I was certain that the doctor would say I was fine. I had been working from home for more than two weeks, and because I was worried that I may be at greater risk for COVID-19 because of an autoimmune disease, I had chosen to stay inside. I could count on one hand the number of people I had contact with — most of them kind strangers delivering lunch or a grocery order. So, when I began coughing, I thought it must be anything else. But then the cough kept me up one night, and the next day, I felt winded while on the phone with my mom. My husband was still leaving the apartment a few days a week, so out of an abundance of caution, I called a doctor.
"What you're describing are the same symptoms I've heard over and over," she said, explaining that she had spoken to many young, otherwise healthy people with mild symptoms of COVID-19. I reiterated that I hadn't even run a fever, but she reminded me that the virus can look different from one person to the next. She urged me to isolate for at least a week — longer if my symptoms hadn't improved — and said my husband should quarantine for 14 days. I was shaken, but with coronavirus cases in New York doubling every few days, I knew what was at stake. We'd do whatever it took to keep others safe.
That evening, my husband collected his pillows from our bed, and I moved into the bedroom alone. He put a chair just outside the door: a place he could leave food, medicine, and other essentials, and I could return my dishes when I was done. I cried when he said goodnight from the hall, still trying to process what had happened and how we ended up talking through a door.
Since then, I've battled a migraine, enjoyed one day nearly symptom-free, and then settled into a deeper, lung-rattling cough. I still haven't spiked a fever, and while I sometimes feel short of breath after long bouts of coughing, the heaviness I initially felt in my chest has subsided.
Without a test to confirm my diagnosis, I'm left only with the thoughts swirling in my head — the ones that question how I could be so fortunate, when so many others have not been.
There are moments when I regain my energy and my coughing quiets, and it's in those moments that the doubt and uncertainty creeps in. I worry that I'll suddenly take a turn for the worse. I worry that I'll pass it on to my husband, if he hasn't already been exposed. I worry we'll both be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking we've survived the coronavirus, only to fall victim to it later. I know these fears are irrational, but without a test to confirm my diagnosis, I'm left only with the thoughts swirling in my head — the ones that question how I could be so fortunate, when so many others have not been.
Of course, I'm not the exception — I'm the rule. The vast majority of people who contract COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms and will be able to recover at home, and it's our responsibility to protect those for whom the virus could be much more dangerous, by practicing social distancing, listening to guidance from experts and elected officials, and taking every precaution when we're sick. I can't have the peace of mind of a test, because leaving this ever-shrinking bedroom would put others at risk, and there are patients who need the swabs — and the care of doctors and nurses — far more than I do.
I remind myself of these things several times a day, when I'm nervously washing my hands at the bathroom sink we share or trying desperately to fall sleep. This isn't how I expected to feel if I caught the virus — more anxious than physically sick — but even when I'm struggling to wrap my head around it, I know how lucky I am that this is the outcome.