Fear of being exposed to COVID and testing positive is a constant companion for us very senior citizens. Our bodies are unique, and we never know how serious the illness will be for each of us. The disease is an enigma treating each person differently; dire results can occur. My husband and I do know more about how it will affect us since we are recent COVID survivors. We are entering our non-quarantine freedom week, so I am a bit less fearful although still cautious.
We returned to San Diego on Wednesday after spending six weeks on the East Coast with family, the last two days with our son. Thursday afternoon he texted that he had been exposed to COVID the previous weekend on a family trip to celebrate a big birthday and had tested positive with a home kit. When we left him, he had his usual summer allergy symptoms: coughing and runny nose.
Friday we were tested at Kaiser, a drive through event. Immediately, our son-in-law, a surgeon, pushed us to get the Regeneron infusion. Those over 60 automatically qualify with a positive test; however, Kaiser had suspended the procedure after the initial surge subsided.
Doctor Paul sent us links to Family Health Centers (FHC) in San Diego. Several centers are scattered around the county. For their infusion, their test is necessary. No appointment is needed but supplies are limited, and you must have symptoms to receive the test. After stumbling through buildings in Hillcrest looking for a test site and receiving some incorrect advice, we went to Logan Heights Family Health Center on National Avenue. Since I had not begun symptoms, only Paul could get their test. On Saturday he received positive results on both tests. After leaving messages with the doctor he had seen, he received a call and an appointment for the infusion in Escondido for that day. The various FHC centers give the infusion on different days. I waited in the parking lot while he spent 1 ½ hours, most of that time being sure he had no reaction. They had run out of tubing, so instead of an infusion, he received the antibodies through 4 shots, one in each arm and leg.
When I received my Kaiser positive, my husband called the FHC doctor who then scheduled me for the infusion in Hillcrest on Monday. My symptoms had started Saturday afternoon. Not wanting to wait even one more day than necessary and with an appointment for Monday, we went to the Emergency Room at Balboa on Sunday. The Tri-Care website said the infusion was available there. After a 3-hour full work up with blood tests, chest x-ray, and EKG, they informed me that they did not give the infusion.
On Monday at 8 a.m., I arrived at the Hillcrest FHC along with six others. A nurse took three of us in at a time and settled us in our rooms. They were professional and checked on me often during the 20-minute infusion and the hour wait to determine that I would have no reaction.
While we succeeded in getting the infusion, it was not an easy process. Internet searches, phone calls, messages, wrong information, hunting for the correct building, all while not feeling well. Throughout the ordeal, my symptoms resembled a bad cold: fever, cough, runny nose, loss of appetite and some fatigue. No breathing problems or joint aches although food tasted different and my smell vanished. Paul did have some aches and lost his taste and smell. I stayed in bed and allowed family and friends to grocery shop.
Doctor Paul had stressed remaining hydrated, so a dear friend brought soup for four nights. Our grandson dropped off Gator Ade. I occupied my time watching TCM movies, reading, writing letters to my five college grandchildren, calling high school friends to check on them and doing only the necessary chores.
None of my son’s family got Covid although before being diagnosed, he had been in close contact with his wife and two daughters. When he tested positive, he isolated himself, sleeping in the guest room and spending the day on the outside deck in the summer heat. His symptoms were similar to allergies which he periodically has. All of us had had the vaccines and are fairly healthy. Some caught it and others in the same environment did not. I have several friends who cannot or choose not to have the vaccines. That is an individual choice, and I will respect their decisions. Since my symptoms were fairly mild, I am glad I had the vaccines.
What surprised me during this venture is how few people had heard of the infusion or of the Family Health Centers which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. According to their web site “FHCSD is one of the nation’s ten largest FQHCs. We operate 49 sites across San Diego County, including 23 primary care clinics, 10 behavioral health facilities, eight dental clinics, an outpatient substance use treatment program, three vision clinics, physical therapy departments, two mobile counseling centers, three mobile medical units and a pharmacy to support services throughout San Diego County.”
While they are open to all, their special commitment is to low-income and medically underserved persons. When Paul initially saw the FHC doctor, he said, “You shouldn’t be here. This is for indigent people.”
As I scanned the parking lot, I said, “There’s not an indigent car in this parking lot.” The patient behind me for the infusion was a retired pediatric surgeon. We would have gone to Kaiser or Balboa if the infusion had been available there, but it was nice to have another option when those doors were closed.
I learned a valuable lesson for this period in our country. When I return home from a trip, I will self-isolate for three days even if I have no symptoms. I could have infected several people on Thursday as I resumed my normal routine and attended two gatherings. That is a good lesson for all of us. We still know so little about COVID and about when we become contagious.