Fever Dream

Baltimore magazine|June/July 2020

Fever Dream
I had COVID-19. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
CARA OBER

I wake up with a fever of 102 in the middle of a global pandemic. The first thing I should do, of course, is get tested for coronavirus. Not just for me, but everyone I have been in contact with recently—my husband, son, parents, and co-workers—but this doesn’t happen. My initial symptoms are insignificant. A few days earlier, on March 13, my head felt warm and buzzy, but perhaps I’m being paranoid? Maryland has just closed schools and encouraged people to stay at home and to social distance, and my son and I take walks around the neighborhood with our dogs. By Sunday March 15, I feel strange, but not terrible. I suspect a fever but none of our thermometers are working, so my husband orders batteries from Amazon, because there are no thermometers in stock at any of the drugstores near my house. I spend an hour combing through our bathroom closet, throwing away dozens of expired medications.

On Monday, the batteries have arrived. I officially have a fever of 102. I shiver, sweat, and ache in every bone and joint. I have no appetite, no sense of taste or smell. I am so tired I stay in bed all day. The only escape from this misery is sleep. I call my primary care physician who asks if I have been out of the country within two weeks (I haven’t) and if I have come into contact with anyone who had tested positive (nope). He asks if I have a sore throat, cough, or shortness of breath, then the primary symptoms of coronavirus besides a high fever. (I do not.) I ask if I can get a COVID-19 test and am shocked to learn that I do not qualify.

In the middle of an exponentially expanding outbreak, when thousands are dying daily, and the only tool we have to track and contain this virus is a test, a person with a 102-degree fever does not qualify? What kind of absurd, dark comedy am I living in? My doctor’s instructions are to stay home, hydrate, take Tylenol for the fever, and rest. He says to call him if my current symptoms worsen, or if I develop respiratory issues.

My husband moves into the guest room and forces me to drink Pedialyte several times a day, which is disgusting, but I can’t taste it anyway. I sleep for several days, rarely getting up, and when I’m awake, I read articles about the virus and our government’s lack of a coherent response that infuriate and terrify me. I think I’m getting worse, I tell my husband. He tells me to stop reading the news.

I didn’t know then that COVID-19 symptoms fluctuate wildly, that there will be periods where I feel almost normal and want to eat actual food or spend time out of bed, potentially infecting my family. Over and over I think, finally, the worst is over, only to have the fever return.

My husband and son have no symptoms, so we assume that I have the regular flu, an unfortunate coincidence, since both of them had gotten flu shots and I didn’t. After a nasty few days, it seems I am on the mend. On Wednesday, March 18, I read a novel and watch a movie with my family, sitting a few feet away from them. But that night, I feel a pinching in my lungs, a dry cough when I try to inhale, as if someone had tightened a belt around my chest. I can’t take a full breath.

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June/July 2020