EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a first-hand account of Times-Georgian reporter Michael O’Hearn getting tested for the coronavirus.
The coronavirus pandemic has been one of the most frightening things I’ve experienced in my nearly 27 years on this planet, and I’ve lived to see events such as 9/11.
Every day, we have been watching the number of positive cases climb across the state and country, as well as globally, while scores of victims have also died from the virus.
I was one of the stubborn ones. I thought I could not get it if I stayed inside and obeyed the city’s shelter in place order enacted in March.
Of course, I had to go do basic things like grocery shopping. And I have been supporting local businesses for lunch. Going to the grocery store and getting takeout from restaurants are allowed in the shelter in place rules.
I thought I was fine.
On Wednesday morning, I only had a slight cough, something I had for about a week. But by that afternoon, I felt I was burning up with fever. During my daily planning call with co-workers, I told everyone I was burning up and still had the lingering cough — and I was ordered to immediately seek medical advice.
I exited the call and got ready to go to the emergency room if needed. I made a dash to the car, where I called my parents. I then called ahead to the emergency room at Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton to avoid showing up unannounced.
The first thing that happens if you go to the ER these days is hospital staffers ask you a series of questions at the entrance before you are even allowed to step foot inside the facility.
Everything from having a cough to shortness of breath and potentially being exposed to the virus is covered.
After you are allowed in, you must talk to another receptionist. She asked me the same questions, and I was told to stay in the waiting room. A second nurse took my temperature and asked the same set of questions.
Have I been out of the country recently? No. Have I been around anyone who may have been exposed? No. Do you have shortness of breath? A little. Do you have a cough? Yes. Are you running a fever? I don’t know, but I am burning up.
I was taken to Exam Room 16 of the emergency room. Waiting for the nurses to come in and check on me was an excruciatingly long wait.
I was checked for the flu, a respiratory virus and the coronavirus. The first two tests were not bad compared to the third, where I had to give four small tubes of blood and swab samples were collected.
The samples are taken from the back of your throat and up the nostrils. The nurse, who had warned me before she would do this, had to poke the swabs up both nostrils four times. That was the most uncomfortable thing I have ever done.
The nurses, I must mention, are decked out in full-body protection, complete with gloves, face masks, face shields and gowns. They are the soldiers on the front line ready to fight this war.
While the tests were being done, I had wires attached to my chest and stomach to monitor my vitals and a needle in my left arm the entire time after the blood was given. I was essentially strapped down with limited mobility.
The staff lets you know you will not be getting COVID-19 results back that day. The flu and respiratory virus tests both came back negative.
Later, after what felt like an eternity laying in the hospital bed, another nurse came in and told me she suspected I had the virus based on my symptoms. I was ordered to self-isolate for 10 days and was prescribed Tessalon for the cough. Order your groceries, I was told; stay hydrated.
I walked out of the hospital at 7:30 p.m., five hours later. My phone had died, so I hooked it up to the charger in my car. When it had a pulse, I start texting and calling people to brief them about my experience.
My parents, who live in North Carolina, reassured me we would get through it together if the results come back positive. Mom suggested getting some soup, Dad suggested getting a thermometer to continue checking my temperature. I had two thermometers at my apartment — for meat and brewing beer — but no “me” thermometer.
On Thursday, I felt a little better. My fever had broken, but I still had a dry cough.
On Friday morning, I got the call from Tanner saying my test came back negative during our 10 a.m. planning meeting. My co-workers were the first to know. I sighed, relieved, but I still did not feel 100%.
When you read that this virus has claimed nearly 20,000 lives in the U.S. — more casualties than six wars combined — that statistic should give you some pause. Not following social distancing rules can endanger others. The death toll hit 100,000 worldwide this week.
I say all this to remind everyone to follow the shelter in place orders enacted by our government officials. The experience was nerve-wracking, to say the least.
I do not have COVID-19. But for 48 hours, I thought I could be one of the 11,859 positive cases here in the state.