My temperature jumped six degrees in about three hours. I knew in my gut that I had COVID-19. I had become one of the more than 820,000-plus Americans with the Coronavirus. Even after working in the healthcare community for nearly 20 years, my wife and I scrambled to see what action I needed to take: Quarantine and wait it out, or go to the ER?
We elected to wait out the night and attack it with Tylenol as I slept most of the night on my stomach to reduce any stress on my lungs. The day before, I had read an article about how doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital and Long Island Jewish Hospital in New York were turning patients on their stomachs to reduce respiratory complications (because most of the air capacity in our lungs is toward our backs).
I woke the next morning with some chest tightness and after having a telemedicine appointment, it was decided I would go into my local doctor’s office for a COVID-19 test and evaluation. That led to a positive diagnosis. That morning played out like a science fiction movie; I was the only patient on the floor surrounded by specialists in personal protective equipment. The day evolved into a scary afternoon when I went in for a chest CT scan to make sure I wasn’t developing a pulmonary embolism as a result of the virus.
As I lay on the CT scan bench, all I could think about is what if I was a prostate cancer patient going through this ordeal? Having to fight cancer is frightening and uncertain enough, but managing the disease during a pandemic must be paralyzing.
Fortunately, I’m on the mend and my symptoms are not as bad as many others. My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones, continue to fight for their lives, and to all the doctors, nurses, medical professionals, and essential workers who put themselves in harm’s way for all of us every day.
To all of you reading this, this crisis won’t last forever and you are not alone. We’re separate now but together. In the coming weeks and months, I’m sure we will be back among each other’s presence and able to finally share a hug and a smile.
Until then, here are the five things I’ve I learned as a COVID-19 patient:
- Shaming is Prevalent. Within two hours of making my diagnosis public, I had more than half a dozen people share with me they also had COVID but had either been verbally abused or were afraid to get a Scarlet Letter-esque treatment for doing something irresponsible to catch the virus. This is sad and makes isolation even worse. I’ve been a germaphobe since the outbreak began, and my family has been having a hand-washing competition every day to make sure to stay well and safe. I’ve only left the house four times during the last three weeks to get groceries and do a pharmacy drive-through pick up. This proves that despite my vigilance and relative health, anyone can catch the virus. However, not every case is serious and listening to your medical team and making informed decisions can dramatically improve your outcome.
- Don’t Go to the ER Unless it’s Absolutely Necessary. Unless you’re having difficulty breathing — like not being able to finish a sentence or walk across the room without gasping for air — don’t go to the ER. Call your doctor and make a plan. As you can imagine, ERs are over-taxed and you can actually make mild or moderate symptoms worse by waiting to be seen. This is especially so for patients who are immunocompromised. Here’s a good AI site I used to help determine what action to take: https://www.buoyhealth.com. Even a patient over 60 who has had chemotherapy recently without respiratory issues will be asked to call their doctor to make a plan.
- Predicting Future Serious Cases. It’s still extremely difficult to test so many people and get complete blood panels done quickly. I’ve heard stories of people having to wait two weeks or more for a test. I only got one so quickly because I have an underlying blood issue. To battle the need for tests and the taxing impact on labs, many academic hospitals are running blood panels that hint at if the body is inflamed which is an early indicator for oncoming respiratory problems. If you don’t have this issue or these blood tests (like high ferritin, D-Dimer, and generalized reactive protein) are normal, doctors want patients resting and hydrating at home.
- This Could be Longer than Two Weeks. There are growing evidence and debates within hospitals around the globe that patients may be shedding the virus for months and not just the two weeks that have previously been reported. It’s an undecided topic and one that may not end up being true but it’s enough of an issue to cause debate among doctors and virologists.
- Test accuracy. If you’re having symptoms, chances are you have COVID-19 or a similar illness, such as the flu. Self-isolate and take care of yourself. The tests have a high false-negative rate between 30 and 40 percent and some medical professionals – despite best intentions – struggle with getting a proper sample for testing. This means at least one in three patients with COVID may be getting told they don’t have the virus and sent back into the public. Rushing out to get a test to confirm your symptoms isn’t always worth it because the test may not be accurate and the directions on how to take care of yourself won’t change.
As you can imagine, many urology practices and oncology sites are also managing social distancing to keep patients safe. If you’re a prostate cancer patients and concerned about COVID-19 or having symptoms, ZERO has resources for you at zerocancer.org/coronavirus and we have a special effort called the ZERO COVID-19 Support Fund that supports our ZERO360 program which helps prostate cancer patients get the treatment and support they need despite the impacts of the virus.
Prostate cancer patients are counting on YOU! Right now, every donation – no matter how small – helps this critical program. Thanks to a group of generous supporters, every dollar will be matched up to $100,000 to double the impact for a patient fighting prostate cancer during this critical time. Click here to donate and help save lives.