Coronavirus Chronicles: Is it or isn’t it? I’ll never know

The CDC’s laboratory test kit for Coronavirus. CDC tests are provided to U.S. state and local public health laboratories, Department of Defense (DOD) laboratories and select international laboratories. —Courtesy CDC

On Wednesday night after dinner, I was relaxing on the couch when I started to feel intense tightness in my chest. I had just been to the doctor on March 12 for my annual physical, which includes an EKG these days because of family history. Through diet and exercise, I had lost 22 pounds and lowered my blood pressure. I danced out of my doctor’s office after he told me how I had lowered my risk of heart attack exponentially. 

Still, I couldn’t help worrying about the possibility I was having a heart attack on Wednesday. But I had none of the other telltale symptoms. No jaw pain. No shortness of breath. I convinced myself I had pulled a muscle.

When I woke up Thursday, the pain had shifted to my rib cage on the left side of my body. It only hurt when I moved. “Why are you making old man noises?” my son asked me.

“Because I’m old,” I said with a laugh.

That night during a social Zoom call with my colleagues, I wasn’t myself. That prompted one of them to call afterwards and ask if I was ok.
“You weren’t yourself,” she said.

She was insightful and right.

I suspected it was pleurisy, which I’ve had before. Pleurisy is an inflammation of the lungs. It’s typically brought on by pneumonia. It’s painful, but goes away in a few days. I promised my family I would call my doctor and make an appointment.

Friday morning I had a telemedicine appointment with my doctor. (I’m a fan. No drive to a doctor’s office. No long wait in a waiting room. No terribly old magazines needed to pass the time.) I told him I thought I had pleurisy again, but he said the lead up to the pain I was feeling didn’t fit pleurisy.

I had a dry hacking cough for a few days prior to the pain. I had called my doctor to get a prescription for an inhaler. It helped and I didn’t think any more about it. My doctor explained if my cough had been bronchial in nature, I would have been producing phlegm when I coughed. I wasn’t. Pleurisy was ruled out.

That’s when he diagnosed it as costochondritis, an inflammation of the rib cage brought on by a virus.

A dry unproductive cough is a symptom of coronavirus.

In a perfect world, my doctor said he would send me to the hospital to be tested for coronavirus. But he said he couldn’t get me tested. Because there aren’t enough tests available, I would have to meet one of these criteria:

  • Direct contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19
  • Over 65 with other symptoms like fever, cough, and shortness of breath
  • Sick enough that I feel like I need to be hospitalized
  • Underlying medical conditions that compromise my immune system

Fortunately, I meet none of those criteria except for the cough, which isn’t enough. Unfortunately, I may never know what brought on this intense pain I’ve had over the last several days, diagnosed as costochondritis. It’s treatable with ibuprofen and I’ll be fine.

But it’s a good reminder of why we’re being told to stay at home and wear face coverings in public places where social distancing isn’t possible. You see the confirmed number of cases at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and you think only a few people have this virus. I’m here to remind you that we will never know how many people truly have or had coronavirus because there aren’t enough tests.

It’s why I’m staying home. It’s why I’m keeping my distance. It’s why you should, too. Not for me. Not for you. But for my friend’s 92-year-old father who has battled other health issues recently and for my neighbor who has heart disease.

We’re being tested by this virus, when we should be tested for it.


  1. As I was planting potatoes this splendid spring afternoon, a grin kept coming, over and over (an “earworm”) whenever I thought of your line “why are you making old man noises?” Well, because…

  2. George,

    I m sorry to hear of your unfortunate plight. Good luck with it, sir.
    Your first-hand advice is appreciated.

  3. Thank you for the insight and hope you’re feeling better. I had a very similar scare – tightness in chest, hacking cough, shortness of breath. I did meet the criteria for testing but was negative thankfully! However, after antibiotics, prednisone, inhalers, 2 weeks of quarantine, still have everything but the cough. Was told the tests are 25% faulty and to quarantine anyway. Needless to say, I am staying home regardless. I agree with you the numbers are a lot higher than 22. I don’t think we will ever know or have a clear picture of what we are really facing here. Stay well. Hoping more tests become available as we are in for a long road ahead of us.

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