It’s utterly maddening. Have you ever become more confused the more you learn?
That’s where I am right now with COVID-19.
In late January, my son Andy became sick. Andy is 19 and is living at home, working, saving his money and trying to figure out life’s next steps. On Tuesday, he started getting what would become the worst headache of his life. It grew until early Friday morning when his body capped it with a fever, and what I can only describe as the worst stomach virus I have ever seen. He would spend the next five days violently sick and hiding from light and sound due to this massive headache.
On Friday, a doctor in our hospital network presumed it could be COVID and ordered the test. I would spend the next couple days offering any drink on the market that may prevent him from getting dehydrated. Nothing helped.
By Sunday, he sat down after walking down the stairs. I reached out to our family doctor, who also suspected COVID. He prescribed some nausea med, hoping to keep him out of the emergency room; but warned an IV of fluids may be in his future.
Later that afternoon I thought the thermometer read 104, and I went into a tailspin. “You need to go to the hospital. Get ready.”
Despite my near panic, I thought I was clever. I called for an ambulance even though we live less than a mile from a well-respected trauma hospital. I admit my brain had flashes of irrational fears one might find in a psychiatric wing, but in my mind, I thought this was the equivalent of using a sling shot to get evaluated in the ER. Medics don’t drop people off to a waiting room; they take them right back to be seen.
Unfortunately, as with a host of life decisions determined by my heart, the idea backfired.
The medics arrived and without even taking his vitals or hiding their incredulity, they asked why they were there. They could “take him for a ride if he wanted to” but he didn’t need an IV yet. His temperature, was 100.4, not 104, the medic also noted. Now I know these guys have rushed far too many people to the ER near death. Seeing a young adult who could sit in a chair and answer questions must have must have been an easy assessment. It was as if I could hear the medic’s thoughts saying, Stay home, kid.
Andy (who has thought about becoming a firefighter) was not about to show weakness in front of two men he respected by virtue of their occupation. Andy said he would stay home.
At this point, I swear I saw the image of Lucy from Peanuts in my mind. I wanted to lean back and scream UGGGHHHHHHH! That’s because I knew he would be back on the bathroom floor.
On Monday, his Covid test came back negative and Lucy made another flash appearance in my head. Only this time I was doing that little happy dance of hers (cue the Peanuts theme song which was literally going off in my head).
My bliss lasted maybe a minute until I started to think. If this wasn’t Covid, what the hell was it? It can’t be a migraine. He never had migraines. And even if he was starting now, a first migraine wouldn’t last six days, would it?
Andy trudged on and didn’t complain. In fact, he didn’t say much of anything. Talking either took too much energy or he was so sound-averse, he didn’t even want to hear his own voice.
By Monday night, after hearing him lose the Power Aid, Gatorade, Pedialyte again – or whichever liquid it was at the time – I felt he needed help. I would take him to the ER. Of course, I have heard of the drill. Due to Covid, no family can stay with the patient. But let me tell you know something, this panicking mother didn’t grasp that fact until she was being told to walk one way out of the ER, as Andy was being led the other direction.
But three hours after dropping him off, he was home again. ER staff tested him for Covid (again), strep and the flu – all of which were negative. There was no blood drawn. No IV. Just that implied message again, Stay home kid.
Tuesday morning, Andy was now in his fifth day of this torturous cycle – throwing up (now despite anti-nausea meds), with a 101 fever and a fierce headache. I called the doctor’s office and pleaded for any one of their doctors to make room for a telemedicine visit. One doctor did and thankfully, she agreed he needed to be evaluated in person; Andy agreed to put me on the phone when any doctor who came to his room.
His second visit to the hospital, started out no different than his first. The only difference was this doctor ordered an IV, and something to help his head. Still, despite two tests saying otherwise, the suspected culprit was Covid.
I get that Covid is the big, bad bully running the town these days, but is it to blame for everything? Wouldn’t they want to rule out other possibilities? How do we know a mass in his brain wasn’t causing severe pain, and prompting him to throw up? I asked that very question the day before when the doctor on the other end of the phone replied, It’s the fever. You usually don’t have a fever with cancer.
The now nasty, worn-out, emotional mom in me so badly wanted to reply: Oh, that’s right. Only one thing can be wrong in the body at once. But I didn’t.
I asked it politely, noting that just 2.5 years ago we lost my mother to brain cancer that sprang out nowhere and robbed us of the best (and healthiest) person in our family. That’s when the doctor agreed to at least rule other things out.
Blood work was normal and even a CT-scan was clear (Thank you God!). Covid remained the likely culprit, he said.
That’s when it hit me. We know so little about this freakish virus that has it became a catch-all. To a degree, I get it. Covid can be a master of disguise and vicious in ways we don’t recognize. My friend, Suzanne Hoholik, was able to better articulate my fear better than I could. She works in hospital quality improvement and openly wondered how many diagnoses were being missed because of Covid? (In fairness to Suzanne, her degrees and certification have earned her a better title than that, but in essence, patient safety is her focus.)
Meanwhile, I still worried; what was going to help my son? Muscle relaxers and anti-nausea meds would help, I was told.
Should Andy’s brother, David, and I isolate since it is suspected Covid No, the tests showed Andy wasn’t positive, the ER doc replied pretty quickly.
(Here came my Lucy scream again. For the love of God, which is it? Either he likely has it or doesn’t. You can’t have it both ways.)
But that’s thing. With Covid, no one really knows what to expect.
And that’s what is so maddening. I am a perennial nerd. If I don’t understand something. I read as much as I can to at least have a basic understanding.
For lack of a better term, Covid seems to embody a mythical shapeshifter. How long would Andy (and others suffering from Covid or other current viruses) be challenged with these symptoms? News focuses on Covid deaths, which I agree are greatly concerning when folks were healthy just a day prior. But I worry more about these lasting effects, which remain a big unknown.
The vaccines may cause temporary side effects, but this nerd has decided she will take potential pain in the arm over symptoms like my son experienced any day.
Andy has started to improve, but so much about the past week had been depressing – especially the lesson learned. If you are confused by all the dangers the virus presents and don’t know what to do, you are not alone. I think doctors are right there with us, more than they care to admit.