Updated April 29, 2020 - 8:13 am
I picked up an avocado at Trader Joe’s and gave it a firm squeeze. It wasn’t ripe yet.
I put it down and moved on to the next one.
Four days later, I ended up in the emergency room at MountainView Hospital after waking up with COVID-19 symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the incubation period for the novel coronavirus is anywhere from two days to two weeks.
I sat in a chair for a long time at the hospital, waiting to get a chest X-ray and my blood drawn. My head was throbbing, my entire body aching, and I couldn’t stop coughing. I was nervous. I hate needles.
While I waited, my mind wandered.
Did I already have the virus during that routine Sunday morning trip to the grocery store? Who ended up taking home the produce I touched? Who used my shopping cart after I put it away? Did I get too close to someone by mistake in the frozen food section?
It has been nearly three weeks since the onset of my symptoms and about two since I tested positive for the respiratory illness. I have spent that time quarantined at home, grappling with the guilt of how many people I might have unknowingly infected in the days leading up to my ER visit.
I thought I was being careful. By then, I’d been working remotely for a month, since March 10, when I was sent home to self-quarantine for the first time after potential exposure to COVID-19 during a four-day journalism conference in New Orleans.
But just how careful can you be when you don’t know that you’re infected?
Take my partner, a resident physician who works at a hospital in Las Vegas, for example. He ended up testing positive for the virus but was asymptomatic.
We think he brought the virus home from work and infected me. But by the time I got sick, who knows how long he had already been a carrier? Because the thing is, if I hadn’t ended up in the emergency room earlier this month, he might not have gotten tested.
And he would have continued to go to work and treat his neurology patients.
In the Las Vegas Review-Journal newsroom, I sit next to Mary Hynes, the newspaper’s health reporter.
Since getting sick, I’ve thought a lot about a conversation I had with Mary and another reporter in the newsroom in January or February, long before the COVID-19 outbreak had ramped up in Nevada and across the country.
Mary had just gotten off the phone with a COVID-19 source. Our colleague stood up from his desk and asked Mary, “So how seriously should we be taking this?”
I chimed in: “Yeah, how scared should I be? I’m not that worried because I figure either way, if I get it, I’ll survive anyway.”
“I’ll survive anyway.” How could I be so selfish and ignorant?
Even with a career like mine, where my job as a reporter is to be informed, I guess it’s still easy to think only about yourself when you aren’t in the high-risk population, defined by the CDC as those 65 or older or individuals with underlying medical conditions.
I’m in my mid-20s, active and healthy, though I have mild intermittent asthma. I go to pilates classes during the week, do yoga, rock climb. In January, I started taking figure skating lessons.
So, yes, I’ve recovered from the virus. But that doesn’t mean the recovery was easy.
The illness kept me away from work for more than two weeks.
I’ve heard before that the virus feels like a “bad flu,” but for me, it was like hell. It happened quickly, my symptoms coming on overnight.
The evening before I went to the ER, I ran 2 miles. I felt great. But by early the next morning I was feverish and weak, and had developed a deep cough.
After my fever spiked to 103 degrees later that morning, I had a telehealth consultation with a registered nurse over the phone. I explained my symptoms, and the nurse told me to go to the hospital “within the hour.”
Though the virus came on suddenly, the recovery was slow. And two weeks at home without work to keep you busy is a lot of time to sit with your own thoughts and guilt about the possibility of inadvertently fueling a pandemic.
If you’d asked me in March what I’d do first when Gov. Steve Sisolak’s stay-at-home order was lifted, I would have told you I’d go to a bar with friends or go to the gym. But as states around the country slowly begin to roll back on their shutdown orders, I think I’ll stay at home a few more weeks.