Guest Commentary: When the virus hits you, it hits hard

When my wife, Edel, a teacher, developed a cough after working with a woman who came to the elementary school slightly sick, we assumed it was just that, a cough.

The word from New York Mayor DiBlasio to parents was still, “Come to school,” though many teachers seemed to be skipping, choosing personal safety over their job. That was Friday, March 13. On Saturday, we had six friends over for a St. Patty’s gathering. We didn’t hug, but we drank and ate and stood far too close to one another.

By Wednesday, my wife felt better, but I warned: “Stay home. That cough could be COVID-19.” Meanwhile, her co-teacher got tested for the virus. It was two weeks later that we learned she’d tested positive.

Thursday, I felt fine, but by 10 am, a headache set in and I began to ache everywhere. That night I had a fever of 101.  With our 4½ year old we watched Frozen, the Disney movie, and I longed to be zapped by Princess Elsa with a big cloak of ice.

Friday the virus had its way with me: All night I shivered though loaded up with blankets, and in the morning my temperature spiked to 103. Everything ached, especially my head, and my throat was sore.  When I took a breath there was a rattle deep in my lungs.

My primary care physician had blunt advice: “You can’t be tested until you display respiratory distress and a high fever. Until then, hunker down.” But I alerted my friends from Friday’s party that I probably had COVID-19. No one had symptoms but I worried: One friend had visited his aging dad in the hospital on Wednesday. If I’d infected Rick, he could pass it to his father.  I felt guilty on top of feeling sicker. By the end of the week — and two weeks later — Rick was still healthy. I was relieved more than I can say.

From my bed I tried to plan. If my fever stayed above 102 and I started gasping for breath, then I could be admitted to a hospital — intubated if necessary, but first given oxygen. But maybe I could be tested for COVID-19 and know for sure what was going on. Meanwhile, a friend in Colorado joked that testing was overrated. He said his state had discovered an easy way to beat the pandemic: “We hardly have any tests so everybody must be doing great!”

Of course, the carriers of the virus throughout the country have been walking around for some time, a hidden scourge. This remains true even in Denver, where my friend Jeff took his son, suffering from what seemed like the virus, to the hospital. The teenager was admitted to the emergency room but then released when he was found not to be wheezing.  He was given a prescription to be tested at a later date. Now he is hanging out at home, isolated.

It’s the same for me. I stay away from my daughter but we have one bathroom. So far she seems fine, one of the lucky youngsters who seems able to shake off the virus.