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Opinion

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Commentary

Fever in the age of coronavirus

If I’m honest, it started Sunday afternoon. I was putting away clothes in my daughter’s room at the peak of the afternoon heat, and the air conditioning was giving me chills. Monday morning I dropped my kids off at their dad’s house and went on a 2.5 mile run that felt challenging in a good way, but increasingly throughout the day I started to feel weirder and weirder, like my head was somehow being invaded by bees. Then by about 5 p.m., I was outside in the sun and got chills again.

Oh no.

I went inside and took my temperature, and there it was: 99.1.

Could be nothing. Could be just that I was outside.

But I was cold. Like, needed a blanket cold.

I waited about 15 more minutes and took my temperature again. 99.5.

And the panic started to set in.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, I would have mostly ignored this information from my body. I might have gone to sleep a little early that night, maybe had some tea, but I wouldn’t have told anyone. I would have gotten up in the morning and gone to work. I didn’t have anything else going on; I wasn’t congested, I wasn’t coughing, my throat felt normal.

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Instead, these days: Terror. Texting my mom, my sister, my friends. I post “A low-grade fever has never been more terrifying” on Facebook. I tell my ex that even if the kids decide they want to come back to my house tonight, they need to stay with him so I can rest. I woke up every two hours in a cold sweat, each time unsure if it was from anxiety or the fever.

Tuesday morning, I felt pretty much the same.

My temperature fluctuated between normal and low-grade fever all morning. I decided to take action; I scheduled a televisit through MyBanner for 2 p.m. and waited. But the televisit didn’t work; my phone number wasn’t entered correctly and the Banner system wouldn’t let me fix it. I tried TMC’s app, and got a televisit almost right away after paying $50. But the healthcare professional I spoke to told me that he couldn’t order me a COVID test through a televisit. Discouraged, I hung up and tried calling Banner’s drive-through service. They told me they were out of tests for the day, they’d be closed on Wednesday, and to try again on Thursday. Even more discouraged, I updated my post on Facebook with this new information. One of my colleagues instantly responded, telling me that she got a same-day televisit and COVID test for her husband through El Rio. So I called El Rio. They scheduled me for a televist for Wednesday.

Tuesday night, I still felt mostly fine. Wednesday morning, I felt fantastic. No fever, my energy was back. I’m fine! What a relief, I thought. But I still did the appointment. Luckily the nurse practitioner I talked to agreed with me that, given my exposure (my ex is a nurse at Banner UMC and had several COVID patients within the last 14 days), I should get a test. She ordered it, and I drove out to the El Rio clinic on Congress Street.

I’m not sure if anyone has described what getting swabbed actually feels like, but it’s not pleasant. They stick a long Q-tip all the way up your nose into your sinuses, and they have to let it sit there for 15 seconds and then turn it. It burns. It feels like your nose is bleeding. The burning sensation lasted for about an hour afterward. I do have super-sensitive sinuses, so it might just be that. But the little girl in the car next to me screamed the whole time.

Thursday I woke up feeling terrible. The fever had come back. I was tired. I was hungry but food didn’t sound appetizing. I forced myself to drink a smoothie with superfood powder in it. My chest felt a little tight — am I getting worse, or is this anxiety? Hard to tell.

Because really, the biggest thing I’m grappling with is the fear and anxiety. Honestly, I’m barely sick. Like I mentioned above, pre-pandemic, I would have gone to work and acted like I was completely fine. But now, visions of doom populate my head constantly and I can barely sleep. What if I get a whole lot sicker before I get better? What if I’m the rare healthy 41-year-old who dies? What if I’m one of those people with crazy-low oxygen saturation levels but I’m unaware of it? What if this isn’t COVID-19 and I still might catch it and die? Normally, a fever of 99.5 is not even considered a real fever, but these days, it could mean a small indicator of a much larger, potentially deadly, problem.

11 p.m. on Thursday I felt fine again. My temp was normal all evening. My energy level seemed back to normal. The anxiety and fear was a low hum instead of a high octave oscillation. I hadn’t received my results yet, and I went back and forth between hoping it’d be positive and I had a super mild case, and hoping for negative so I don’t have to worry that I’m going to get really sick tomorrow.

Friday morning, I finally got the call from El Rio: Negative.

But that result does not offer much relief. I still feel a little off. But it could be anything — even, as a friend suggested, perimenopause. Before the pandemic, if I had even consulted a medical professional about my consistent evening temperature spikes (which I wouldn’t have), that’s probably what I would be discussing instead of possible coronavirus infection.

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But here we are, where a low-grade fever has never been so terrifying.

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A New York National Guard private administers a drive-thru COVID-19 test in Brooklyn, April 20.

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