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Write On, Colorado

My coronavirus year has been a personal odyssey of frustration and empathy

This year has been challenging – to say the least.

Recently, I started feeling absolute fatigue that turned into a weeks-long battle. Not just against a virus that was discovered in 2019 but the failure of a federal government.

Uber has been my major source of funds in recent months. It gave me a different perspective on life, and I met some fascinating people. It also exposed me to sicknesses. Before the world was turned upside-down and shut down, both economically and socially, I probably had COVID-19. 

March started okay, but it didn’t last. The first week, I was so tired after getting home from driving I would collapse without even wanting to eat or play with the dog. By Saturday, the “headache from hell” set in. It didn’t matter what I tried to get rid of it — nothing worked.

I started with Tylenol and ended up with ibuprofen. As it turned out, that was the last thing I should have taken. But it did finally take care of the headache that had kept me from driving, and off the road for the duration of the virus and shutdown.

Previous illnesses I have had were nothing like this virus. Once the headache was gone, I started having trouble breathing, coughing and I kept coughing while my ears itched for six weeks. That was also about the time I started following the symptoms associated with COVID-19 — all of which I had except the high fever. 

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I first emailed the doctor’s office asking for advice. They suggested treating the symptoms and using a humidifier. Both were correct, but after 10 days I believed an inhaler would help the cough.

Sitting with the physician’s assistant, shaking from chills and sweating from a fever at the same time, telling her everything that happened, she turned to me and said, “You probably have it. But I can’t test you.”

I was absolutely dumbfounded because I didn’t meet both criteria: I had the symptoms but had NOT traveled to a COVID-19 hot spot like New York City. She was frustrated because she couldn’t provide good healthcare.

Since I didn’t have both those checked in the yes column, I didn’t deserve a COVID-19 test because the nation wasn’t prepared for COVID-19 testing even after four months of knowing it was coming.

I was probably exposed while driving an Uber. However, I was forbidden from getting the test that would confirm I had been exposed to the pandemic virus. That would also have allowed public health to trace who I had been in contact with (including riders) and warn them to self-isolate to prevent additional spread of the virus.

I finally told myself my test went to one of the frontline healthcare professionals. That was the only way I could justify it in my mind. 

As I started following the latest news concerning the virus that was spreading across the globe, one of the items that came out was that taking ibuprofen made symptoms worse. Unexplained rashes was another symptom. Yes, I had the rash as well.

I also discovered there were two strains of the virus. One straight from China that struck Washington state and the second that came over from Italy that struck New York City. Without the test, I had no clue which strain I was exposed to.

I wonder how many other people who got sick couldn’t get tested either? How many people died from COVID-19 who were not tested? We may never know the real answer to those questions, but the number of those infected is much, much higher than what is reported every day.

I am the perfect example because I was never counted. The death toll is much, much higher as well.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Understandably, I still want to know for sure if I had COVID-19. The only option I had was to get an antibodies test. I took two. The first one from early May came back inconclusive. The second test was scheduled for the middle of May, but the tests hadn’t arrived at the time of my appointment. 

One of my riders, a cardiologist, said I should probably wait to get the second test to give the antibodies additional time to form. As it turns out, he was right. I do have antibodies — which means scientists can have all the plasma they want from me to help others inflicted by this horrible virus.

Maybe that will make up for me infecting anyone else.

I’ve accepted the reality that I still have a few lingering health issues that may or may not clear up. I may be forced to live with them for the rest of my life. It just means that every time I take the medication, I will think about all the lives that have been lost.

Everyone needs to be empathetic, follow the guidance of public health officials — and not the polemic from the White House. 


Becky Osterwald is an award-winning journalist who owned the Eastern Colorado Plainsman in Hugo for 18 years and most recently worked as managing editor for The Villager in Greenwood Village and Valley Courier in Alamosa.


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