And I didn’t have covid.
There are three places you don’t want to end up in this country: mandatory detention, jail and a COVID-19 Ward. Ten days ago I lay in a bed in a big Sydney hospital in a glassed-off room with three elderly covid patients, and I wondered, how did I get here?
And how the F do I get out?
Two weeks ago I was heading to Sydney for a week at the Comedy Store. After a hustings hiatus I was really looking forward to getting in front of a crowd, and not having to talk about the evils of coal and gas. Well, maybe…
I was at my dining table with my niece and her fiancé, just chatting after dinner, when the room moved like I was on a boat. So I went to bed. I woke up feeling fine and I figured I was dehydrated. Or that I’d had a ‘turn’. It’s something older women talk of in hushed tones.
I was at the Gold Coast Airport when the dizzy thing hit again, the second time when I was boarding, so I thought ‘Bugger, I’ve got vertigo, maybe I shouldn’t fly…’ I bunked out, got my bag off the flight and headed to Tweed Hospital. They did a bunch of tests, most of them in the janitor’s closet because every consulting room and crevice had an old person waiting for placement in aged care. It’s called ‘bed blocking’ and the hospital is exploding.
I left with the doctor telling me I was iron deficient. Even though he hadn’t tested me for iron. Oh, and let’s not forget I answered the ‘How much do you drink?’ question honestly; ‘Some weeks nothing. Some weeks two bottles, and when I have lots of luncheons and parties I have probably had as many as five.’ He said, ‘You need to love yourself. You are enough’. I thought, ‘That isn’t medical.’ But I said, ‘Have you never had a social life?’. I find out later what I’d experienced is called ‘anchoring’; when doctors assume things about you and make a diagnosis, eg; this woman is here because she’s an alcoholic. Also, she lives in Mullumbimby, so she must be a vegetarian, therefore she is low in iron. An anemic alcoholic.
So I told work I was going to be a day late. I arrived in Sydney and I was still dizzy. My vision was a bit weird. I thought I’d seen a negative result on the covid test they did before I left hospital, but something popped up on my phone and when I read it, it said ‘COVID POSITIVE’. Shit. I was already in Sydney. So I rang a friend, got supplies dropped to where I was staying and cancelled work. Nearly 48 hours later I was so dizzy and nauseous I couldn’t leave the bed because I couldn’t walk without lurching and hitting a wall or falling. I was alone and scared. I wanted my mummy. The online doctor told me to call an ambo. So I was taken to hospital. In my confused state I told them I was covid positive.
I wasn’t though. I’d read an old text that popped up from January.
Consequently I was put into a COVID-19 Ward. I was given a couple of doses of Stemetil and put on a drip. I was aware of the old man opposite me breathing in that way people do when they’re dying. It was so sad in there. Just nurses in PPE. Like big yellow balls of plastic. Mr Twong was in a nappy, he didn’t speak any English and wouldn’t eat. Mr Smith next to me boasted, to whoever would listen, about things like being friends with the king and queen of Tonga. And the man across from me, whose name I didn’t know, was clearly dying. The neurologist came and told me my eyes were moving in a strange way so they thought I might have had a stroke. That week of lost work just got a lot worse. A stroke and covid? I’d just wanted to get in front of people and make some vagina jokes.
I started to regain some capacity. I realised I had no covid symptoms. Could I have made a mistake? I checked my messages. Yes. I did not have covid. I had misread it. I told a nurse. I told another nurse. They said that made sense because the test they did on my arrival was negative. But why didn’t they check my pathology? I realised they’d written my birth date wrong on my ID bracelet. So – nothing matched. They had me as 61 years old. I was deeply wounded not one person had twigged that I didn’t look 61. They refused to change my birth date because apparently, even though it was wrong, it couldn’t be changed unless I was discharged. So now I’m 61.
I started to panic. After about four hours of hitting the call button I got a room on another ward in iso. The poor dying man died just as I was leaving, so it was a good time to leave – at least I was alive.
After 24 hours in a COVID-19 Ward, a hospital room with its own bathroom was like moving into the Hilton. It even had a window! The TV was broken, but I could stare at the sky. I was in iso, so no visitors were allowed. My husband came to Sydney to pick me up, but he was sent home. They kept testing me for covid. I kept testing negative. The neurologist apologised and said ‘This has never happened before. We are taking this seriously. We spoke about this at length at our hospital board meeting this morning and we have put in protocols so it won’t happen again.’ Great. But that didn’t help me. I needed an MRI and stroke tests, and I couldn’t get them because I was a close contact. I was a close contact because they’d put me in a COVID-19 Ward. They refused to do any testing until Thursday 28 July – ten days after my admission. I’d started to feel better every day except that I’m locked in a hospital at a cost to taxpayers of about $2k per day. That’s a lot to pay for a mistake. Bureaucracy rules in this broken system. You see, to get the tests I had to stay an inpatient. As soon as I discharged I’d become an outpatient and I wouldn’t get seen for months.
It’s hard to think straight when you are in this situation. Sick people in isolation don’t advocate well. I was still dizzy, but not as sick, and I realised I shouldn’t be in hospital, so I discharged against medical advice. A friend pointed me in the direction of a private clinic, where I got the scans I needed a week sooner than the public hospital would have done them. I stayed covid negative, and, as it turned out I hadn’t had a stroke. I’d had a debilitating, but non life-threatening condition called Vestibular Neuritis. It’s an inflammation of the inner ear. Oh, and that weird neurological response my eyes kept giving? Well, my local GP told me that was from the massive doses of Stemetil.
My dear friend drove to Sydney to pick me up and I have never been so glad to be home; covid and stroke free, and broke. But not broken. Whereas our health system, it’s buckling. Everyone is working 16-hour shifts. People make mistakes. And that’s how a covid negative person ends up in the COVID-19 ward.
At least now I’ve written about it, the whole debacle is tax deductible.
Want to learn how to write about your opinions? It will make your posts so much better! I will be distilling some of the secrets in Write to the Bone; opinion-writing workshop, on 13 August in Mullumbimby.
Limited spaces. $150 – on mandynolan.com.au