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Don’t take your breath for granted: A COVID experience

Last Word | October 7th, 2020

By Sabrina Hornung 

sabrina@hpr1.com

It’s been a weird year…talk about the understatement of the decade. This week’s issue of High Plains Reader is our first issue since March. Who would have thought that the story of the century would be the one that would knock us out for over six months?

2020 was going to be my year I toasted my friends on New Year’s eve with the cheer “Here’s to 2020 vision.” Now I’m finding that 2020 vision wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be-- there has to be a silver lining somewhere. Though life, as we know it, has changed, we’ve managed to find ways to adapt so we can continue to connect. I mean, we have to, right?

This summer my friend and I went camping in western North Dakota. We hit a few hotspots on our way back, and naturally one of them was a prairie graveyard along the Enchanted Highway. You can learn a lot about an area by visiting a graveyard. You’ll see what ethnic groups settled in the area, if you’re lucky you might see some interesting folk art serving as grave markers. And you’ll see what years were plague years. The latter hit especially hard as we realized that nearly half of the graveyard were those who suffered during our last great pandemic, almost exactly 100 years ago.

It was one of the most poignant moments of the summer, especially after we came back to find my friend, with whom I had shared close quarters, test positive for COVID. I soon realized that my recently acquired sore throat, sniffles, and lingering dull headache were not symptoms of a summer cold or seasonal allergies after all.

Naturally, once I got the call from contact tracing, I had to take a day to cry, feel sorry for myself, and debate on whether or not I should start writing my own obituary -- which may have been a tad overdramatic, but I digress.

Once the weekend was over and I was able to form rational thoughts, I decided to take the next step and try to track down a test in my hometown. It was like pulling teeth. In fact, it was easier to get a tooth pulled in Jamestown because those services are actually accessible when you need them.

In July, when you googled "COVID testing in Jamestown ND" two locations popped up and at that time there had been only one mass testing event since March. Thankfully testing has gotten more accessible as our state has become more and more of a hot spot. I can’t imagine how overwhelmed the county health offices are in more rural counties, especially as we enter flu season.

To be clear, every place that I called I stated specifically that I had come in close contact with someone who tested positive and I was showing symptoms. I told the receptionist my story and was told that they only offered testing on Fridays, even if you've been in contact and even if you were showing symptoms. I was then offered a cell number for one of the nurses. I asked where else I could secure a test and was told I could call the clinic downtown.

I called the clinic and spoke to the receptionist there and she asked me a number of questions and I'm not going to lie: I almost saw a beacon of hope in the distance. She told me that a nurse would be calling me shortly and that we would get things figured out. I got a call a couple of hours later and spoke to the nurse.

We went over my symptoms. I restated that I had been in close contact with someone who tested positive and after all that, I was told that I needed to wait a week before I got my test—1. I was three days shy of a week at that point and 2. Apparently, no one wants to take COVID seriously unless you show a fever. I never had a fever, my friend never had a fever and according to Laura at contact tracing, a lot of people who have tested positive were not experiencing a fever. By that point, it had been a week since I was in contact with the person but still, I was unable to get a test, unless I was a healthcare provider and I was told then I could get one "no problem."

Though the nurse at the clinic was the most helpful in my COVID testing journey, she did not tell me of any other place in town that offered testing in the area.

I went on to call Barnes County Health and they were only doing limited testing on Wednesdays due to limited tests and resources. Foster County Public health flat out told me they weren't doing testing and that I should call the clinic. My new friend at contact tracing told me of one place in Fargo that was doing FREE testing, in addition to that the Fargo Public Health Clinic provides free COVID tests.

Needless to say, I packed up my cute little mask and headed east. Fortunately, I had a full tank of diesel so I didn't have to make any stops. The worst part about thinking you have COVID is the thought of running into others and thinking that there's a chance that you could transfer the virus unto them. I made it to the big city without incident and two days later, lo and behold, my test came out positive.

I was fortunate to have had mild symptoms but even then it was hard to breathe, which is dizzying. Since I had COVID my asthma has gotten worse. I have an inhaler now; prior to this, I hadn’t used one for close to 15 years. I had a great realization of how I had taken breathing for granted up until that point. I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t breathe, my anxiety was through the roof thinking about the possibility of a hospital bill. My heart rate had increased greatly. I could see how the virus could take someone out with preexisting conditions or weakened immune systems. Your lungs can fill up with fluid, leaving you more susceptible to pneumonia.

Anything you have going on that’s not good gets much worse.

One part of the COVID conversation that’s not really touched upon is the lingering aftereffects, the chronic fatigue, and the horrible bouts of depression that come with it. It’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. What can be done to prevent it? Be a good neighbor and wear a mask, wash your hands, avoid large gatherings, take your vitamins, and stay home if you’re sick.

As far as silver linings, I love the art and level of creativity that emerged from this darkness, whether it was musicians hosting live streams of their music, theatre folks doing their thing, historian friends hosting lectures, or visual artists zoning in on their craft. I certainly did, I tried to treat my downtime like an artist residency. 2020 has been a challenging year and it’s been a lonely year, but it hasn’t been my worst year. 

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