A patient’s account of seeking COVID-19 testing and encountering the failures of the American health system

Anissa R. Patton ’91

At the behest of several medical professionals, I am in self-quarantine in smalltown Georgia. Last week, I started coughing and sneezing while at work. I assumed my allergies were besting me, until I started getting chills and experiencing bouts of chest pain and lethargy. I never developed a high fever. 

On Monday, I went to my primary care physician (of 15 years), seeking diagnosis and treatment. I received very little compassion and no real answers. He was terrified to come near me or touch me, even though he wore gloves, a mask, and a plastic face-shield. He explained that he lacked the capability to test for COVID-19, and since I wasn’t running a fever, I should just isolate at home for the next two weeks. After prescribing me prednisone and tessalon perles, he suggested I find a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in my area. These don’t exist. 

On Tuesday, the county commissioners held a televised board meeting. I tried to type in a question about testing sites in our area, but they had ended the meeting before my question posted. Someone did respond and said they had  “no word on that at this time.” They suggested that I call the state’s hotline for information on testing. Frustrated, I started making daily videos of my symptoms. I may not survive. THIS is America in a pandemic. 

By Wednesday, my symptoms were about the same, except the coughs were more “productive.” I’d read on social media that Clayton County had set up a drive-thru testing site, but patients had to be referred by their doctor. I called the Georgia hotline number as instructed. The agent simply told me that a doctor would administer the test if my symptoms made me a candidate. So I called my primary care physician back, expecting him to refer me for testing. Instead, I spoke with the receptionist who told me not to come back in and gave me yet another number to call. This number was for a local hospital that had a so-called COVID-19 specialist do a triage over the phone. After answering her questions, I was told to remain in self-quarantine and continue monitoring my symptoms (I’m not a doctor). She suggested that I go to Urgent Care or the hospital if I developed a fever or my symptoms worsened. 

Today is Thursday. My head hurts. I am still a little congested and my chest aches, but I don’t feel worse. I have given up on trying to get tested. I informed my colleagues at the office (I’m an attorney) about my symptoms and diagnosis (or lack thereof) and suggested they keep a close eye out for symptoms, too. I have no answers. 

My take: this has been the single worst experience of my life. We have shown that we are ill-prepared for a true medical crisis, and we lack competent leadership to address the here and now. I fear that the number of positive cases is grossly underreported because we are NOT testing anyone. If there are 100 people in a room and 3 of those people test positive for a highly contagious disease, it stands to reason that the other 97 are exposed and/or infected as well. Prudence would be to test the other 97 and then test exponentially from there. 

I am angry. I am disappointed. But most of all, I am worried. We have shown that we are ill-prepared for a true medical crisis and we lack competent leadership to address the here and now. May God show mercy upon us.