SOUTHERN ILLINOIS -- The day after Christmas, as I scrambled to fit two days of work into one in preparation for a trip to Belleville and a belated holiday celebration with my grandson, Hudson, and his parents, I felt the first twinge of what would be nearly three of the worst weeks of my life.
At first I felt tired ... nothing new. Then about an hour later, I started feeling achy. That was followed by a chill and then burning eyes and finally a blinding headache.
I took my temperature ... 103.8.
"I'm going to bed," I told my husband. "I'll sleep this off and be better tomorrow."
I was wrong.
In fact, I was wrong for the next 14 days.
On day four of raging temps, chills, and a horrible, racking cough that left me gasping for breath, I finally called my physician, who called in some meds and told me to come in if I wasn't better in a couple of days.
By the next afternoon, I gave in to pressure and went to the Emergency Room.
There I was tested for Flu A, Flu B, RSV -- all negative. A chest x-ray to check for pneumonia was also negative.
After a steroid shot and laden with a handful of prescriptions, I was sent home.
"It's something viral," they said.
I missed the next two weeks of work, using my vacation days lying not on a warm beach, but in bed, wondering if I was dying. When the fevers finally broke and the cough eased, it took another month before I felt decent again.
About a month later, the first report of the coronavirus began to surface. When I read the list of symptoms, I strongly suspected that I had been a victim ... a lucky one.
"It's possible," said my physician, Sara Malone, "but we won't know until there's an antibody test."
That test became available at SIU Family Medicine this week and I made the trek to Carbondale to have it done.
It was a simple blood draw, with the results due in 3-5 days.
What will the results mean?
According to Malone, I'll know if I have antibodies, but even if I do, it doesn't necessarily mean I can't contract the disease again.
"We just don't know," said Malone.
In fact, there's a lot that doctors around the world don't know about this virus that has basically held the world hostage since January, shutting down whole countries and claiming thousands of lives. Malone suggested that I also undergo a screening while I was there. While testing has been at a premium, more tests are now available in Illinois.
"You fit the criteria (for testing)," said Malone, referring to my diabetes.
That test, too, took only a few minutes, including the screening questions, and was fairly painless, involving swabs of both nasal passages. My results came in just under press deadline ... negative.
According to new information from the Illinois Department of Public Health, anyone with COVID-19-like illness or symptoms can now get a test, even without a doctor's orders.
"We're doing those here," said Malone, who is one of several medical professionals operating a drive-through check at the SIU Family Medicine clinic in Carbondale.
According to the IDPH, anyone with a cough, shortness of breath, and fever or a risk factor such as contact with anyone confirmed to have COVID-19 or a compromised immune system or serious chronic medical condition should be tested. It's fast and it's free.
Testing is also now available for those without symptoms but are at risk because they work in a health care facility, correctional facility, are a first responder, or work in critical infrastructure such as grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, gas stations, public utilities, factories, child care and sanitation.
What is usually a bustling medical facility was strangely quiet and nearly empty yesterday, with just a handful of staff.
"This is changing the way we do medicine now," said Socorro Shelton, a physician and faculty member at the SIU Family Medicine Resident program. "Our clinic is very selective right now on who we see. We're going to more telemedicine."
Shelton believes that that is the future of medicine. "We will have video conferences with patients at home," she said, describing that as a "plus."
For first year resident Nicole Waters, working through a pandemic, especially on the front lines testing, is "the typical craziness of residency, but magnified." "No day is ever the same," she said.
Registered nurse Corao Cerrato agrees. "Every day is a new day and we learn something new every day from this."
Cerrato said the biggest lesson for medical personnel to come from the pandemic is a simple one. "Don't take any day for granted."
*Editor's Note: To be clear, the antibody test is not available to everyone and must be ordered by your personal physician. The test is performed by LabCorp, not by SIU Family Medicine.