Fortunately, we live in a day and age in which medical help is just a phone call or email away.
By Patricia Billinger, Colorado Department of Public Safety | April 3, 2020
When the fatigue hit, it felt like my head was dipped in wet concrete. Everything was slow and heavy: my thoughts dragged, words failed me, my head and neck and back ached. I had been working in the state’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center for nearly two weeks. The fast-paced days, late nights, and high stress as COVID-19 cases rapidly increased across our state had taken their toll.
I’ve deployed to many local and national disasters over the course of my career, from Hurricane Sandy to Colorado’s 2013 floods. I’m familiar with the fatigue that sets in after a couple of weeks of high-stress, 12-hour days. But this was different. The next morning, I stayed home sick. I had developed a dry cough. And since we were dealing with a pandemic instead of a tornado or hurricane, I followed the advice that we have been telling the public:
"If you are sick, stay home and isolate yourself. Don’t wait to confirm whether you have COVID-19 to take steps to protect others."
Fortunately, we live in a day and age in which medical help is just a phone call or email away. I have health insurance through Kaiser Permanente. They provide telehealth as part of their normal suite of patient services. Late that night, worried by my worsening cough and the tightness in my chest, I logged into my secure account and messaged my doctor’s office. I asked about my symptoms and what I should do. When I checked the next morning, I already had a response waiting for me.
If you’re not familiar with telehealth, it’s a convenient way to quickly get medical advice from doctors and nurses by using phone calls, secure online portals, or e-mail. Some doctors can even video chat with you. Using telehealth, a doctor can assess you, give you a treatment plan that fits your needs, recommend you for COVID-19 testing if needed, or prescribe medication.
It’s the perfect option for those of us who only have mild symptoms. Even though our symptoms could be caused by something as minor as a cold or allergies, it’s still scary to not know. In addition to connecting with a doctor to get helpful information, telehealth is great because:
- It can reduce your risk of getting sick by limiting your exposure to others.
- It can help you get medical advice faster.
- By using telehealth, you help keep hospital resources available for people who are seriously ill.
- You are also potentially limiting the spread of COVID-19 in your community by staying home instead of going into a health care facility.
If your primary care physician doesn’t offer telehealth, you don’t have a primary care physician, or you don’t have insurance, you can call a nurseline. Check out this directory of telehealth services and nurselines.
In my case, the doctor looked up my health history and advised me what to do. I’m 43, healthy, and have no history of respiratory issues or underlying health conditions like diabetes. So she told me what I expected to hear: Like a cold, there is no treatment for COVID-19 other than letting your immune system do its work while taking care of yourself to ease the symptoms. Take over-the-counter cold/cough medicine, get lots of rest, drink lots of fluids. Monitor your symptoms, and if your shortness of breath gets worse, contact us again. Isolate yourself at home, and take steps to keep members of your household safe.
Because I’m healthy and not at high risk for complications, a test wasn’t recommended. Due to limited supplies of testing kits and personal protective equipment, most health care facilities are prioritizing testing for the people who need it the most:
- health care workers with symptoms
- people who are hospitalized who have symptoms
- and people with symptoms who are vulnerable or at high-risk (the elderly, people with existing respiratory issues or underlying illnesses).
So, I hunkered down in my house to wait it out until my symptoms disappeared. I’m fortunate to have the type of job and the access to technology that allow me to work from home, right from my kitchen. There is no shortage of food in our home thanks to the many options for grocery and restaurant delivery and take-out. My husband does the shopping so that I don’t interact with others. Out of caution, he makes sure to stay at least six feet away from others, washes his hands often, and even wipes down the credit card before handing it over to pay for something.
It was unsettling for my coworkers to learn that I had symptoms but couldn’t tell them for sure whether it was COVID-19 or just a cold or seasonal allergies.
But by self-isolating as soon as I had any symptoms, the likelihood of them being exposed to any germs was reduced. Whether this all turns out to be a false alarm or a real brush with COVID-19, what matters most is looking out for the well-being of my coworkers, family members, friends, and the people I normally interact within my neighborhood.
Social distancing and self-isolating when we are sick should be our norm, not the exception. Whether it’s a cold, the flu, COVID-19, or any other contagious infection, the kind and courteous thing to do is to stay away from other people so that they don’t get sick, too.