My experience with a unique variation of COVID-19

While repeatedly testing negative for the virus, other tests showed positive results

Even though I was sick in the hospital, I was asymptomatic and optimistic.
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Even though I was sick in the hospital, I was asymptomatic and optimistic.

It all began on Friday, Nov. 6, when I woke up pouring with sweat after tossing and turning all night.

Temperature and test

While I felt fine throughout the day, when I took my temperature that evening it was over 100 degrees. Expecting the worst, I went for a COVID-19 test around 6 p.m.

I was in my hometown of Colonia in Middlesex County when I came down with the symptoms and went to an urgent care facility nearby.

After waiting almost two hours for a nasal swab, the doctor said I would get my results later that weekend. I went home, took a Tylenol, and went to sleep early.

The next morning on Saturday, Nov. 7, I woke up feeling slightly better and rested in bed throughout the day, waiting for my test results. But before I heard back from the urgent care, I vomited bile at around 7:30 p.m. as my temperature spiked to 103.8 degrees. My oxygen levels were at 92 which was low compared to healthy levels around 98.

I reached out to my aunt who works at RWJBarnabas Health Kindred Hospital in Rahway. With the combination of a high fever and low oxygen levels, she suggested I go to the hospital and not waste time that could be spent being treated.

In the Emergency Department

I went to Kindred Hospital that evening and was given a room in the Emergency Department (ED).

Because the ED was filling up, I was put in a room normally used for patients dealing with psychological issues that had been adapted for COVID-19 patients. Instead of an area blocked off by a curtain, I was put in an enclosed room to stay isolated.

After an EKG, chest x-ray, and bloodwork, I had a CAT scan of my abdomen. The scan included the bottom of my lungs, which showed particulates consistent with COVID-19-induced pneumonia.

The x-ray and CAT scan were consistent with pneumonia most likely caused by the virus. The symptomless pneumonia is also called “walking pneumonia.”

After I was given the results, I was COVID-19 tested and started on a slew of drug treatments, including the steroid Dexamethasone. While my COVID-19 test came back negative, my nurse at the time attributed it as a false negative due to the fact that my x-ray and bloodwork indicated COVID-19.

I had blood taken while waiting to see a doctor. Since it was late in the evening, I wouldn’t be able to see a doctor until the next day.

COVID pneumonia? Or bacterial pneumonia?

When I saw the doctor on Sunday, Nov. 8, he confirmed I had pneumonia, but my COVID-19 test had come back negative. He said I may be released that day but was waiting for further results from the bloodwork. I was tested again for COVID-19 and was again negative.

Since my bloodwork showed signs consistent with COVID-19, the doctor kept me overnight with the possibility of leaving on Monday, Nov. 9. Monday morning, the doctor concluded that I was getting worse and started me on Remdesivir. After a flu test, I received my first dose of the drug that night at 11:30.

On Tuesday, Nov. 10, my oxygen levels dropped to 90. I was given a breathing treatment which helped open my lungs and brought my levels back to 92, typical levels for someone suffering from pneumonia.

On Wednesday, another chest x-ray was taken. While I felt fine, I was getting worse.

The pneumonia showed signs of worsening despite three days of Remdesivir treatment. I was then given an antibacterial pneumonia treatment in case I had bacterial pneumonia instead of COVID-19.

Every morning I was in the ED, my fever would spike to around 103 degrees. Finally, on Thursday, Nov. 12, my fever broke, and the non-stop sweating finally ceased.

Around this time, I transferred from ED to the unit handling patients with COVID-19. While most rooms were doubled up to accommodate two patients, I had my own room due to the uncertain diagnosis. One of my best friends works as an assistant nurse in that unit, so I was in good hands.

On Friday, Nov. 13, I finished my Remdesivir treatment after five days.

Following a third x-ray on Saturday, Nov. 14, my doctor said I was finally showing signs of improvement. After eight days, I was discharged on Sunday, Nov. 15 to recover at home. Having finished all treatments at the hospital, I rested at home for the next week as I fully recovered.

What happened?

As scientists and doctors struggle to understand COVID-19, they’ve faced a number of unknowns, such as variations in the way the virus manifests itself. This includes my experience with “ghost” COVID-19, characterized by blood samples and lung x-rays consistent with the virus despite a negative COVID-19 test.

In an interview with the Bayonne Community News, Chief Hospital Executive Dr. Vijay Singh at Bayonne Medical Center said he witnessed similar things at BMC.

He explained that COVID-19 can be detected in the blood in the form of elevated proteins, including the C-reactive protein and the D-dimer protein. These protein levels are monitored to track the progress of the disease.

“These two proteins are definitely high in patients who have mild to moderate, even moderate to severe COVID,” Singh said.

In the lungs, COVID-19 infiltrates appear in x-rays and CAT scans in the same way as pneumonia. Singh said it has come to be known as COVID pneumonia; nearly every COVID-19 patient at the hospital also has pneumonia.

Singh said he has witnessed some patients at BMC who have tested negative for COVID-19 after a nasal swab test, but an x-ray of their lungs and the protein levels in their blood suggest otherwise.

He said the test could have been done during a period when the viral load was not high enough, meaning the nasal swab was done too early. In that scenario the test would be repeated in three days yielding a positive result.

Sometimes the test still comes back negative even with the x-ray and bloodwork indicating COVID-19. He said that BMC has had those cases since the first wave, but it is not common.

Why this occurs remains one of the many unknowns about COVID-19.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.