Ballad of the False Negative, Urgent Care & Haitian Auntie Remedies - Sherring Dartiguenave
The doctor laughed when I moaned and questioned how dare he ruin my over two-year streak with the covid diagnosis. Did he not see the black, new, crisp, KN95 mask I was wearing and change regularly? I have another 30-pack in my Amazon cart right now!
He also laughed when I exclaimed that the tests are bullsh—. A week before, both the Rapid and PCR came back negative after I walked to a state funded testing van a block from my apartment in my Bed-Stuy neighborhood. They were not faulty home tests. I got tested BECAUSE I wasn’t feeling well.
“Viral load wasn’t enough to be detected,” he stated before adding that he’d send a prescription to the pharmacy across the street on Fulton.
“Oh great. So everyone will know and look at me like a pariah,” I said. He laughed at me again!
“Trust me, you’re not the first covid patient today, and you won’t be the last.”
I felt guilty walking into Walgreens and waiting for them to fill the prescription. I was pissed off when the pharmacist shouted my name followed by “Paxlovid,” announcing to all people in the waiting area and within earshot what I was picking up. So much for discretion. Up until that moment, I had no clue about Paxlovid—three giant horse pills that I’d have to take twice a day for five days—or what it was for, but others there might. This was before TV ads ran as regularly as they do for over-the-counter cold and flu medicines. Never mind that I’m sure everyone could already tell I was unwell by the way I leaned against a wall. The one available seat was close to an occupied seat. Out of consideration, I wanted to keep my distance.
I felt like a scumbag again when I stopped to grab a baconeggandcheese from the bodega. (We) sick folk really be out and about amongst the masses! Just carrying on and blending in with everyone else while our immune systems are at war. I know I looked a hot mess walking in zig-zag staggered steps, but the movement and sunshine felt good for my body. Earlier, when I texted family and friends that I was in the Urgent Care waiting room, I told them my attire was homeless chic.
It started with a sore throat, which I disregarded because I’m prone to sore throats. Strep throat and I were BFFs during childhood. I can’t remember the last time I had strep throat, but sore throats are the norm for me. Air conditioning too high? Sore throat. Sleep with the window open? Sore throat. Don’t wear a scarf in the wintertime? Sore throat. After my usual morning tea, it subsided a bit, but I continued to feel like l was off. Like I was in a fog.
Even before the pandemic, I was a remote employee, taking afternoon walks to stretch my legs, get some fresh air, and see fellow human beings in real-time and not via a screen. During my afternoon walk, I stopped at a testing van. They gave me the option of Rapid, PCR or both. I opted for both. When the masked lady removed the long cotton swab from my right nostril, a string of wet snot landed on my upper lip. It felt cold in the warm June air. She pointed to a box of tissues for me to clean up.
I debated returning home or continuing my walk. The sun and the air felt good against half my face, the part that wasn’t masked. I pressed on to get lemon and strawberry cream cupcakes a few blocks away. Before arriving home, I received a text with the results from the Rapid: negative. I texted my aunt and goddaughter the results. They were relieved.
The next day, I received PCR results: negative. During the next few days, while watching TV on my couch, washing dishes, working at my computer, I had hot flashes, chills, and sweats. My gums and eyeballs throbbed. 200,000 Lilliputians drilled me with jackhammers. No part of my body didn’t hurt. I had bouts with bubbleguts and yuckmouth aka cottonmouth no matter how much I used my tongue scraper. My throat felt like I swallowed tablespoons of sand. My period said, “Hold up! I wanna join the Misery Party.” Because of the (false) negative, I told myself I was being dramatic and it was all in my head, which felt like it was being squeezed and pulled apart. It couldn’t be covid. I wasn’t coughing…yet.
My cough sounded like I could be a dinosaur in Jurassic Park. The force of it rattled my chest, forced my stomach to contract, made my eyes water, and caused me to wet myself.
Between the coughing and the pain, sleep was impossible. I took Benadryl to knock me out. It did the trick, but as soon as it wore off, I was wide awake and in pain again. I don’t have a TV in my bedroom, so I spent most of the time on the couch in the living room. When I couldn’t find a relieving cool spot, I sprawled on the floor. I didn’t bother to lay a blanket on the rug. Not only did I not have the energy, but I needed to feel some coolness against my skin. My days were spent in my collection of rotating robes or completely naked. I couldn’t bear anything constricting me, not even caftans. The neighbors got a free peep show through the blinds.
