What are the chances that during a pandemic about a respiratory disease you get a respiratory disease that isn’t coronavirus?
Apparently quite high if it’s flu season and you haven’t had your flu shot, I learned this week.
Under current conditions, I feel it would be appropriate for other ailments to give us a small break. A deathly pandemic is terrorizing the globe. I’m still expected to deal with allergies? Irregular bleeding? Influenza? All these other issues need to get on board with cancel culture. If the Olympics aren’t too big to postpone, flu season should know where it stands too.
That’s the premise I was operating under last week on Day One of quarantine when I woke up with a sore throat and a fever which turned, over the course of the proceeding days, into wildly uncontrollable chest pressure.
I’m no stranger to chest pressure and difficulty breathing. As a lifelong asthmatic, I am an expert breather. I can breathe in even the most difficult of circumstances. Throw pneumonia at me, bronchitis, an asthma attack with no rescue inhaler nearby — so far I’ve weathered every storm. But, this one was starting to become a challenge. It felt like someone had rubbed Tiger Balm all over my chest and upper back before recruiting a giant to come sit on me.
By day two I had self quarantined in my parents’ basement, committing myself to watching a solitary ray of light make its way across the wall, much like I imagined the Count of Monte Cristo had done in the Château d’If.
“Can you bring me breakfast and leave it on the steps?” I texted my mom, a boomer who has been reluctant to buy into social distancing.
“No, come to the kitchen and get it yourself,” she replied.
I tried to explain I was sacrificing my sanity in this basement specifically for people in her demographic but it was a tough sell. Eventually, she did end up bringing me breakfast, walking it all the way downstairs and into my zone of contamination, no doubt bringing all my germs back upstairs with her to infect the rest of the house. Anxiety: ignited.
I tried to convince myself it was psychosomatic but the chest pressure was ratcheting up daily. I was referred for a COVID-19 test but they were backed up for five days so I decided instead to try to make a doctor’s appointment. If it wasn’t Covid, it was definitely something else that needed attention.
“Do not come into the clinic,” my doctor’s office said, understandably. The nurse I spoke with told me to dial 911 and head straight to the emergency room. People freak out about chest pressure. I do too, it’s scary.
I deeply considered taking the nurse’s advice, but my pride wouldn’t let me. As an expert breather, I like to think I’ve got the situation handled most of the time. I have an arsenal of medical supplies, collected in my childhood after annual bouts of pneumonia, that can help me stay at home. My favourite tool is the nebulizer. It plugs into the wall. It has a mask that goes around your head. It vaporizes your medicine so you can just sit back, watch cartoons and, literally, breathe easy. I have many childhood memories of the nebulizer. It’s almost like an old friend.
A doctor got on the line with me and eventually he surmised that it sounded a lot like I had pneumonia. Was it caused by Covid? It had to have been, I thought. How could it not be? How could I possibly be unlucky enough to develop an unrelated pneumonia during the same week the world was shutting down because of COVID-19?
“Let’s try some antibiotics,” the doctor suggested. “Worst case scenario, they’re not going to hurt.” Don’t get mad at the doctor for practicing somewhat questionable medicine. It was the middle of a pandemic and we were trying to save hospital beds.
And anyway, the antibiotics did work. Not instantly but by the end of the course they definitely cleared my chest up.
When my test results finally came back, they confirmed, it wasn’t Covid, it was the flu. Have you had a flu shot this year? You should get a flu shot. Flu season waits for no one, not even, apparently, during a coronavirus pandemic.
After that close brush with disaster, I’m not sure I have it in me to fight off another respiratory illness, and I’m slightly disappointed I don’t get any Covid antibodies for the battle I just waged.
I guess the upside is I still get to leave COVID-FREE in my dating profile. Shh, don’t tell them I’m just the girl unlucky enough to get a completely unrelated lung ailment at the onset of a global pandemic.