LETTER: Wilmington Resident Tests Positive For COVID-19, Shares His Story

Below is a letter from Wilmington resident Steven Gabardi, who works at a Boston hospital, detailing his COVID-19 experience. The message was originally posted on Facebook and is shared with the author’s permission. It includes adult language.

Steven Gabardi
Steven Gabardi

Dear Editor,

Yes, I look older than 45. I need a haircut, a beard trim and something done to the bushes above my eyes. But, this has been a crazy last 18 days. I share my story not for sympathy, but so that others can see what is going on out there and that you need to be your own advocate in order to keep yourself, your family and others safe from COVID.

It started with body aches, the type that felt like you just did a full body workout, but, let’s be honest, does it look like I’ve done a full-body workout lately? The aches remained, no other symptoms. I went to work. I work with immunocompromised patients who are kidney transplant recipients. Great! I saw two patients face-to-face less than 7 days after their transplants, when they were most immunosuppressed. Body aches continued at home for 3 days. I told Betsy I had to be coming down with something, but had no other symptoms (this was over a weekend). On Monday, I was to go to the hospital to have a discussion on whether or not I could work from home, as long as I was available for questions, clinical consults and virtual visits with patients. I had a low grade fever Monday morning and called into our meetings for work. I was to stay and work from home indefinitely and manage my patient load via computer, cellphone and ZOOM. Phew! At least I was not going to the hospital anymore. I self-quarantined myself into one section of the house, away from Betsy and the kids. Used one bathroom. We are fortunate, we have a house big enough to accommodate this and allow me to separate myself from my family. This sucks! I am supposed to protect my family from this shit, but I brought it home and there I was releasing something that could potentially infect my family. Great dad!

My hospital sent out lots of emails instructing those with symptoms (now body aches, fever and loss of smell – not such a bad thing being cooped up in the house with 2 boys, myself and 2 bulldogs!) to call occupational health and wait for instructions. Occupational health never picked up because they were inundated by phone calls. I reached out to my PCP and he helped to organize me to get a COVID test. Two days later I went into the hospital to the outdoor tent set up to test at risk individuals. One nurse, two nasal swabs, a thank you for her service and I was on my way. Negative results for flu A and B and other common viral pathogens came back right away, but I was told to expect to wait 72 hours for COVID results. Lots of Tylenol for the fevers, but it did not touch the body aches. I know I am not supposed to take Ibuprofen for fear of worsening respiratory symptoms, but it’s the only thing that touched the body aches. Thursday night was the worst. I woke up at 4 am and all my large joints (knees, hips, shoulders) ached. I couldn’t get back to sleep. That morning as I walked down the stairs, slowly, Betsy was horrified that it hurt that much to move.

I am now looking myself up in the hospital computer system to see my test results and nothing. Four days had passed and nothing. Sunday morning, my fever broke. Sunday afternoon, the aches and pains went away. Thank God! Sunday night, my COVID test results come back negative. WTF! I was feeling better, but some respiratory symptoms set in with a cough and my chest feeling congested. What could this be if not COVID? Tuesday night I could not stop coughing, sitting bolt upright in bed to help me breath. The only time I felt like I lost my cool through out this whole thing. I was not sick enough to warrant a trip to the hospital, but I felt if this got worse, I might have to get to the ED. By Wednesday morning I felt much better, the cough was less, but I was mentally in a fog. Thursday, feeling much better, I fulfilled my obligation to the National Kidney Foundation, and gave an online lecture that was supposed to take place in New Orleans, LA, but was put online due to COVID. I was a little out of it, but did not do too bad. I discharged a patient from the hospital, virtually, that day. I felt completely out of it with him. That sucks! They expect me to make them feel more comfortable with their medications, I could not really concentrate. Friday, feeling better still, the cough is mostly gone, but I still cannot smell. I gave 2 lectures to ExpressScripts. The first was a disaster, as there were a ton of technical difficulties, including me dropping an F-bomb when I thought my phone dropped the conference call again. It did not, but my participants enjoyed the distraction (at least that is what they told me). The second lecture was much better. Did 2 virtual discharges early Friday afternoon. I felt like I did much better. Joined a conference call from work and one of our ID colleagues let us know how bad things were. Talking with colleagues, I find out my COVID test had a 30% false negative rate. I bet I have it. I’m willing to bet any sum, but the hospital says I’m negative and I am just glad I am feeling better.

Betsy went to work this past weekend. 7 am to 7:30 pm Saturday and Sunday. She nursed me back to health during my self-quarantine, took care of the dogs and boys, and never cooked so much in her life. Now, she gets to leave the house and go work on a COVID floor at the hospital. Awesome! Poor girl can’t catch a break. Feeling better, I went to pick up food at two local eateries, and went to the grocery store. I did a lot of yard work on Saturday, the first day I felt human. But, I still can’t smell, but its getting better.

Sunday night we get a call at the house from a number we don’t recognize. We let it go to voicemail. No message. Another telemarketer. Now a call to my cellphone. It’s BWH. Because of the high false negative rate of my test, they re-ran my nasal swab with a new test. I am now positive. I fucking knew it! It doesn’t change anything. I am feeling better, the sense of smell is slowly coming back. Fuck, it does matter! I was told I was negative and went to the grocery store and two local restaurants. I am such an ASS!!

Anyway, Betsy and the kids have no symptoms. My sense of smell is slowly coming back. I need to re-test once my sense of smell is fully back. And I continue my self-quarantine. Trying to reconcile, in my head, that I did not realize I was infected when I exposed patients and others. Call it Catholic guilt, but I’m sure I could have done better. In the end, I am grateful that I had mild symptoms and did not add to the burden in the hospital. I am incredibly grateful for my family, who were awesome through all of this and are still symptom free.

I hear stories from colleagues that the hospitals are getting worse. This is real. I am very fortunate to have not ended up in the hospital, or ICU or, worst-case, on a ventilator. Praying for all COVID patients and healthcare workers around the world. Stay safe!


Steven Gabardi

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