I never outright cried, but I felt sad about my situation. No significant other, no mother to be caretaker. My aunties and aunt’s best friend back home in Boston checked on me, prayed, and suggested foods, drinks, teas, and vitamins. The daily check-ins made me feel cared for, but the loneliness was overwhelming. I truly believe that the physical presence and the physical caretaking from my aunties and honorary aunties 16 years prior after a near-fatal car crash nursed me back to health even though the doctors were skeptical about my recovery. Even my aunt from Canada came down to help. My heart still breaks remembering my grandmother sleeping on the floor in my bedroom doorway so she’d be present for any little stir from me. Drink, pain meds, anything I needed. I daydreamed of her saying my name to rouse me from sleep to sip the soups and teas she made as I struggled through “Not Covid.” Even if Granny hadn’t passed away months before in Canada, she couldn’t be in my Brooklyn apartment to take care of me.
My late mother visited me in the form of an overwhelming grapefruit craving. Occasionally, I buy grapefruit to make fresh juice. There was a pair in the fridge. I never eat grapefruit, only drink juice made from it. But there I was, sitting on the couch, scooping out grapefruit chunks with a spoon like I used to watch my mother do when I was a kid. The only difference is I didn’t add sugar. I chuckled and said “Hi, Mummy.” My aunt didn’t think I was weird when I told her.
It’s kinda good that I had the false-negative test results. In the thick of things, had I known I had covid, I would’ve been in a bad mental state. I mean, it wasn’t great, but I literally kept repeating to myself: “Sher, you’ll be ok. At least it’s not covid.” I thought I was stricken with the Super Flu, which I’d learned about on the news, or had bronchitis again. I’d had it three times in two years—once during the summertime. When a cousin, whom I hadn’t seen in fifteen years, said he’d be visiting New York from Utah, I rallied to have dinner and drinks with him. I warned that I’d been sick, but not to worry.
“I’ve been tested. It’s not covid,” I assured him over the phone. I look awful in our reunion photo, and not just because of the bad lighting.
Days later, I was shocked and laughed when the doctor said I had covid. Actually, he never got to say it. He entered the room and started with: “Sherring, unfortunately, you have—”
I cut him off. “Don’t you say it. Don’t say it.”
He handed me a printout. My eyes zeroed in on the word “Positive” as if it were highlighted. It appeared twice.
The first thing they did was administer a covid test when I arrived. Then I was examined. I struggled to remove my denim jacket so he could listen to my lungs. He leaned over me as I sat in one of the guest chairs instead of the raised patient chair in the center of the examination room. I gave up after trying to scramble into it. I didn’t have the energy.
Knowing my new status, when I pulled down my mask so he could check my throat, I worried about the doctor’s safety, even though he wore a mask. Earlier when I pulled down my mask to be swabbed for covid testing, I had no hesitations. After all, it wasn’t covid. I’d already been tested. I even argued as much so as to get out of another testing. Sometimes it felt like they were sweeping for memories when they tested. One time, my eye twitched and watered.
He asked me if I’d been taking any over-the-counter medications or home remedies. I told him if he drew blood, my blood type would be orange juice and ginger tea. Actually, those might be overpowered by the Haitian Auntie remedy tea made of garlic, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, fennel, and honey. I forgot to add turmeric. It sounds gross, but the potency and pungency of cinnamon and ginger are refreshing. The drink helped alleviate the congestion and heaviness in my chest. In the thick of things, I swear a ghost or demon had sat on my chest. It was ridiculously difficult to breathe. And scary. One aunt wanted me to buy an oxygen meter. I didn’t, but almost ordered one. Part of what stopped me was that I’d have to go down and back up three flights of stairs to pick up the delivery.
I live in a Brownstone, third-floor walk-up, no elevator. Even on healthy days, those stairs kick my ass, especially when carrying groceries, laundry, or a suitcase. Never mind sick, weak, and having trouble breathing. The main reason I felt weak was because I hadn’t been able to eat to gain strength. Who was gonna stand at the stove and cook? I could barely pour the hot tea into my mug without spilling. Being single, I freeze the extra servings when I cook. Thankfully, I had some soup in the freezer. One day I boiled eggs. The two times I ordered delivery, I ordered family-size so I’d have leftovers, which I ate cold.
