Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Michael Simms: On my recent experience with Covid (maybe)

Yesterday afternoon when I got home from the hospital and booted my computer, I was overwhelmed by the thousands of people who sent me messages of love and encouragement after my recent health scare. Thank you! Since many people have asked for details, I’ll share what happened — as best I can. 

I’ve been suffering for a few weeks from symptoms typical of an infection from Covid-19, but when I was tested two weeks ago, the results were negative. However, knowing that the tests for Covid are highly unreliable with false negative rates of anywhere from 15% to 30% and even higher for people like me in high-risk groups, I suspected that my test result was a false negative. Then, on Thursday last week, my symptoms became much worse with a spike in fever and a closing of my bronchial tube. The Albuterol which I had been using was ineffective, and I could not breathe. I called 911, but couldn’t speak, so my wife Eva told the operator what was happening, and an ambulance was dispatched. First responders arrived within minutes and gave me oxygen, which probably saved my life.  I was taken to Mercy Hospital, not far from our house. After about two hours in the emergency ward, I was assigned a private room in the Covid ward. 

Thursday night was rough. Although the details are vague, I remember I was given oxygen, and my continuous dry cough exhausted me. Sometime in the middle of the night, my body seized up. The muscles in my legs, back and abdomen cramped painfully, and the nurse gave me something through the intravenous tube that relaxed the muscles and allowed me to sleep.

Friday was easier. Drugs controlled my fever, kept my air passages clear and eased the coughing. The muscle cramping was less severe. I was given another Covid test which also came back negative. Since I showed all the symptoms of Covid infection, the results of the test seemed to baffle the professionals. Finally, they decided that I had an unknown virus which had exacerbated the asthma which I’ve had for many years and wrote on my chart the vague diagnosis “Viral infection. Asthma.” Privately, one of the nurses said to me that the Covid tests are highly unreliable, and the medical staff was assuming that I was infected with Covid, but for some reason it wasn’t showing up in the lab tests.

On Saturday, I was released with instructions to treat the symptoms and to practice social distancing. At home now, I’m taking Albuterol to keep my air passageways open; Benzonatate to control coughing; a steroid puffer to help heal the bronchial tube, and Tylenol to reduce temperature. Today is Sunday, my first full day at home. I am working at my computer, and the symptoms of the infection (whatever it is) are manageable, but I’m still not well. Writing this post, I’ve been interrupted repeatedly by uncontrollable coughing.

I was extremely impressed by the brave staff at Mercy Hospital. Risking their lives by heroically working 12-hour shifts, the nurses and techs were diligent, professional, and caring. The janitors, cooks, and orderlies were helpful and friendly. Frankly, I didn’t see much of the doctors, mainly just hearing about their instructions from the nurses, but I assume they are putting in long hours as well. 

One of the strangest things about staying for 48 hours in a hospital bed in the Covid Ward was that during that entire time no one touched me except to perform procedures. I was poked, prodded and inspected, but no one touched me in affection. Except once. Late Friday night, a nurse named Mary came in to check on me and stood beside the bed. She said it was a slow night, and so we began to talk. Although she was 30 years younger than I am, we had a surprising amount in common. We talked about our families, our marriages, our careers, our fear of Covid… It was one of the most intimate conversations I’ve ever had. And as Mary left my bedside, she patted her gloved hand on the back of my hand, which had an IV needle sticking out of it. So hungry was I for human contact, her touch felt almost electric. I will never forget it.

Despite my high regard for the medical staff at Mercy, I have to say that dealing with the bureaucracy was frustrating; for example, on Saturday it took 9 hours from the time the head nurse told me I could go home to the time I signed the final releases and was wheeled out the front door. I can’t help but wonder whether the efficiency of the hospital could be improved by having fewer administrators, but I’m not an expert in healthcare management, so I could be wrong.

As for my diagnosis… maybe I have a Covid infection, or maybe I have a different virus. But as one physician’s assistant at the hospital told me, in terms of my treatment plan, it doesn’t make any difference because all viral infections are treated in the same way. Since there are no cures for viral infection, the best we can do is to treat the symptoms. 

