They close the gym and soon after my muscles get sore: neck and back.
Then low grade fever. Low grade.
One morning in fourth grade I woke up with an aching head and sore throat.
“You have fever,” my mother said. “101.”
The pediatrician said it was a virus. I stayed home from school. Lied in bed with the dog at my side watching The Munsters and Gilligan’s Island. I Drank ginger ale. Chewed Smith Brother’s cherry cough drops. My mother came home with aspirin and a library book. The Diary of Anne Frank.
“Read it,” she said.
Temp is 99. Next day 100. Next 101. Must have been passed on by a next-door neighbor in my office. There’s a mini epidemic in Queens.
The Nigerian doctor at CITY MD is well protected, wrapped up in full body suit as if treating Ebola. “Sounds like you have it,” he says and he sticks a long swab like a test-tube cleaner way up my nose.
“Sorry. Both sides. You get results in five days. Until then, you need to quarantine.”
So I quarantine. Total isolation. I think about Anne Frank.
Lucky to have been there, to visit Amsterdam. Lucky enough to have relatives survive the last pandemic and make it through a genocide so I was fortunate enough to make it to Amsterdam and visit the secret annex, and see the cutouts on Anne’s little bulletin board next to her bed in the small cramped apartment hidden behind an office bookcase.
How did it feel to write The Diary of a Young Girl?
Three nights later I have night sweats.
She died from a bug in Bergen-Belsen. Endemic typhus. Not the gas chamber. She wasted away with her sister, faded out of existence. A slow death vs. a fast one.
In the gas chamber, hydrogen cyanide gas stops cells from making ATP. The body shuts down immediately. Rapidity of Death:
- Acute hydrogen cyanide gas poisoning (Zyklon B)
- Severe COVID-19
- Endemic typhus (severe and untreated)
If you do push-ups with a mild case of COVID-19, you get anxiety and chest pain.
To stop the virus from going to your lungs, you need humidity.
To stop congestion you take NYQUIL. Turn on the humidifier. No MOTRIN. TYLENOL Ok. TYLENOL and vitamins. But humidity makes cold sweats at night. NYQUIL causes racing heart.
Need to exercise. Need to move. Can do push-ups. Stay fit. Stop virus from going to lungs. Is that a cough? That tickle in the throat?
Goggle and Google. Google and goggle.
Rinse out throat. Google severity of COVID-19. Is it peaking yet?
Malaria pills; hydroxychloroquine.
Borrow from friends with Lupus. No. Don’t trust it.
More push-ups. Haven’t done them in a while but it feels good.
Still no cough. Can get sick on fourth day. No–fifth day.
Weather outside: Don’t know in isolation. Goggle then Google.
Partly cloudy. Threat of Cytokine Storm.
Watch news. Watch social media.
Time to read about COVID and heart. It affects heart?
People get heart attacks. Blood clots everywhere. No cough, just heart attack. Attacks in general.
If you need the hospital, it will be full like in Italy. Like in Milan.
I feel chest pain coming on but I know it’s the push-ups. Has to be the push-ups.
No cough. What day is this? Chest pain could be COVID heart attack. Maybe night sweats are heart failure.
There’s always anxiety at night with COVID.
Need to leave the annex. Get out. Get air.
Three in morning is the worse time. No one to text. No one to talk to.
Decongestants cause a racing heart. Racing heart and anxiety not good together. Sweating could be from anxiety. Or heart attack.
Go to ER. No, wait til morning. Morning may be crowded. Won’t let me in ER if I don’t look sick enough.
Maybe call ambulance? Wake up wife. On isolation–call on phone.
“I’m having chest pain. Could be a heart attack.”
“If you think you’re having a heart attack you need to go to the hospital.”
“I did push-ups.”
“Then don’t go.”
“I’ll walk. I Need fresh air.”
I get dressed. I put on a mask.
Karen peeks at me from a crack in the door like the neighbor of an infected person being dragged away in Wuhan.
“Goodbye,” I say.
“Good luck,” she says.
“I’m not coming home,” I say.
“You mean tonight or ever?”
“Ever,” I say and I’m not sure if I believe it.
I step outside for the first time like Anne Frank leaving the annex in the middle of the night.
Outside is deserted. Amsterdam with green police. Manhattan with Corona Virus.
I take off my mask and feel immediately better with the fresh air. It’s 4 AM, only a few blocks to New York Hospital. NY Presbyterian-Cornell. Good hospital. But what if it’s crowded? Full like Italy–quiet on the street but the hospital filled with people dying from COVID-19.
Now I only have chest pain taking deep breaths. Must be from the push-ups. Push-ups or pulmonary embolism.
The ER is empty. Nurses sit around a front desk next to a security guard waiting for their end of shift.
“Can we help you?”
“I have COVID. I’m a cardiologist. I have chest pain. I could be having a heart attack.”
“A cardiologist who thinks he’s having a heart attack.”
“I did push-ups. Maybe it’s anxiety?”
I see them smiling through their masks.
“Where is everybody? Why isn’t it crowded?”
“You came at a really good time. Want us to check you out?”
A medical assistant takes me inside, does an EKG wearing protective gear. N-95 mask. Paper gown.
“You still have enough PPE,” I say. “
For another week.”
She shrugs. “We hope for the best.”
She hands me the EKG. It’s normal.
They take me into the central area of the Emergency Department surrounded by glass isolation rooms. All empty. Glass booths like the kind they kept Eichmann in during his trial. Eichmann’s trial for killing so many people, so many Jews, like Anne Frank. Eichmann and his Nazis. Except Anne died from typhus, an infectious disease like COVID-19, though typhus is not caused by a virus.
“Pick a room,” they say. “You’re the first to arrive.”
“Where is everybody?”
“They’ll be here soon.”
I wait in my glass booth.
The doctor is so young. He speaks to me from six feet away, from behind an N-95 mask and a plastic face shield. He never examines me.
“Your chest X-ray is normal. Your sodium is low and your lymphocytes are high. It sounds like mild Corona Virus infection. If your heart blood tests are normal in a few hours you can go home.”
I watch him clean the face shield between patients with an antiseptic wipe. I watch him type into the computer, watch him speak to colleagues. He seems remarkably calm.
Soon they begin crowding around another glass booth across from me, working on a critically ill patient, I assume someone with severe COVID-19. Perhaps they are being placed on a ventilator. Perhaps they died.
A few hours later, the doctor returns. “You have no heart damage. You can leave now.”
“I guess it was the push-ups,” I say. “Maybe just anxiety. It’s really tough when you watch the news.”
“Don’t watch the news,” he says. “Stay isolated. No social media.”
I thank everyone but by now they’re busy with a lot of patients much sicker than I am.
The young doctor calls after me. “No mass transit.”
“I’m walking,” I say and I head outside, a grateful patient walking under a brilliant Saturday sun, grateful to return to isolation in my annex.
© Richie Smith
© Richie Smith