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Letter: I tested positive for COVID-19. Was it a mistake?

The Detroit News  |  The Detroit News

“First, do no harm.” It is a foundational principle of medicine that I, as a soon to be doctor, take very seriously. So knowing I had potentially just harmed my fiancé’s family made me feel physically ill. I felt this weight on my chest unlike anything I’d felt before. It was difficult to breathe. I could feel my heart beating. Fast. Was it the COVID-19 I had just tested positive for? Or was it the anxiety that I had just exposed my future family to a serious, sometimes deadly illness?

I put on my doctor voice and explained my results, reviewed the plan going forward, and answered all of the medical questions my fiancé’s family had. But my heart had broken into a million pieces. I cried more times in one day than I had in the entire last year. After all the caution and care that had gone into making sure Yaya, an 88 year old woman with COPD stayed healthy, had I just done her in due to my own selfishness of wanting to be able to celebrate our engagement with her?

I told myself I had taken all the precautions. I tested negative before I visited. I didn’t give her a hug. We primarily stayed outside. I wore a mask. But we had eaten dinner at the dining room table together. Had I been seated right next to her? I think so. Why had we stayed for dinner?

I should have known better. It was selfish. And now I had to live with this weight on my chest. “Are you having any COVID symptoms?” I was asked again and again by doctors and family members. “I don’t know” is all I could respond. I’m a medical student, yet I couldn’t distinguish what was happening in my own body. Was it the virus or just symptoms from the anxiety weighing so heavily on me?

Fast forward a few days. My fiancé was COVID-19 negative. Every Aunt and Uncle I came into contact with were negative. I tested negative repeatedly. They decided not to take Yaya out of the house to be tested, and she is feeling well. Had it all been a dream?

No. I still have to self-isolate. I had one positive and two negative results, but a positive result is not something to take lightly. First, do no harm. I’m currently in my apartment. Alone. Every time I feel chest tightness and a rapid heartbeat I put on my pulse oximeter to check. Oxygen saturation 99%. I exhale deeply. Anxiety or COVID-19? I’ll be a doctor in a few months and I still have no idea which one it is.

Regardless, it’s slowly improving.

My story, as well as the story of the recent outbreak at the White House, highlight that while testing is helpful, it is not a be all end all. There are false negatives and there are false positives. More of them than we’d like to admit. Testing has its role, but a negative result is not a reason to take off the mask and party like it is 2019.

Please, out of love for every human being, whether it be a beloved grandmother or a random stranger, wear a mask. Wear it over your nose. And please keep your distance. It’s an even greater act of love than any hug could ever be.

Elizabeth Hillman, Detroit