On the other hand, in terms of public policy, the unreliability of the Covid tests presents a serious problem, casting into doubt almost all of the statistics that health care providers, politicians and the general public rely on to make decisions. According to the CDC, as of today there have been 1,347,411 confirmed cases of Covid reported in the United States, but if there is a high rate of false negatives, then we have to assume that the actual number of cases is much higher. And if you consider that there are undoubtedly many people who are asymptomatic, or have only mild symptoms, or have dangerous symptoms but cannot afford to go to the hospital, then these figures become completely meaningless. In other words, the people who have to make decisions about when we can go back to our jobs and where healthcare resources should be allocated are working in the dark. Also, there is a legitimate fear that many front-line health providers, such as nurses and first responders, may be spreading the disease without knowing it. This lack of information available to decision-makers and healthcare workers almost ensures repeated outbreaks of Covid in the future. 

So, my experience over the last few days has made me afraid for our country, but on a personal level, it’s become clear that I have a lot to be grateful for. Eva and I live in the city of Pittsburgh, and the first responders who saved my life were stationed within walking distance of my house. If they had taken ten minutes to respond to the emergency call, rather than three minutes, I would certainly have died of asphyxiation. Also, through my wife’s job, I have excellent health insurance which allowed me to be admitted into a world-class teaching hospital where I received treatment from dedicated, highly skilled professionals. And now, sliding back into what passes these days for normal life, I realize that I am blessed with family, friends and colleagues who care about me.

I’m grateful for my good luck and for the profound love directed at me. As my dear friend the poet Richard St. John wrote to me today upon hearing of my small ordeal:

Go forth into the messy world…keep on creating…and be well!


Copyright 2020 Michael Simms

Michael Simms is the founder and editor of Vox Populi.

56 comments on “Michael Simms: On my recent experience with Covid (maybe)

  1. melbaburns
    May 21, 2020

    Hello Michael, I was very moved by your story. Thank you for writing it. And for creating this site. I think I’d like to participate sometime because I’m a writer and have many essays and poems to contribute. Wishing you all the best with full healing. Sincerely, Melba

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Deborah DeNicola
    May 14, 2020

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Michael. Sending you light and blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rio
    May 11, 2020

    I don’t know how people in the States are coping. I am only glad that I live in Canada and that at least this has shut up anyone here who is stupid enough to think that universal health care is a waste of money. Get well. Stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Gospel Isosceles
    May 11, 2020

    Great to hear, Michael — of your slow but sure recovery, and also of your gratitude.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Stroke Survivor UK
    May 11, 2020

    Reblogged this on Mister Bump and commented:

    I was led to this post by msfadeli over at tao-talk.com. I’m kinda lucky in that I have cocooned myself in, and the pox hasn’t touched me personally. me or anyone I know. I see stuff on TV but the stories very seldom vover how the virus *feels*. I figure there might be some people who are as ill-informed as I am, and this post is from a US survivor. He is also very scathing about the political governance of it all. I suspect a lot of it applies equally to the UK.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Carole Shanahan
    May 11, 2020

    Hi Mike, did not know about your illness until Yesterday. Keep getting better and hope to see you on the other side of this pandemic. Carole S

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Catwoods
    May 10, 2020

    I’m so glad you are now home and recovering! Many hopes and wishes for a complete recovery.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Claudia Nolan
    May 10, 2020

    So splendid to have you back in your own home, so much left to do. A million blessings returning to you from all those you have sent. And thank god for Eva! Be well.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Janell Hinton
    May 10, 2020

    Thanks for sharing this with us Michael. So happy for the positive outcome! ❤ Rest up…

    Liked by 2 people

  10. thelmadonna
    May 10, 2020

    So glad you’re home and—hopefully—on the road back to good health! Stay strong!

    Best, Beth Spencer

    >

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Daniel Burston
    May 10, 2020

    Dear Michael,

    Thank goodness you’re home and recovering. Please take it slowly. Your services are needed. ( “Make haste slowly”, as they used to say.)

    Patricia Nugent put it well. Your reflection on your recent hospitalization is a vivid reminder that we have much to worry about, and yet so much to be thankful for.

    Wishing you strength and solace in these strange times.

