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Did I have coronavirus? I wasn't sure until I had an antibody test

The fever, chills and nausea lasted for almost 10 days, but I'd never been diagnosed with coronavirus.
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I woke up the morning of March 26 and just didn’t feel right.

I took my temperature, as I had been doing regularly since the coronavirus pandemic started. It registered 100.3 F. In a bit of denial — and knowing I was working from home and not leaving my tiny New York City apartment — I chalked it up to a fluke, popped some Advil and dove into my workday.

But by about 5 p.m., I felt like I had been hit by a truck. My temperature was back up to 100.7. And for the next few hours, I obsessively watched the numbers on my thermometer climb higher and higher, rising to over 102 before Tylenol finally kicked in.

My body ached. My head hurt. And I was sweating and freezing at the same time.

By the next morning, I noticed this weird feeling in my chest when I took a deep breath in. It felt like when you were a little kid and spent the day in the swimming pool and swallowed too much water. When I inhaled too deeply, I’d start coughing. Yep, it was that dry cough that everyone had been talking about.

More than a month after my illness, I went to a clinic in New York City for an antibody blood test, which checks to see if your body has fought the coronavirus.
More than a month after my illness, I went to a clinic in New York City for an antibody blood test, which checks to see if your body has fought the coronavirus.

I knew this wasn’t the flu. It wasn’t strep throat. It was something different.

A 10-day roller coaster

As a medical producer with NBC News, my life revolved around the coronavirus — interviewing experts, reading studies, following news conferences and having in-depth discussions with my team about this disease. I was way too familiar with the symptoms of COVID-19 and here I was with what seemed like a textbook case of it.

I’m not going to lie, it was almost embarrassing. I had been writing scripts telling America how to prevent this virus, giving tips and advice and explaining how it spreads. Now I was in bed sick, shivering and weak.

I texted colleagues I had seen the week before to let them know they may have been exposed. I felt terribly guilty and tried to figure out what I did wrong to get infected.

The good thing about being a medical producer is that I have my NBC News doctor correspondents on speed dial. Both Dr. John Torres and Dr. Natalie Azar agreed that I just needed fluids and rest. But if I started experiencing severe symptoms like shortness of breath, then I needed to get to an emergency room.

Getting a diagnostic test didn’t seem feasible. At the time, the NYC Department of Health made it clear that hospitals should only test severe cases. I also didn’t want to expose myself further by going to urgent care. Plus, the treatment wouldn’t change since there are no approved drugs for COVID-19. So, it was sleep and fluids.

The next week was a roller coaster. My fever was down and then it was up. I’d feel better, then I’d feel worse. I lost my appetite completely. If I did eat something, it tasted weird.

The inside of my nose was so dry, it hurt. I was exhausted and so lightheaded I couldn’t even sit on my couch to watch TV. Six days after my fever started, the nausea hit. It was so bad, I thought I’d have to go to the hospital. But I didn’t.

Finally, after almost 10 days of being sick, I finally started to feel like myself again.

I’m incredibly thankful to all my friends who checked in on me every single day, especially Dr. Azar, who was forced to deal with all my dramatic moments.

I’m even more thankful that I had a relatively mild case, especially after hearing so many heartbreaking stories of people whose illnesses ended so much differently.

Did I really have COVID-19?

Since I never got tested, I couldn't stop wondering.

For weeks, we've all been hearing about antibody tests as scientists, doctors and politicians discuss reopening the country.

An antibody test checks to see if your immune system has fought the disease, meaning you already had it and that hopefully, you would now be immune. But the science is still murky. While there are now more than 150 tests on the market, only eight are authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Some have significant issues with accuracy.

So even a positive test result doesn’t guarantee you’ve had COVID-19. To add to the confusion, even if you get a true positive, scientists still don’t really know if you're immune or, if you are, how long you’d be protected.

Despite knowing all of this, I searched for a way to get a legitimate antibody test in New York City. Eventually, I received a pitch from an urgent care center offering the tests.

After verifying the clinic's claim that its test was 97% accurate, I reached out to Cure Urgent Care. It involved a blood draw that was sent to a lab in Brooklyn. Results took approximately 48 hours and that they accepted insurance. The out-of-pocket cost is $50.

The clinic's owner Dr. Jake Deutsch is also a COVID-19 survivor. They've been testing nearly 250 people a day since they began offering the test several weeks ago.

Test results are most accurate at least four weeks after the onset of symptoms. A negative result doesn’t necessarily mean you never had COVID-19.

A few days later and more than four weeks after I became sick, I went for my appointment. The line to get in wrapped around the block, even in the rain. Because I was there to shoot a story about testing for TODAY, they let me and two of my colleagues right in.

Deutsch came in and took a vial of blood from each of us. The test took maybe five minutes. We took the test on a Friday. By Monday afternoon, the results were in.

I tested positive for having something called immunoglobulin G or IgG, a type of antibody that develops after a COVID-19 infection.

I felt kind of happy, like I won some sort of twisted, messed up lottery. Though I certainly can’t go about town thinking I’m now immune.

As we continue to learn more about this virus, I’ll continue social distancing, wearing my mask, washing my hands obsessively (to the tune of “Happy Birthday” twice) and sanitizing everything I can.