I don’t know what COVID test result I want

This was first posted on Dec 3 in the middle of the storm. I’m re-posting on Dec 14 with the test results and a post-mortem update.

I am alarmingly sick this week. I am now waiting for the results of my first COVID test… and I don’t really know what I want the result to be. I’m in an odd situation: damned if I’m positive, damned if I’m negative.

A positive result would mean re-infection, because this (probably) isn’t my first COVID-like rodeo. Some weird illness really kicked my ass in April before I could get a test; now I have identical symptoms again, and it’s scary as hell.

But a negative result means that this illness is a shitty new attitude from my older chronic health problems… and that’s probably even worse. I think? 😬

Either way, I don’t like it. Heads you win, COVID, and tails I lose!

Keep scrolling for the longer version of this story, and the results and updates.

Covid the First: the April Incident was maybe probably COVID

I suffered a three brutal weeks of bizarre symptoms in April, plus several more of tedious recovery. I was so grossed out by food that I shed 12 pounds in 10 days, my most sensational symptom. But a great deal else happened. It was so strange and intense that, in retrospect, it was probably nuts not to go to a hospital.

Testing wasn’t widely available here at the time, so I did not know if it was actually COVID, and I still don’t. I will be pursuing antigen testing now that it is finally available here, but it may be too late: the immune system doesn’t always keep a detectable level of antibodies in circulation indefinitely.

COVID déjà vu: it’s all coming back to me now

Every April Incident symptom came roaring back early this week, as familiar as any old trauma. Once again, I am too queasy to eat, I’m shiveringing in hot rooms, and my heart is banging painfully against my ribs. Gravity has gotten aggressive. My chest and head throb, my legs ache, and my head swims.

I literally only “lift a finger” to work, but I’ve still ended up puddled on the floor beside my desk, panting and cursing, waiting for the sickening tide to retreat.

But no fever, no sore throat, no cough, and no shortness of breath despite the chest pain. There’s a normal amount of oxygen in my blood, I can smell peanut butter just fine, and my toes are a normal colour.

It’s all super weird. Despite good reasons to reject COVID, what the hell is a nasty battle with shivering and chest pain and appetite loss in 2020 if it’s not the !%^*@@# COVID?

What indeed. The thot plickens! (I love spoonerisms. My epitaph will be Pest in Reace on my grave. And maybe sooner than expected.)

The Usual Crap: The elephant in my diagnostic room

It could be the obvious: maybe five years of significant chronic illness just got gnarlier.

I’ve been suffering from unexplained chronic pain and malaise since 2015 — five shitty years of feeling like a fragile wreck, 20 years older than I am. Although I am not as disabled by this kind of medical mystery as some people I know, it’s pretty bad: if the average healthy person were zapped into my body, they’d start screaming like they’d been set on fire.

But I’m sadly used to it all now, a boiled frog.

The April Incident did not seem like my Usual Crap. Instead of everything I do is painful and exhausting, it was I can’t do anything at all. The transition was abrupt; I assumed I’d gone from one tamer chronic illness to a meaner new acute one.

But the transition from Usual Crap was not so abrupt this time: it was foreshadowed by an unusual escalation of my Usual Crap. After many days of skirmishes with a few of the symptoms, which just seemed like worrisome exacerbations at the time, they all rushed me at once.

A negative test result will support the case that my current illness is a new phase of an old problem. But, alas, it won’t actually confirm anything.

Diagnostic Dilemma

If it’s not COVID… then it means that my Usual Crap has grown some dangerous new fangs, a dark new power to stop me in my tracks for weeks at a time. It’s just about the worst thing I can imagine. I would rather get a cancer diagnosis, or another four years of Trump, or — yes, even this — step on a piece of Lego on the way to the loo in the night.

Which puts me in the bizarre position of gamely trying to actually prefer a positive COVID test result. Which would mean a month of waiting to see how bad it is, and then how long it’s bad. And it would also probably I’m an ominously exotic example of reinfection with SARS-CoV-2, a great reason for self-pity: FFS, why me?! (Maybe because I was already in rough shape?)

So you tell me: which COVID test result am I rooting for? I truly don’t know. Positive has the edge, I guess: COVID is a badass enemy, but I like my chances with it better than the mystery monster illness. I guess. But no happy ending seems possible.

Update: COVID test was negative (and so were all there others)

The above was a slice of life from a brief waiting-for-results-while-terribly-ill drama. Just a couple hours after publication, the negative test result came in by text message, which almost completely eliminated COVID as a consideration. Within a few days, I had the results of many basic medical tests, screening for any trace of pathology, and they were all negative as well. And yet I was extremely sick.

But only for a few days this time. As of Dec 14, I am feeling much better. I am back to “just” my usual crap. The April Incident was savage; this illness was identical in character, but relatively tamer and shorter. I feel almost normal again, though I haven’t tried to exercise yet.

Whatever happened to me both in Apr and this month, it was pretty nasty. It may have been an unfamiliar new illness superimposed on my old illness — most long-term chronic illness eventually collide with new pathology. Or it may be a new form of my old problems. In either case, it’s undiagnosed and unsettling.

It’s a bit hard to believe that such an intense illness doesn’t have some kind of biological footprint. But that is actually possible, of course, and it would be all-too typical of the larger story for me — as it is for so many other chronically ill people.

Non-respiratory COVID (because it’s interesting)

I have now had both a negative PCR test (the gargle and spit version) and a negative antigen test. Both were negative, and suspicion of COVID is down to “barely detectable” levels, but technically it hasn’t been decisively eliminated, and a sliver of clinical suspicion still remains. Why?

  1. COVID can occur without respiratory symptoms.
  2. My symptoms are a disturbingly good match for some case studies.
  3. False negatives do happen— the false negative rate is probably at least 10%, if not quite a bit more — and they may happen more with non-respiratory cases (because the virus isn’t replicating in the cells of the upper respiratory tract, which is where the sampling happens). And the timing was for the antigen test was not great: too late for the April illness, and quite possibly too early for this one.

So my feelings about this are still as mixed and weighty as the contents of a cement truck. Even though it’s a bit irrational, and probably just pandemic paranoia, I feel like I would be completely unsurprised if this nastiness somehow turned out to be COVID after all.