A year ago, during a family ski trip, we found ourselves literally inside a cloud on the mountain. The fog was so thick you couldn’t see more than three feet in front of you. My daughter was very excited because she said the fog “took away the fears” and she skied straight down with abandon, because the heights couldn’t scare her.

I, on the other hand, was terrified. I’m not afraid of heights, but not being able to see what was in front of me paralyzed me. I imagined at every turn I could accidentally go off a double black diamond and hurtle down the mountain. I joined a group of six-year-old children learning to ski who were following their instructor down to the valley.

I currently feel like I’m navigating this pandemic the same way, but there isn’t even an instructor or group I can latch onto. 

The Test

It was with much elation I opened my email this morning to see a report that my COVID test was negative. I know I wrote that part of me almost hoped it was positive so I could get it over with, but as I waited and read every horror story in the news, the reality of a positive test seemed genuinely terrifying, especially the latest news on blood clots. But I’m still left with an uneasy feeling, because I’m somewhat adrift out here, a feeling people all over the globe must have right now when in need of non-emergency medical care.

What Now?

I got the test because of chest pain when I breathe. That hasn’t abated, and I’m getting headaches regularly now. The headaches may be stress related. There is reason to believe that my chest pain is pleurisy, but I don’t know what the underlying cause is, and I’m not inclined to try and find out unless I absolutely have to do so.

My medical provider here assures me that hospitals are taking all careful precautions to keep people safe and if I need an x-ray my risk is low. I fully believe the first part of that statement, but not the second. I come from a family full of doctors. I have zero doubt that medical professionals worldwide are taking very serious precautions. But in nearby Italy, health care workers have been dying for months, and at home in the United States, as of a week ago, 9,000 workers had the virus. This doesn’t make a person want to go to a health care facility for any reason. 

I never considered myself in a risk category for a bad case of this virus, but as something is affecting my chest, I’m now realizing that it is more important than ever to avoid it.

“Non-Emergency” Can Still Mean Urgent

A couple of years ago at exactly this time of year I was diagnosed with a parathyroid tumor. Anything with the word “tumor” sounds terrifying, but in fact this is a relatively common, benign (meaning non-cancerous) tumor on a parathyroid gland. And while it was not at all “life-threatening” it was wreaking havoc on my entire body because it affected hormones, my blood, everything. When I had it removed, I went from feeling like I was 90 years old to feeling normal and healthy again. To give you an example of how much it was affecting me – I had been considering knee surgery, but my knee was better overnight. My doctor told me this was very common.

That tumor removal would have been considered “elective” surgery which means these days, I would have had to keep living with it until hospitals could operate normally. For all I know, my surgeon may have been recently laid off, as thousands of doctors who aren’t on the COVID front lines are experiencing now because they can’t practice medicine.

My example is one of thousands. The point being that “non-emergency” care is still urgent for millions of people, so until this is sorted the medical ramifications are way more far-reaching than just COVID-19 cases. I don’t have any proposed answers, but it’s something that needs to get a little more attention in the media.

Trying to See Through the Fog

So, while I am happy to get my test results, it doesn’t lift the fog, or give me anyone I can follow down the mountain. I’m sure I am not alone. There are undoubtedly people everywhere feeling paralyzed and wishing the sun would come out and shine on a clear path. Until then, I will be hanging out here at home, hoping everything resolves.

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About Laura Keyes Ellsworth

Laura has been writing and editing for more than 25 years, a fact which more than a source of pride, sends her running to the wrinkle cream aisle of CVS. She has worked for CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, The Economist Intelligence Unit, and CBS radio. She has three children, and you will either find her thoroughly enjoying their company or yelling at them to clean up after themselves and turn off the lights.

View all posts by Laura Keyes Ellsworth

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