I used a week’s worth of sick days from my job. I was offline and away from social media for just as long. When I did sneak a peak, my DMs were popping. The usual forwards of funny videos and memes, but several people noticed my absence and silence, and cared enough to reach out. I have a modest, and I do mean modest, number of followers. I surely do appreciate that in my little corner of Al Gore’s internet, people enjoy my posts about books, walking boomerangs, food, silliness, randomness, and eye candy of shirtless and suited beautiful Black men.
In response to received calls and texts, I thanked people for their prayers and well wishes. More than once, I reminded them that yes, prioritize wellness prayers, but sprinkle in prayers for me to find my own aforementioned beautiful (bald and bearded) Black man who loves, respects, cares about and for me. Going through this mess was bad enough, but going through it alone added an extra layer of suckiness. At one point, I contemplated contacting my ex. My aunt was no help when she said “he’d be there in a heartbeat.” I informed her that a friend offered help, but I didn’t want her to drive all the way from the Bronx and risk contracting covid. Not only is my ex here in Brooklyn, but so what if he caught covid from me? Still not equal payback for the shit he put me through. I didn’t call—though I do agree he’d show up.
It would’ve been nice to have someone to moisturize my skin after my long, steamy showers—the only time I felt somewhat ok and could breathe unlabored. I placed my footstool padded with folded clothes on top in the tub so I could sit and feel the hot water stream down my head and body. I splattered gobs of Vicks VapoRub on the shower walls to mingle with the steam. I got in and out of the tub slowly and carefully. I feared slipping, bumping my head, and passing out naked on the small, cramped bathroom floor. Once out of the shower, I reached for a robe and air-dried. My family knew I was in dire straits when I told them I was too weak to moisturize.
I’m the girl who keeps lotion in her purse (and her car when I had one). I’m the girl who has lotion strategically placed throughout her apartment. I’m the girl who kept lotion and body butter at her office desk. I’m the girl with a vast supply of scented body oils, butters, and lotions. I don’t need to re-up for the rest of the year. But I will. To go un-moisturized is unheard of. I had dry (not ashy though!) skin for days. That’s scarier than the first half of season 1 of Stranger Things that I watched. The one time I attempted to moisturize, I overexerted myself, had a coughing fit, then had to take a nap. Damn, I got taken out by body butter.
Other shows watched during my convalescence: nearly a full season of Everybody Hates Chris on Hulu, the final season of Dear White People on Netflix, and the final seasons of The Game on Peacock (only the first three are on Netflix). I forgot that Lauren London and Brandy had joined the cast. Watching Jay Ellis play Blue, I realized he was playing Lawrence on The Game before he played Lawrence on Insecure. Both characters were awkward, and both got “cheated” on. Poor guy was typecasted. I attempted to watch DVR’d shows, but it required too much energy to lift the remote and press fast forward to skip commercials. One of the times I ended up on the floor was when the remote fell and I leaned over to retrieve it. I slid down and couldn’t get back up. Thank goodness for streaming services’ autoplay. It proved to be the way to go.
I missed Juneteeth celebrations which I could hear from my apartment, that trainwreck of male R&B singers howling off-key on Verzuz, and a hair appointment. The shaved design on the left side of my head grew in and was no longer visible. I didn’t miss the release of Beyoncé’s first single off her latest album (catchy, but thumbs down), and news of the overturning of Roe v Wade (double thumbs down and double middle fingers up).
I would miss my flat(ter) stomach when I gained back my weight.
When the worst was over, I wanted to burn everything, except my beloved books and 65″ TV. Though I felt better-ish, it took weeks before I felt like Me.
Sherring Dartiguenave is a writer and editorial professional with over twenty years of experience in book, magazine, and digital publishing. She earned a BA in Writing, Literature & Publishing from Emerson College, and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from The New School University. A Brooklynite by way of Boston, she serves on the Board and has written for the blog of the New York chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, has been published in the anthology 2020: The Year that Changed America, and on IndieItPress.com. Follow her musings on justsherring.com and @justsherring.