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When that red line appears by the T, you’ve got a problem — as in COVID

This is when you say “Oh, shucks,” or something like that
Kevin Woster
This is when you say “Oh, shucks,” or something like that

You want the C, not the T.

If you’ve had COVID-19 and tested positive using a COVID-19 rapid antigen test, you know what I mean.

C is negative, so it’s good. T is positive, so it’s bad.

I know, it’s sounds backwards, but it’s not.

If a red line appears next to the C on the test panel where you squeeze a few drops of solution — including what you’ve swabbed out of your nostrils — it means the test is working properly. And if there’s no red line by the T below the C, it means the test is negative for the coronavirus.

But if a red lines appear by both the C and the T, you’ve got a problem, as in COVID. Which might lead you to say something like, “Oh, shucks.”

That’s not exactly what I said sitting at our dining room table, watching the bright red line appear by the T, but it’s in the general neighborhood of exclamations.

Nobody likes to test positive for COVID. But I liked it even less than I might have otherwise had we not been four days away from the start of our 10-day driving trip to the Grand Canyon and so many beautiful parts in-between.

Three days earlier — or seven days before we were scheduled to leave — I started getting sick.

Cold-symptom sick, you know, starting in the evening and becoming more noticeable in the middle of the night, with watery eyes and runny nose.

You hope it’s just a sinus thing. You hope you’ll feel better in the morning.

Instead, you wake up with body aches and more sinus drainage and some congestion and a bit of a cough. Maybe a fever, too.

Yeah, I had all of that stuff by the end of the first day, along with some related stomach ailments.

Oddly enough, I didn’t think much about it, and for the first day or so never really considered COVID. Which is strange for a hypochondriac like me.

It might have been a case of denial, or maybe wishful thinking. I was trying to focus on preparing for our upcoming Grand Canyon trip, as if no case of the sniffles — or worse — could ever prevent or complicate it.

Also, I was thinking about a trip to Sioux Falls just days before we were to leave for the Grand Canyon. My daughter, Meghan, and the other members of the 2002 Class AA state volleyball championship team at O’Gorman High School were to be inducted into the O’G Hall of Fame.

Then my daughter asked that tough COVID question

I really wanted to be there for that, to celebrate with my daughter and her family and see her former teammates and their parents again.

But I felt worse over the next couple of days. Cold-symptom worse, you know, with that intestinal stuff. Not serious. Just fairly miserable. On the third day, things started to improve when Meghan suggested by text what should have been an obvious course of action sooner:

“Have you tested yet?”

That’s as in tested for COVID. And, no, I hadn’t, again oddly enough. I’d had a case of COVID more than a year earlier. I had the two regular vaccinations and the two boosters to follow. With those various stimulators of immunity, I kind of let up on my COVID watch, at least a bit.

I was getting out more, doing more things around other people indoors, not wearing a mask. Still trying to be careful, but not as careful.

I was planning on getting the latest COVID booster, which is fashioned to work against the latest Omicron strains. But I put if off a couple of times.

Then I got sick.

We used to keep a stack of COVID tests in the bathroom cabinet. We’d test at every sniffle. But during the last year or so, we let up on the testing, too. And we didn’t keep up on our test supply.

We checked with our drug store and they were out tests. But a friend dropped off a couple of tests, handing them over the back gate along with a plastic bag full of his wonderful homegrown tomatoes, all from a careful distance.

I went inside, sat down at the dining room table and scanned the still-familiar test process: the swab up both nostrils, the swirls, the mixing of the swab in the solution, the squeezing into the test panel and the anxious wait of up to 15 minutes for the results.

My wait was about 30 seconds. A red line appeared almost immediately next to the letter T. Soon after, another red line appeared next to the letter C.

C and T — a positive test with a very negative reaction on my part.

What would this mean to our Grand Canyon trip, just four days away?

I canceled my trip to Sioux Falls, of course, and continued to get all the rest I could. Continued to take some zinc. Drank lots of fluids. Slugged down some Vitamin C powder. You know the drill.

Mary used the other test, and was negative. And she was without symptoms at that point. Now we just hoped I would feel well enough to leave on our scheduled date, since we had rooms booked in the Grand Canyon. We also hoped that Mary wouldn’t get sick, too.

