I Got Tested for COVID-19 and Luck May Have Had Something to Do With It
Some people think I’m very unlucky.
Others I know think I am the luckiest person alive.
And me? I couldn’t tell you if my life depended on it. Even though it has.
I study entropy for a living. Entropy is measure of the degrees of disorder or randomness in a thermodynamic system. Because of this, I accept that there is an inherent randomness to everything, but if you go in looking for a specific trend there is a high probability you will find what you want to find.
Anyway. Late last week I started feeling funny. It started with a sore throat, then my temperature started creeping up, and finally my muscles and body just felt achy. For me that’s enough to call my doctors when there isn’t a full blown pandemic, but given the current outbreak of COVID-19, I knew I had to be extra cautious. I’m lucky like that.
I messaged the doctor who manages most of my care. We message often enough that we are on emoji basis, which is something I value in my doctors but not a full-on requirement.
However, this time there wasn’t an emoji or a funny joke. This struck me by surprise. My symptoms were mild, but the first thing my doctor jumped to was COVID-19. Considering my medical unicorn status, he really wanted me to get tested. His medical center wasn’t testing patients who weren’t already hospitalized or severely ill, which was something we were desperately trying to avoid.
Luckily, I found a place willing to test me. Within a matter of hours I was being driven to my test by my social distancing buddy.
As usual, it didn’t hit me until after the swab was shoved up my nose and intimately rubbed against my sinuses what was all happening. The fear I’d held for the past few weeks was finally coming to fruition.
Luckily, within 24 hours of developing symptoms of COVID-19, I was able to get tested. I didn’t have to drive far. I didn’t have to take time off of work. I still had a job. And I knew I wouldn’t have to pay anything out of pocket. A lot of people in this country don’t have those luxuries. My newsfeed is flooded with articles about people struggling to get access to COVID-19 testing alongside the latest number of people who have filed for unemployment, which I’m not even going to drop here because it will be inaccurate by the time you are reading this.
I was tested on Friday. On Monday, I got the call that my test result had come back negative. This was fast. I’ve read reports of results taking up to two weeks due to backlogs. Despite this, my medical team cautioned against celebration, due to the possibility of a false negative. The current consensus is that the swab tests have a high degree of specificity, which means that if you test positive, it is a pretty certain that you have COVID-19. However, some studies out of China estimate the false-negative rate to be about 30 percent. In the United States, this might be even higher. Aren’t we lucky?
Regardless, I still had to fight through with whatever respiratory ailment I had, which was turning into no picnic. (Don’t worry, Mom and Dad, nothing has changed since we FaceTimed an hour ago. Dad, that means you. Do not start driving to California. I mean it, you need to social distance too.)
Growing up, I was always really close with my grandparents. One of my strongest memories as a kid is of my one grandfather, who we all referred to as Pop Pop, reading Dr. Seuss to my siblings and I. So let’s just say I know my Dr. Seuss pretty darn well. While at the time, I thought that he just liked to read (which he did), or that was just very patient (which he was) I later found out that he was reading us Dr. Seuss as a form of his own personal therapy. When we were kids, he suffered a stroke that severely impaired his speech. When he asked his doctors how to regain his speech, they gave him a referral to another, much sillier doctor. My grandfather was one of those people who always managed make a crappy situation feel like it was meant to be a fun time all along. I was lucky to know him.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, in the midst of a global pandemic, I keep thinking about a Dr. Seuss book. It’s called, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? It goes a bit like this:
“When you think things are bad,
when you feel sour and blue,
when you start to get mad…
you should do what I do!
Just tell yourself, Duckie,
you’re really quite lucky!
Some people are much more…
oh, ever so much more…
oh, muchly much-much more
unlucky than you!”
Dr. Seuss tells us the strange tale of an old man in the desert singing a song about others he knows who struggle and skirmish and squabble and so. He hints and he …OK, I’m sorry, I’ll stop. He keeps hinting at these awful situations without ever diving into the nitty-gritty.
On the surface, it seems like he’s saying, "Be thankful your life isn’t as crappy as someone else’s.” that’s not really what he is saying. It’s not a lesson in schadenfreude; it is really just a lesson in gratitude.
While we are sitting socially isolated, many of us are frustrated and angry. We’re angry at our leaders for failing to protect us against the threat of a pandemic. We’re angry at our government for failing to provide adequate supplies for both civilians and healthcare workers. And we’re angry that we are no longer feel safe and it feels like our luck has run out.
And yet, I tell myself that I am so grateful to live in a country where I can express such thoughts without fear of imprisonment or persecution. I am so grateful for the nurse who tested me for COVID-19, the people who transported my test to the testing facility, the people who processed my test, the doctors who follow up to make sure I am alive and well, and everyone else who is just involved in the day to day. And I am grateful for each breath I get to take.
I believe that everyone should have access the support and means I do. And I know not everyone does, and it is something we need to strive towards. In the meantime, I know things are bad. I know a lot of us feel sour and blue. But from where I stand, we are working toward something much-much more. And it has nothing to do with luck.