Like most people, when the COVID-19 virus came onto the news cycle I didn’t think much of it because it seemed far away and across the ocean – and nowhere near my house in Waxahachie.
Then when cases started popping up in America, I grew a little bit more concerned and that concern grew even larger when cases appeared in Texas. Like a lot of people, I took proper precautions. I social distanced, stayed at home, wore a mask in public spaces and even laughed about the memes that were online about the virus.
As a journalist, I have written articles about the virus and its effect on the community. Never once did I think about becoming a part of the story. That’s the first rule they teach you in journalism classes. Like my college professor, mentor and now friend Lael Morgan would always say, “Reporters are not the news. Instead be a keen observer and report what you see.” That’s always stuck with me and guided me in how I operate as a journalist.
However, this time around I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I’m thinking God knew there were some things in my life I needed to straighten out so and he was decided to use a big tool to facilitate that because, sometimes with me, you have to throw me off of a building, metaphorically speaking of course, to get my attention. I can be really dense and stubborn at times: Just ask my sister Amber. COVID-19 became the Empire State Building from where I was be cast off.
It all started July 17 after I got back to the office from an interview. When I got to my desk my boss, Jo Ann, noticed that I looked overly tired and wasn’t my normal self. I told her I was going to go home and relax after work. That weekend, however, I ended up canceling plans with a friend and just stayed at home, crashing on my couch. From the moment I walked through that door Friday evening, things only got worse. Over the weekend, I was dizzy, had chills and my chest became tighter. Monday came around and I thought, “Well, I still feel crappy, so I’ll take most of the day off and only cover the city council meeting this evening,” and texted both Jo Ann and Scott. Shortly after falling back asleep, I was awakened by my phone ringing. It was Jo Ann calling to say I needed to get tested for COVID-19.
Most of the time when it comes to seeing a doctor, I don’t. I avoid them. I like doctors and what they do, but not when it comes to me. In retrospect, I was stupid. But, on this occasion, I didn’t fight Jo Ann, who helped me get an appointment with MedExpress Urgent Care here in Waxahachie. After a phone visit with them, I went to see them in person for a COVID test. Thinking that I wouldn’t get out of the car I threw on a pair of pants, without a belt, and, it turned out, one black tennis shoe and one black Rockport loafer.
Once in the MedExpress parking lot, I called into their office and a nurse who was suited out from head to toe in personal protective gear and a face shield came out and did the nasal swabs and took my vitals. After listening to my breathing on her stethoscope, she conferred with the doctor and then told me to come inside. Once inside, the doctor looked me over, did a few more tests and then presented me with the bad news.
The words the doctor used to describe my condition were absolutely chilling: “Mr. Branca, the condition you are in is what we (the medical profession) call ‘sudden death.’ ”
Those words rocked my world. At that moment my death became not an if but a when and where. She told me to immediately go to the emergency room at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Waxahachie and handed me a note for the attending doctor, saying she would inform them I was coming. And I want to publicly say a big thank you to the doctor, nurse and other staff members at MedExpress for their help in saving my life.
After leaving the building, though, I stupidly thought about my personal appearance and the mismatched shoes, no belt and the Weird Al T-shirt I was rocking. I also decided I needed to put out food for my cat. Remember, I shared above how I’m hard-headed. So, before going to the emergency room, I first drove home, changed, fed Morpheus and then drove over to Baylor, Scott & White.
When I got to the ER, I handed the guy behind the desk the note and relayed the information I had received. I was told I would soon by seen by a doctor and was greeted by a nurse who took my vitals and then wheeled me from the examination room to a patient room down the hall.
A short while later, Dr. Drain entered. He said it was most likely I had COVID and they were going to treat it like I did until the results came back from the nasal test they had just performed in the ER. More blood draws followed and about an hour and a half later I was admitted into the hospital.
Before I was taken up to my room, I was told about the hospital’s protocol regarding the moving of patients with COVID-19. They would have to put a white sheet over me as I was moved through the corridor and up into a room. I thought, “Great, now people are going to think I am dead.”
The orderly came to move me and, to reassure me, said, “They take good care of people here.”
He then added in a joke, saying, “Don’t worry. Just because you are wearing a sheet does not mean we’re going to the morgue.”
To be continued.
Andrew Branca is an award-winning journalist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.