My Insurance Company Forced Me To The ER -- And I May Have Been Exposed To COVID-19
This morning I was tested for COVID-19.
Trying to figure out what to make of your symptoms right now is a fool’s errand – is the soreness in your throat the regular kind, the kind you’ve so often felt before when you’re run down and overwhelmed? Or is this particular sore throat an early indicator that, despite all the precautions you’ve taken to stay well – despite the hand sanitizer and the social distance, despite the Clorox wipes and the refusal to order takeout – it wasn’t quite enough to protect yourself?
Like everyone else I know, I’ve been practicing social distancing for three weeks now. But just over a week ago I found myself in the emergency room; my doctor was worried I may be having an appendix attack (I was having sharp pains in my lower right abdomen), but she didn’t know what to do next because she had no way to run bloodwork or do a physical exam – nobody was working on site, and so appointments are being done over the phone.
I needed a CT scan that same day, but after over two hours of waiting in pain, the nurse told me she couldn’t get insurance to approve the request. They wanted 24 hours advance notice for a CT scan, and on a Friday afternoon that meant the earliest they would approve me to be seen outpatient was the following Monday. Which does very little good if you may have an appendix that’s about to burst!
To be clear, my nurse tried her best. She was able to schedule a CT scan for 4:00 PM that Friday afternoon – but the insurance wouldn’t allow for it.
Why would you send anyone to the ER right now unless they absolutely need to be seen there?
But at that point, I had no choice. So I went to the hospital, to the one place that would put me most at risk of exposure to coronavirus.
I’ve been avoiding the grocery store, let alone an ER.
As of a week ago, our local hospital had 20 confirmed COVID-19 cases, an additional 38 inpatient presumed cases, and 9 infected staff members. I’m glad I did not know those numbers when I had to go to the ER on Friday – they would have scared me even more than I was already scared.
Tents were set up in the parking lot for overflow patients, and new COVID-19 rooms were being fashioned on the fly. No visitors are allowed in the hospital anymore.
I should never have been in that ER.
The room below was my room, and as you can see it’s specially outfitted to handle coronavirus cases. Those ducts have been added as well as the zipped up plastic over the doorway. It is disconcerting to say the least.
My ER doctor wanted me in and out of there as fast as possible to minimize my risk of exposure. He knew immediately that I didn’t have appendicitis, that it was more likely a flare up of my endometriosis. (He said the nurse would have known that right away if she had the luxury of doing an in-person visit with me, versus an appointment over the phone).
The real risk right now, according to the ER doctor, was the fact that I was in the Emergency Room at all, with so many COVID cases. I spent three hours there in total.
He said after each shift he leaves his shoes outside for three days, takes his clothes off in his garage, brings them straight to the washing machine, and then heads directly into the shower. He advised me to do the same.
When I got home that night, my six-year-old son heard me come in and ran to hug me before my husband could stop him. I yelled at him to get away from me – I hadn’t been able to change my clothes yet and was afraid of him touching me. His lip started quivering and he began crying, but I left him there to run into the shower before my three-year-old also tried to touch me. I felt awful, but the priority was to keep a safe distance.
I honestly can’t fathom the amount of courage it is taking for every single medical worker and hospital employee to go into work right now. It is an extremely unsafe feeling that you might be exposed to COVID-19, and the heroism of ordinary people really is astounding right now.
But if insurance companies are forcing patients into the ER who should not be there, that is only compounding the problem for everyone.
A week has passed since my trip to the hospital.
I started having diarrhea yesterday, along with a sore throat. This was eight days after possible exposure. The sore throat got worse overnight, and today I’m exhausted with a much worse sore throat, headache, fever and chills. My stomach has calmed down. It could be another virus, or it could be that I was exposed to COVID-19 a week ago in the hospital and my symptoms are showing up now.
I called my doctor, and she was more concerned that it was COVID-19 than I thought she was going to be. She said they are seeing patients with a variety of symptoms, including stomach problems and sore throats, and that since I had a clear “exposure event” she suspected I may be positive. She doesn’t know, of course. She has no way of knowing.
I didn’t want to use up a test if they had a limited supply, but she said they are doing alright supply-wise and that they were testing people with less reason to be concerned than I had. (That’s the case in my local office, but I know from several doctor friends that they are in fact short on tests in their offices, and are not testing everyone they suspect may be positive).
So I went to a drive-thru testing site at the back of my doctor’s office. The nurses were wearing what I would describe as full body hazmat suits with face shields. I’ll know in about five days if I have COVID-19 or not.
I’m angry about this, and angrier now than I was a week ago, when it was happening in real time. I could have easily avoided being in the hospital if it wasn’t for red tape at the insurance agency. Sending a patient to an emergency room right now who can clearly be seen outpatient is both reckless and shortsighted. Especially to a hospital like ours, which has lots of active Coronavirus cases.
My doctor wants me to “reduce the viral load” in the house as much as possible, which means opening the windows, wearing a mask at home, and trying to keep as much distance as possible from my family. Ideally this would be six feet; we are still trying to figure out how we can juggle this, with a six-year-old, three-year-old, and one-year-old and my husband working full-time.
Brian made masks using an online tutorial. He used old t-shirts and elastic bands. They should do the trick.
For now I’m hiding in my locked bedroom, where I can hear my three-year-old son Thomas outside the door telling my husband that “Mama is better!” He is taking this the worst, since we can’t explain it to him, but he’s old enough to notice that something upsetting is going on. At least we can explain things to my six-year-old.
As for the baby, I’ve been struggling with how to deal with breastfeeding her. We had started to slowly wean her a week ago, but I planned for that to be a gradual process. I’ve nursed all three of my kids, each for a year or more, and despite being ready to move on from it, it’s bittersweet for me to end that period in our lives.
With each of the boys I knew which nursing session was actually the last one, and so it was special for me. I was able to have the moment I needed for closure. But in this situation, I think this morning might have been the last time I’ll nurse a child, and I didn’t have time to prepare for that.
I went into the baby’s room with a face mask, held her as carefully as I could, and hoped I was doing the right thing. I’m really not so sure. My fever is getting higher today and I don’t think it’s worth the risk to expose her further. That’s not the way I wanted to end things, but I suppose most of us are letting go of things we’re not ready to let go of right now. I can’t imagine people needing to say goodbye to their loved ones over FaceTime, and people are having to do that everyday now.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t angry. The reason I’m angry is not because I may have coronavirus – any of us could get it. It’s because I never should have been sent to the ER a week ago for something that could have easily been done outside of that setting. My nurse had the appointment made for me, but insurance blocked it. I knew they were doing something that put me at risk, and I felt I had no choice. It was so clearly avoidable.
My respect for the doctors, nurses, and any other essential personnel who are putting themselves at risk of contracting COVID-19 on the job is enormous. They are doing their jobs and sacrificing their own safety for others, and they are heroes to me and to so many people.
But my anger at my insurance provider for creating a situation that puts me, my children, and my husband at risk – I have no tolerance for that.
Two of my kids are too small to understand why they can’t hug me. My toddler has already been having a tough time this week, and he’s been crying for me to come see him from outside my locked bedroom door. It’s heart-breaking. My kindergartener left my favorite stuffed animal (the one I carried with my throughout my childhood, and that he’s now inherited) for me to keep in my quarantine room. The sweetness is almost too much.
My husband and I are trying to come up with a reasonable game plan that we can manage over the course of the week, while we wait for my results.
I really hope they’re negative.
I have been taking social distancing very seriously, and there is nowhere I could have picked up a virus from the outside world, except for at the hospital.
We didn’t need to be in this position.
This post originally appeared on A Mothership Down.
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