the past hour and was visibly sick. The young woman wearing a mask behind the pharmacy counter could tell. We were so far apart it was impossible to have any privacy and by the look on her eyebrows there was no way she wanted me any closer (her face was covered by a mask). I was so far away from the counter, I was shouting my name, date of birth and all of my health information. Everyone in the store could hear. She didn’t want to touch my ID cards or driver’s license so I was holding them up from far away. There was a problem with my OptumRX and my date of birth wasn’t being recognized. I kept having to repeat the information over and over again. The line started to grow long behind me. I was sure that every X they had marked on the floor was taken by now. I decided to just pay out of pocket. The very presence of someone who appeared sick in the store was making everyone uncomfortable. I didn’t want to go through this one more second.
I arrived home thankful to finally be back inside with my family which is where I am now.
I know millions of people are suffering from anxiety. I know they are asking themselves if they are sick. What their future holds. If everything is going to be okay. I know they are wondering about the tightness in their chest. I know they are scared to talk about it. I know they are questioning and questioning every symptom. I know they worry about their family. Coworkers. Community.
It never ends – the worry.
And somehow the precautions we all take have made us cherish those who are family and dehumanize our fellow strangers.
I am here to tell you, you are not alone.
Anxiety. Sickness. Fear.
You are not alone.
We are all scared. We just project it in different ways. I guess all I am asking is to remember there is a human behind every mask, every tissue, every glass window. There is a duty to keep our social distance, but there is also a duty to do it in a dignified way.
I can’t imagine the patients in bed interacting with individuals in full body suits. Human touch through plastic gloves. Some losing their lives. While all the precautions are necessary it somehow makes me sad. I hope through all the madness they are finding those moments of humility from strangers.
XX Ashley, founder of Harness.