Life in the Time of Coronavirus: Health Care

The medical clinic where I am a patient sent out an email notice that they were limiting nonessential treatment to give priority to treatment for the coronavirus. I wasn’t sure what that would mean in practice. Fortunately, I don’t have COVID-19 but I have had need for health care for other conditions. Here’s my story.

On a recent Saturday afternoon when Dave and I were walking our dog, Paddy, I started to feel pain in my left eye. The pine pollen was thick and, when the wind blew, it swirled in a cloud around us. I have no idea if that contributed to my eye pain. It certainly kicked up my allergies. A few hours later I noticed my eyelid was swollen. It got more painful that evening and the next day. Sunday night I took a photo. Dave helped me load it on my laptop and resize it to send to my doctor with a note on their online portal.

Monday morning I called the clinic. Dr. V, my primary physician, wasn’t there but I was able to get a 9 am appointment with a doctor new to me, Dr. W. It was quiet in the waiting room when I arrived. The magazines on side tables were gone. Only one check-in window of the usual five or six had someone behind it. When the nurse escorted me back, I passed an office with a sign “Video session in progress.” Dr. W examined me and diagnosed allergies. She advised me to go home and change my sheets, take Zyrtec and antihistamine eye drops and start washing my hair in the evening to wash out the pollen. After I left, I got the recommended OTC allergy medicines and went home to follow her instructions.

Soon thereafter, I was surprised (and impressed) to receive a call from Dr. V. She had seen the photo and thought it was a stye. I told her I’d been seen and diagnosed with allergies.

My eye got steadily worse. The pain felt intense. I thought allergies were itchy, not painful. Gradually the entire area around my eye seemed swollen. I posted another photo on the clinic website. The next morning I called again. I still couldn’t see Dr. V but got an early appointment with Dr. M. He called and suggested we do this over the phone rather than having me come in again. I told him I had posted two photos. He looked at them and asked me to post another. He wanted to rule out Shingles. Shingles? I had suffered through the two Shingles vaccinations a few months before. Each one gave me three days of flu-like symptoms. You can still get it, he told me. Dave helped me take another photo, resize it and post it. Dr. M responded with a message saying I had probably had a stye and now had periorbital cellulitis. He called in two antibiotics to my pharmacy. He recommended that I aggressively apply hot compresses to my eye as well.

Ah! Relief was on the way. I started the antibiotics that day as well as the hot compresses. In a day or two, my eye felt noticeably better. Thank you, Dr. M.

But a few days later, my left ear began to feel clogged. I had a drippy nose and was sneezing a lot. I tried in vain to unclog my ear. If I did succeed in getting it to open up, it quickly clogged again. I felt like my head was full of cotton. I sent another message to Dr. V. I love being able to do this. The next morning, I got a call from Dr. V’s nurse, offering me a video session with her. Yes! We set it for 10 am. She instructed me to get on their website 20 minutes ahead and answer a questionnaire. I did and soon was talking to my doctor by video. She told me my eye looked good and I looked beautiful. Aw, she’s so sweet. I love my doctor. I told her about my clogged ear and drippy nose and we were back to a diagnosis of allergies. Allergies are terrible this year, she said. She wrote me a prescription for Flonase and instructed me to take Zyrtec. Well, I already had a new bottle of Zyrtec so I was set.

She said the clinic was doing more video sessions because of coronavirus. Do you have cases? I asked. Not yet, she said, but we expect we will and we don’t want anyone else to come in if we can help it. Ten days later, my eye looks almost normal. Even better, my allergies are much more under control. I was relieved to find I can still get health care for other conditions.

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