    Dan

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Barbara Huntington
    May 10, 2020

    Please don’t tire yourself. We love you and. Vox Populi provides sanity in an insane world. Wishing you a speedy recovery, Barb

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Joe Ahearn
    May 10, 2020

    Dear Michael,

    I didn’t know you were sick. I’m really glad the first responders and hospital staff pulled you through. You are a blessing in the world. Take it easy and heal up.

    Best,
    Joe Ahearn

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      May 10, 2020

      Thank you, Joe! I often remember fondly our conversations in Dallas in the mid 80’s. You were a good sponsor!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joe Ahearn
        May 10, 2020

        I owe so much to you for showing me a path then. I remember those days with great fondness. Get well, my friend.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Patty Ahlbrandt
    May 10, 2020

    Hi Michael. I am so glad you survived what sounds like an absolute nightmare. Take care of yourself and I hope our paths will cross some day when I’m in Pittsburgh.
    🙏 Patty

    Liked by 1 person

  15. msjadeli
    May 10, 2020

    I’m glad you’re ok, and I really appreciate you sharing your experience with the world. Do you mind if I re-blog your post? People need to understand that this Covid-19 is far from over, and we don’t have a handle on it in the US at all.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Mike
    May 10, 2020

    Looking good, Michael. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. susansailer
    May 10, 2020

    I’m so grateful, Michael, that you’re home again and most probably have passed through the worst of the virus, whatever it is. Thanks for letting your readers know.

    Warmly, Susan Sailer

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Tia
    May 10, 2020

    Sending Pittsburgh love! Rest! We need you in this world. 🙏🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Charles Davidson
    May 10, 2020

    So much life, so little time to live it, so much to value of each day, including you! Thank you for all that you are and all that you do. The world needs you still, and so do we, with gratitude.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Patricia A. Nugent
    May 10, 2020

    Yikes. What a scary ordeal! So much to worry about and be grateful for all at the same time. A first-hand case study such as this is as instructive as anything official we may read. Thanks for sharing and so grateful for your recovering status. Any idea how it may have entered your body in the first place? That seems to remain a moving target as well. Be well surrounded by healing energy.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Jane Miller
    May 10, 2020

    Dear Michael,
    I am so grateful you are here.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. James Turnbull
    May 10, 2020

    Thank you for this. I hope we can get together again soon.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      May 10, 2020

      Thanks, Jim. When this quarantine ends, let’s get together for lunch and a meeting!

      Like

  23. glen brown
    May 10, 2020

    Michael,

    I am glad you are back home and feeling better! May I post your letter on my blog?

    Glen Brown

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Adrian Rice
    May 10, 2020

    Great news!!!!! Stay well, big man xox Warmest, Adrian

    Liked by 1 person

  25. John Tovar
    May 10, 2020

    We are sorry that you caught the virus and are happy to know that you returned home.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. wjastore
    May 10, 2020

    So glad to hear you’re doing better! Thanks, Michael, for everything that you do.

    Like

  27. Beth Peyton
    May 10, 2020

    Good you’re back home and on the mend, Michael. My sister in Wisconsin has had the same experience. Two negative tests, but all of the symptoms you’re describing. She has had several relapses. Good days, and then symptoms again. She did not get as short of breath as you, but says that it’s hard to walk across a room without getting winded. She had chills and fever and headache, and the kind of muscle pain that you describe. She had it in her legs, and next time it happened in an arm. Very weird. The tests aren’t good. I’ve heard that if you don’t time them right, they don’t work. WE need to keep sharing this stuff so people can’t continue the “fake news” rant. So, thank you…

    Liked by 1 person

  28. allisonfine
    May 10, 2020

    Michael:
    I love Vox Populii –I love seeing it in my in-box daily and enjoy the many terrific selections you make. And I want to say you look terrific in these pictures! I am in the high risk group as well. I am so glad you are better. It sounds as if your medical care was pretty amazing. It is a long process to get better but you have the support of all of us, your readers, and your close-by family and friends. Glad to have you back!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      May 10, 2020

      Thank you, Alison. I value your comments on the posts — always smart and spot on.

      Liked by 1 person

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