I consulted my son ER doc son, Casey. He said it would be fine to leave on the trip seven days into my symptoms if I was on the upswing and feeling up to traveling. It wasn’t as if I’d be going through airports and squeezing into airplane or train seats with others.

Hitting the road for the canyon, despite the coronavirus

I’d be able to isolate well in our travels. We were driving in my pickup and staying first at a borrowed condominium unit, then at individual cabins and motels rooms that opened to the outside.

So, for most of the trip, especially in the early stage, it was Mary and me, the open road, take-out meals in the pickup or in our room and some great outdoor vistas and exploration.

The latest CDC guidelines I could find said I should isolate for five days from the first full day of symptoms. I isolated for seven, including the days before I took the COVID test, not wanting to pass anything on to Mary.

So I slept in a separate bed in the den downstairs while she slept in our bedroom upstairs. I tried to stay away from her as much as possible, hang out in the den when she was in the house and cook my meals while she was out or upstairs.

So the seven days of isolation we hit the road, and basically avoided people for the next three or four days after that. My symptoms had kept improving and were mostly gone by the time we left Rapid City.

By the time we got to the Grand Canyon and I took some short rides on shuttle buses — again staying away from people as much as possible — I was beyond the 10-day period during which CDC recommended I wear a mask if I were out in public.

Meghan had asked before we left on the trip if I was taking an anti-viral drug. I took Paxlovid the first time I had COVID more than a year earlier, and it helped. But I didn’t like the taste it left in my mouth and I ended up getting a rebound case of COVID that was almost as bad as the first one.

At that time there was some thought that taking Paxlovid could increase your chances of a rebound. What I’ve read since then indicates that low incidence of rebound cases is about the same with or without Paxlovid. And Paxlovid still reduces the risk of serious cases, especially among those in vulnerable groups.

There’s still a lot the medical pros have to figure out about this tricky, changing virus and its treatment. It takes some time.

Since I was three days into my symptoms when I tested positive this time and already starting to feel better, I decided against Paxlovid. I don’t know if that was wise for a guy my age (soon to be 72). But I’ve never had a lung problem. I never had trouble breathing the first time I had COVID, or this last time. I didn’t have a fever after the first day or two and I seemed to get better every day beyond day three.

By the time we hit the road I was ready to drive. And drive. And drive. I like to drive, especially if it’s through inspiring landscape. And, oh, my, did we drive through some inspiring landscape.

Our 10-day trip took us through Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona and Utah and a tiny piece of New Mexico. We made stops at the Grand Canyon National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Four Corners Monument, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park.

It was just about the best possible vacation — no airplanes or crowded airport, train or bus terminals — for someone coming off COVID. I had some lingering fatigue but was able to hike with Mary every day and really enjoy the amazing landscapes.

I drove all the way. And the dry, warm conditions down in the southwest seemed to hasten my recovery — which might or might not have been my imagination. But dang those sunny days felt good on aging joints, which started to feel their age again about the time we reached Cheyenne, Wyo., on the drive home.

The temperature was 46 degrees at Cheyenne, about 25 degrees below what it was when we were coming down out of the mountains west of Denver. And the downpour that hit us on Interstate 25 at Cheyenne followed us almost to Lusk.

Despite the soggy conditions, we were happy to be home. We were even happier that Mary never got sick. And I was happy that my second case of COVID seemed milder and shorter in duration than the first, with no rebound.

Milder cases on subsequent infections seems to be fairly common. And it makes sense that I would have some resistance to the coronavirus from my earlier infection and from the initial vaccinations and booster shots I had received.

Plus, the Omicron strains of COVID around these days, while very contagious, tend to be a bit milder than those earlier strains.

Even so, some people still get very sick. And some people die. It is not a disease to take lightly.

So I’d advise you to get the latest COVID vaccination if your doc says it’s appropriate for you. I plan to get it myself, although the CDC and my local doc suggest that I could wait for three to six months because of the immunity I have from my latest COVID infection.

I will eventually get the shot, though, and any future upgrade in the boosters. And we’re getting stocked up on test kits again.

Milder or not, it’s still COVID. And it’s here to stay.

Click here to access the archive of Woster's past work for SDPB.