This article tells a personal experience from the author and all opinions are those of the anonymous writer. The writer and her family are ok, have notified all locations where they have been, and are taking precautions seriously. None of this is medical advice. Call your doctor immediately if you are showing signs of COVID-19.
UPDATE: The author ended up being able to test for COVID-19 and she tested positive.
Pajama Day at school feels like a million years ago, but it was just two weeks ago. Pandemics have a way of warping time.
Two weeks ago, my kids were so excited to wear their pajamas to class.
Before daybreak, though, when my 4-year-old climbed into my bed, I knew immediately that he had a fever. A few hours later, I had to tell him he would miss pajama day, but he didn’t even care. His fever raging, he curled up and went back to sleep.
Could this be Coronavirus?
I called the pediatrician. I told her something seemed strange. He doesn’t get fevers easily, normally only with an infection. She told me it sounded like a virus, and that there wasn’t much she could do; I was better off keeping him home and not to bother coming in. That’s when I asked, timidly, “I know this seems a bit crazy, but could it be coronavirus? Should we test him?” She asked if I had traveled abroad recently. I told her I hadn’t. “Then, no,” she assured me. “There is no reason to think he might have coronavirus, and anyway, we don’t have any test kits.”
It did not allay my worries, though. I called the school nurse. She said she didn’t know of any other children at my kids’ school with fevers, though there had been a case of strep throat in another grade the week before. Once again, I was told there was no reason to think it would be coronavirus.
Just to be sure, I called the urgent care clinic and waited to speak with a nurse. “This may sound a little paranoid,” I told her, “but I know my son, and this is unusual.” I asked if he could be tested. She told me they did not have any way to test for coronavirus, and that she wouldn’t even know where to send me for a test.” As we hadn’t traveled abroad, she said, “there is no reason to think he would have COVID.”
I trust the medical professionals we see, and after three concurring opinions, it seemed I was overreacting. So I let it go. That was March 6.
His brother got a fever the next day.
Then, as kids do, they bounced back. By Monday morning, everyone was fever-free and behaving normally. I sent them off to school, as my husband and I headed to our offices. Work was busy, the news was crazy. I nearly forgot my kids had even been sick. By Friday, our offices were telling people to work from home. We brought home our laptops and headsets. Schools anounced closures. We made a Costco run. It had been one week since Pajama Day.
What My Illness Feels Like
My cough started on Sunday, 9 days after Pajama day, and by then the country was entering a new normal. On Monday, my lungs felt full of cotton; I walked down the block with the kids and felt like I’d been out for a jog.
I called my doctor. Over video chat she told me that it was clear I had COVID and that I needed to quarantine with my family. I asked how she could be sure unless I got tested. “I don’t have enough tests for the people who really need them,” she said. “So you will never get a test, but there’s no doubt, you have it.” She told me I would continue to feel lousy for two weeks, and if the symptoms remained “mild” there was nothing they could do to help, and to take only Tylenol. She told me I should watch for really bad shortness of breath, gasping when I walked up the stairs, for example. If it got that bad, I would need to go to a hospital, and I should wear a mask. “Otherwise, stay home and don’t see anyone!” I obeyed. I did not take this diagnosis lightly.
Still Sick, Still No Tests
A follow-up call with a doctor on Friday reconfirmed: “Yes, I’m sure you have COVID.” Still no tests, though. “It wouldn’t make sense for you to get a test, you don’t have a chronic lung disease, you aren’t over 55, you can go to the urgent care site where they have tests, you can wait there, it may take 4 or 5 hours, but based on the criteria, you won’t be tested”. And that’s when the doctor asked about my kids: “Kids mostly present with a fever, and it passes very quickly,” she said. “They are the vectors. So, you need to quarantine until they are no longer a risk to others.”
Suddenly, I remember my 4-year-old curled up on the couch on a Friday morning two weeks earlier, what seemed a lifetime ago. I believe he HAD had coronavirus. If he had it, had it already spread through the school? I had sent him back to school, gone to my office, rode the Metro. This was before “social distancing” took hold. How many people had I breathed on, shaken hands with, sat next to in a meeting? And my husband, too — he’d gone to Costco, to the pharmacy, to his office. What had we done? Why hadn’t anyone listened when I asked for a test? Why hadn’t any tests been available?
Putting up with quarantine, because it’s worth it
Being home with my kids, with nowhere to go, trying to work while feeling sick has been hard, to say the least. I know that many parents who aren’t sick are struggling, too.
But my experience highlights just how contagious coronavirus is and why we need to follow experts’ recommendations for social distancing, even — and especially — with children. Just because children don’t get as sick as older adults doesn’t mean they don’t have it or can’t spread it; it is precisely because they don’t get as sick that makes them so risky. And even as a “young person” (late 30s, but still), I can tell you that this virus is no joke: Even mild shortness of breath is scary and potentially dangerous, and the coughing alone is exhausting.
We, as a society, are going to get through this, but we need to know how easily it spreads, and parents have a special responsibility to socially distance our kids, no matter how difficult that may be.
This article is a reminder that there are few tests and some individuals may have coronavirus and never have it confirmed.