I was finishing my Saturday workout when my ex-boyfriend texted: "Omg, I'm feeling warm and weak."
Ray, who was out car shopping, was staying with me for a few days in Dallas before he moved to Little Rock, Arkansas.
I called him: "Meet me at the apartment. Don't stop for anything. We'll take your temperature and figure out what to do next," I said in the softest whisper I could manage so as not to alert my fellow health enthusiasts at my downtown gym.
Within the hour, I watched Ray's temperature climb to 100.7 degrees. He shook under the sheets in my bed, burning and freezing simultaneously.
At that moment on July 11, everything I had reported about the coronavirus pandemic since March for The Dallas Morning News came rushing back to me: the data, the politics, the nurses, the disenfranchised, the survivors.
The virus — smaller than a speck of dust — and everything it brought with it was now in my one-bedroom apartment.
What little distance I was able to put between me and the all-consuming story disappeared.
We immediately set out to find Ray a COVID-19 test. But it would take nearly a week and seven different attempts to get answers.
First, Ray was tested at a CVS in North Dallas near White Rock Lake. The pharmacy employee told him results would take up to 10 days. The national backlog that had plagued federally run public testing sites was now crippling the private market.
Anxious and in need of a test myself, we decided to go to the University of Dallas site run by the city and county of Dallas that was promising results in about two days.
After Ray spent the weekend battling a fever, body aches and chills, we headed to Irving where we waited more than four hours in my car only to have our nose canals violently attacked by what looked like a massive cue tip.
While COVID-19 hit Ray swiftly, it was slower to strike me.
By the time we were tested that July 13 morning, my temperature was still normal. But there was growing pressure around my chest and I was more tired than normal. It wasn't bad, but it would get worse.
For the next two days, Ray and I stared at our phones waiting for a text message or email with our results. Worried something went wrong, we called the customer service hotline seeking answers. No one picked up.
Then later that night Ray's phone lit up. His results were negative.
I violently refreshed my inbox until my results populated: Inconclusive.
We sat in my apartment in silence — shocked, disappointed, dumbfounded.
The morning of July 16 after we received our results, we were back at the Irving site. Because mine were inconclusive, I was given a skip-the-line pass. But because Ray also wanted to be retested, we waited in the regular queue all over again.
Determined to get a conclusive answer, Ray and I also booked appointments at an urgent care later that day for a rapid antigen test, which produces quicker results and is growing in popularity among public health experts.
Sure enough, that afternoon, Ray and I both tested positive.
The drive home from the urgent care was awkward. We had been on a six-day treasure hunt only to find the chests full of despair. I'm not sure what I expected to feel. Relief certainly was not it. Rather there was dread — no matter how hard I had tried to stay healthy and follow the rules, the virus had found me.
Adding to my hopelessness, we eventually got our results back from our second test at the University of Dallas. I was positive, but Ray came back negative — again.
Put another way: only one out of the four tests we took at the government-run drive-thru site was accurate.
I know anecdotes are not data. But my experience coupled with news my colleagues and I reported — that the positivity rate at the public site was drastically lower than other such locations — was troubling.
Absent another shutdown, testing and contact tracing is supposed to be the bedrock of our public health response to the pandemic — the key strategy to get the virus under control.
If we can't get that right, what hope do we have?
Since I have been sick, I've been asked the same question in various ways: What's it like? Because COVID takes so many different forms, even other survivors are eager to trade details like baseball cards — comparing stats on their fevers, oxygen levels and recovery time.
At first, I just felt a little tired. It never hurt to breathe, but my chest felt like it was wrapped in a steel wool blanket. There were moments when I was congested. But that was rare. My fever peaked at 99.7 on July 16, three days after Ray first got sick and minutes before our run-off election night deadline.
While Ray lost both his sense of taste and smell, I only lost the latter. That meant I got to enjoy every bite of the Tiff's Treats cookies I ordered us — twice.
Once while sitting on my couch, I felt a warm and stinging sensation move from my chest to my back and up my neck that eventually settled in my left ear for an hour.
The most terrifying experience came one night, when I started to feel dizzy. Shooting pain pierced my upper left chest near my shoulder. It felt like someone was pinching my back and arm then pulling my muscles apart like taffy.
I could taste blood in the back of my throat, the taste you get at the end of a bloody nose.
The next morning, the pain was gone. But that reprieve didn't last long. The pain on the left side of my body returned the next day. Paralyzed by pain and anxiety, I consulted with my primary care physician, who urged me to go to the emergency room for tests.
I protested. At the time, ER visits were at an all-time high. But given the fact I was COVID positive, it was the only form of care I could access at that time. Heart and lung problems are why we have emergency rooms, my doctor said.
So, I drove myself to UT Southwestern where I was checked out: an electrocardiogram, bloodwork and lung X-ray all came back normal. In fact, the nurse was stunned at how healthy I was given the disease in my body. The doctor told me many of his patients described unusual body pains near their chest, in their stomach and limbs.
While the physical toll the virus puts your body through is exacting, the emotional toll can be much worse. Managing the anxiety you and your loved ones live with for at least two weeks is a whole other aspect of the pandemic we don't talk about enough.
My overprotective family in Colorado worried exponentially. Grandma demanded a daily phone call to ensure her of my continued existence. I tried, with little success, to tamper her fear. Remember, I said, even if I was in Colorado, you wouldn't be able to see me.
I played tough on the phone. I'm a healthy young person with no underlying medical conditions, I told them. What I didn't say was that I had read too many stories and seen too many death notices of young people dying from COVID to think there was anything special about me that would keep me alive.
Eight years ago, my health was a mess. I weighed 350 pounds and was diagnosed as a diabetic. According to a lab report, I had more sugar than blood in my veins.
I set out to change that. I improved my diet, joined a gym and quit smoking. In about a year, I lost 100 pounds. While I'm still technically obese, my other vital stats are those of an athlete. My blood sugar is so low, I've had doctors encourage me to eat a candy bar every once in a while.
Working out was not an option with the virus. I had to settle for 20-minute walks around my block, wearing my mask and crossing the street anytime I saw a person approaching.
The three weeks I spent at home was the longest I had gone without breaking a sweat since 2012. It was an unwelcome but necessary break as my body fought the virus roaming my upper body.
When I hear people, including President Donald Trump, dismiss mild cases of COVID as "the sniffles," it angers me. The pain and consternation I experienced — that my loved ones (and editors) lived with second hand — is not to be discounted.
A person's health — a nation's health — is not something that should be taken lightly. We are the perpetual epicenter of the pandemic, unable to heal ourselves, for that very reason.
Eight years ago, on the verge of a diabetic catastrophe, I decided to take my health seriously.
I hope our nation, which is facing its own health crisis, can do the same.
Nic Garcia is a reporter for The Dallas Morning News.
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