ight weeks. That’s how long my medical journey has lasted since my doctor first referred me to a mobile testing unit in a shopping center parking lot to get a COVID-19 test. I was vulnerable because of my asthma, diabetes, and hypothyroidism brought on by Hashimoto’s disease.
Fortunately, the test came back negative. I didn’t have the coronavirus but over the next several weeks I would develop my own special disease tailored to my own personal neuroses and anxieties. I call it Jeff’s COVID Mania Syndrome, in which I’d become obsessed with every ache, pain, sniffle, fever spike, and cough.
After a brief over-the-phone consultation, my doctor’s nurse practitioner concluded I had the flu. He told me to rest, hydrate, and take plenty of aspirin or ibuprofen and it would be gone in 10 days to two weeks.
Two weeks later, the symptoms were still with me. Fever, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, diarrhea. My nurse practitioner ordered blood work and recommended I get another COVID-19 test.
Again, it came back negative.
But as mentioned last month the blood panel showed I had the Epstein Barr Virus. Mononucleosis. The kissing disease.
I was mystified how I’d gotten it, unless I picked it up at the wake for my nephew in February or because I wasn’t exactly practicing social distancing with my girlfriend.
The prescribed regimen to wellness was the same as before: Rest, lots of liquids, ibuprofen.
Frustrated, monitoring my temperature every hour, on the hour, with my digital thermometer, I went back to work. I say went back, but there was no place to go back to with our newspaper building still closed under corporate orders. So I simply started making phone calls, interviewing people and looking for stories I could do that wouldn’t require me to leave my living room couch.
New-age journalism at its finest.
But I had to work. I had to get back into the groove.
Yet the more I worked, the more energy I exerted. The more energy I exerted, the higher my temperature soared. My mornings would start with a normal 98.6F, but after a few hours of work it would rise by 2 or 3 degrees. At its highest, it was about 102.5 F, no-joke fever.
Also, my energy level would dissipate as the day wore on, correlating with my daily temperature spikes.
I still have a nagging feeling that I was exposed to the coronavirus, which appears to be surging again in my home state, Florida. Whenever I go out in public and see people without masks, a slow rage boils up inside me, knowing how rapidly the disease is spreading. How stupid and irresponsible.
A university professor I interviewed for a story told me about a test developed by her emerging pathogens institute. It hasn’t even been approved by the FDA yet, but the university needed test subjects who were essential workers. As a journalist, I qualified.
So I drove two hours to the university to get tested, another eye-watering nasal swab. They also took blood to run a serology test to see if I had the antibodies, which would determine whether I had been exposed to the coronavirus at some point.
My nasal swab came back negative. Still waiting on the antibodies test.
Amidst all this worrying, life went on. I grew antsy, and started checking flights to London, Paris, Los Angeles. I considered driving cross-country to visit friends in Colorado. I started out checking prices for beach houses and mountain cabins.
A crazy wanderlust was tickling the soles of my feet.
My girlfriend and I decided we needed a break from the stress of quarantine, social distancing and being cooped up in our homes for close to three months.
I was gradually beginning to feel better, stronger. Given our total lack of planning, we took an overnight weekend trip to Georgia, to a place four hours north of Tallahassee, called Pine Mountain. The small village is near Warm Springs and the F.D. Roosevelt State Park, site of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House, the place the polio-stricken president would retreat to for relaxation.
The spontaneous trip was a literal breath of fresh air. After a three-hour hike around Dowdell’s Knob, one of FDR’s favorite picnic spots, we found a newly renovated hotel with a swimming pool and an incredible view of the valley below and checked in.
We took a couple of gin and tonics poolside, and soaked in the refreshing water as we looked at the mountains in the blue-green beyond, our anxieties and muscle aches unraveling, our molecules mingling with the clean air we sucked into our lungs.
That night we gazed at the constellations on the outer edges of the Milky Way and felt at peace.
The next day, we visited the Little White House, and were pleased that the Park Service took social distancing seriously. Throughout the tour of the museum, the guest house, servant quarters, and Little White House, I kept thinking about the circumstances of FDR’s life, his long struggle with polio, and the fact that for decades, people suffered and died before a vaccine was found in 1955, 10 years after FDR’s death.
And here we are today, half of us doing everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while awaiting a vaccine. The other half are in denial, scoffing at people who wear masks in public, make sure they stay six feet apart from each other, and use hand sanitizer. We are a world divided.
A vaccine is a year away, some scientists say. That is not soon enough for some. They should consider how long people waited for a vaccine for polio.
Meanwhile, the mono is still clinging to my system. My allergist said I probably have developed a secondary infection, and ordered up a 12-day course of antibiotics. My temperature still hovers around 100 degrees each day. I am about to start another week of furlough.
The COVID syndrome seems like a never-ending carousel of symptoms and anxiety.