This is the first entry in the Perspective series, a collection of interviews detailing people's experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic.
As COVID-19 spreads at higher than expected rates from country to country, it is similarly taking over the media. News segments, articles, tweets, even memes, are falling victim to this infectious virus. But what few pieces of media have done is, for lack of a better word, “humanize” this disease and explore the lives and experiences of the people directly affected by it. We often take our health for granted, but what happens when we fear we may not be as immune as we think we are?
“It felt like asthma,” says John E., a young adult in his early twenties, who feared he had fallen victim to the ubiquitous virus. “Paranoia was setting in.”
It all started within the past month when he discovered he had a sore throat, dry cough, a runny nose, and fatigue, all symptoms recognized by the government of Canada and health professionals as indicative of COVID-19.
It was in the middle of the workweek too, adding to John’s anxiety about valuing his career over his health. But taking in the warnings of the medical community, the news outlets, and fallouts of countries such as China and Italy, John decided it best he stay home.
“[Work] said it was okay [to stay home], better to be safe than sorry,” he reports, appreciating his management’s support.
He practiced self-isolation before it became a public service announcement, worried he might infect those around him. Once the symptoms subsided after 2-3 days, John assumed he was in the clear.
“I felt 99% okay,” he says incredulously.
He was sure he didn’t have the coronavirus. After all, the virus is an evolved strand of the common cold with similar symptoms, though the former has more severe effects. As far as he was concerned, it was nothing more than that. A temporary cold that we’ve all had at least once in our lifetimes. John resumed his daily routine the next day and headed back to work.
During his shift, he felt his energy levels drop almost instantly. Something was wrong. The sore throat, dry cough, fatigue, they had returned.
“They got worse,” he recalls, unsure of his next steps. He focused his efforts on learning more about the issue, consuming as many informative articles on COVID-19 as he could. John decided it best to take cautionary measures as he reached out to his employer and gave notice that he would be taking a week-long leave of absence. Management reciprocated, having kept up with the news themselves and prioritizing their business and employees’ safety.
As the week started to pass, John’s symptoms slowly followed lead.
“I was feeling better,” he says, though he acknowledged a lingering cough. “[But] the manager recommended I get tested.”
He took the valuable free advice and headed to St. Michael’s Hospital in Downtown Toronto, unsure of what his COVID-19 status would be. It had been only one day for the symptoms to return the last time and he felt entitled to a medically definitive result to treat the persistent reoccurrence.
He headed to the reception for the best course of action to take, only to be referred to the emergency room. This further amplified the seriousness of the situation, seeing as how John had merely mentioned his symptoms and was now being consulted by an emergency physician.
The examination process itself was quite straightforward and there was a lack of expected tension when John was being questioned by the nurses on call.
After a few more inquiries, they checked his blood pressure, observed his oxygen level, took his temperature, and provided him with a medical face mask. He felt a little intimidated as the nurses appeared to be “hesitant” to interact with him, though he doesn’t blame them. He would probably be just as precautious if the roles were reversed. A doctor was then administered to go through the same questionnaire to confirm the results. Soon after, he was informed to wait in the ER lobby, which lasted 20-30 minutes before he was invited back in. What awaited him was not something he had expected.
“A long, flexible swab,” he describes the device, which came as part of a test kit.
Medically referred to as a nasopharyngeal swab, the stick is used to derive nasal secretions to send for testing for the COVID-19 virus. The swab was inserted into his nostril and was pushed all the way to the back of his throat.
“I felt like I was drowning,” says John as he remembers the pain.
Fortunately, it only lasted five seconds before they pulled it out and meticulously sealed it in a bag. He was then told that he was good to leave, with the nurses providing him another medical face mask and a paper of instructions detailing preventative measures he should take (such as social distancing, hand-washing, face protection, etc.)
John implemented the information as soon as he left the hospital, taking an Uber home to avoid potentially infecting a large group of people by taking transit. Once in self-isolation, the waiting game began. About 72 hours later, the hospital informed him via email that he tested negative for COVID-19.
Personal information such as name, date, age, and place of work has been changed, abbreviated, generalized, or removed for privacy reasons.