Last week, we had a Covid scare. Al woke up early Tuesday morning, sick to his stomach, with a fever. This is highly unusual for him. At any other time, I would have just assumed he’d caught a GI bug, but given that COVID-19 can occasionally present with these symptoms, we immediately went on high alert.
I spoke to our clinic twice that morning and was basically advised to have him isolate, hydrate, and take Tylenol to control his fever, which had gone up to 101.1. We have a pulse oximeter that I’d purchased months ago, just in case one of us had Covid symptoms, and I had him check his oxygenation level, which was fine at 98 percent.
I spent the next few hours trying not to freak out. I tried to concentrate on how he was doing as well as my work. A planned Zoom call with one of my clients, who is also a longtime friend, helped me regain some perspective. I dug into my writing, which is a meditation for me. By afternoon, Al was doing better, able to make arrangements for coverage for his social work responsibilities, and his temperature had settled around 99. He was able to drink fluids. And he slept.
But I would be lying if I didn’t admit I was really scared. Both of us are over 65, with health issues that put us at risk for serious Covid complications. I tried to schedule Covid tests for that day, but couldn’t get anything until Wednesday morning. So, like millions of other Americans finding themselves in this terrifying dilemma, we had to just sit tight and wait to see what happened.
By bedtime, Al was looking and feeling a bit better, able to eat a few rice cakes. (I’m a strong believer in the BRAT diet for stomach distress—bananas, rice, applesauce, tea/toast—with rice always the first step.) Just as he was settling down in a separate bedroom, and I was ready to go to bed, I suddenly remembered that the nurse had told me to monitor his oxygenation level. If it dropped below 95, I was supposed to let them know.
So I gave Al the meter for him to measure his levels. I was being very careful not to come into his room, per all the CDC guidelines. Three times he measured his levels with the finger-clip meter on three different fingers, and each time, it came back 88. How could his levels have dropped ten points with no sign of respiratory distress? But I knew this is one of the hallmarks of Covid: your lungs can be overworking before you actually sense it, which is why these readings at home are so important.
After a long discussion with the clinic, I was advised to bring him to the ER. We arrived at Midnight, but, of course, I could not go with him. He texted me as soon as I walked in the house that he was already in a room, and that his pulse/ox was 96 percent. So, obviously our meter was off. I was very relieved, though still confused.
Three hours later, after he’d had a clear lung Xray and other negative lab work, plus a Covid test (results in 48 hours), plus IVs and potassium to replace his lost fluids from the morning, I picked him up and brought him home. His ER doctor did not suspect Covid, which was also a relief. We both went to bed.
A few hours later, I got up and went to a nearby clinic for my own Covid test, just to be on the safe side. It was much easier than expected, a well-organized drive-through tent, and only the base of my nostrils were swabbed, no dreaded brain scrape. Throughout the rest of the day, Al continued to improve, and by evening, his temp was normal.
On Thursday afternoon, we both got our test results back: Negative. Hallelujah!
And what of the mysterious 88 pulse-ox reading? I realized, on Wednesday, that 88 is the default reading on the meter when it’s on but can’t register a measurement. Sure enough, the rubber pad inside the finger clamp had come off, so the meter had broken. If I’d taken the reading myself for Al, I would have known. But at that late hour on the first day, I was way too exhausted to think clearly and figure that out.
In any case, I’m glad he was seen that night, inconvenient as it was, because we found out his lungs were fine. Here’s hoping the copay isn’t outrageous.
Of the many lessons learned, here are my takeaways:
- There are plenty of viruses out there that are not Covid. We have to be extra vigilant, but each sneeze, cough, or upset stomach may just be routine, rather than exotic and deadly. The biggest red flag last week was Al’s fever. As hours passed, the fact that his temp went down and his appetite returned was a good indication that all he had was a run-of-the-mill virus.
- I need to get a better pulse oximeter and, if needed, read the results myself if Al is sick.
- It will take extreme precautions, if one of us gets Covid, God forbid, for the other to be the caretaker and not get sick. I never got Al’s stomach bug, thank goodness, so I must have been doing something right. But there are so many touch points to avoid, so many tiny details to be aware of—how do I wash his dishes v mine? how often should I change gloves? can I safely clean up after him when he’s sick and not contaminate myself without wearing PPE?—that in a house our size, not small, but not huge, either, it will be a real challenge. (All the more so for those who live with multiple family members in small apartments. The whole situation infuriates me, but that’s another post for another time.)
- It is all the more important for both of us to be extra careful with masks and hand hygiene when out in public. I don’t want to have to go through this for real.
- I’m very grateful to have Medicare and Medex coverage, and to live in Massachusetts, where we have aggressive contact tracing and plenty of free Covid testing sites. We were told we’d get results in a few days, but actually, we both heard in under 36 hours.
Bottom line: we dodged the bullet. Here’s hoping this was only a dress rehearsal for a play that will never open. Stay well, all.
Image: Gwen O