I was five days into my COVID-19 diagnosis—about nine days into self-imposed isolation and freshly recovering from a fever that spiked so high that I thought I might die alone in my junior one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles—when President Trump announced his own coronavirus test results in a single tweet.
His positive diagnosis was still shocking, despite how adamant he’s been about not wearing masks in public. And that one tweet was a catalyst for a series of social media posts that, as someone who was in the midst of a battle for her own life, were both weirdly gratifying and a complete nightmare.
I struggled. Did I have compassion for the president, someone who was probably the reason I was in this mess? Did my friends and loved ones think about me at all as they flippantly posted about the president possibly succumbing to the very virus I too was fighting?
Truth be told, I was finally coming down from the worst of my experience with the virus when Trump’s diagnosis began dominating the news cycle. Before testing positive for COVID-19, I had about seven months of various stages of stay-at-home orders to think about what I’d do if I was ever diagnosed.
I told my friends that I wouldn’t tell my parents until after I was better—that I was 3,000 miles away and didn’t want them to worry. But on the day I received my positive test result, holding back tears, my mother was the first and only person I called.
I had joked about the shows I’d finally binge watch if I was home without having to work for two weeks. I’d start Game of Thrones, or maybe Breaking Bad. But the reality was, on my sickest days with COVID-19, I was lucky if I could keep my eyes open for more than 30 minutes at a time before extreme fatigue took over and lulled me into another hours-long slumber.
Physically, COVID-19 was the worst of times. I’m told I lucked out by not having gastrointestinal symptoms. But the pain, the loss of smell and taste, the fever and chills, the nights I was so out of it that I hallucinated my loved ones being there with me. They were unexpected and, at times, excruciating. My face hurt so much that I called my diagnosing physician and asked whether I should go to the emergency room, and he was clear that I was only to call 911 if I had trouble breathing.
By Friday, once many of those physical symptoms had subsided, I was struggling with the aftermath. I was scared. I’d read about people who had lingering symptoms long after the fevers and chills went away. I was confused and had trouble completing simple tasks like texting friends back or pouring a cup of tea. And I wasn’t sure if I was truly in an upswing, or just temporarily feeling better as I had for short moments between my worst episodes. I was in that state when Trump’s announcement went viral. Just coming out of a days-long stupor, confused, and clinging to the hope that this was the day things were going to be better.
I decided to take a break from Twitter for the weekend. I knew my loved ones were warranted in feeling vindicated by the president’s diagnosis. And I didn’t want to internalize their thoughts. It was not my fault that I got COVID-19. I, unlike the president, was cautious. I did my very best to keep myself and others safe.
I logged back into social media on Monday. Though still experiencing some fatigue and confusion, I was feeling so much better. I tweeted about being ready to get a negative test result so that I could be around my small social bubble again. I was happy, relieved even.
I’d managed to avoid most of the president’s nonsensical actions throughout the weekend, but just as I was opening the soup my mother sent me (the first meal I was able to finish in days), I saw his latest tweet.
“I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M,” he told his 87 million followers on Twitter. “Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”
It was infuriating. I had been the sickest I can remember being in my life and the president of the United States had essentially said it was no big deal. He touted drugs and knowledge that were not available to me as I cried in a puddle of my own sweat and called my doctor for help. Tylenol and Flonase were all that I was offered. I was only to go to the hospital if I could not breathe. I was literally on my own for anything else.
This president, a man who knew that more than 200,000 Americans were not as lucky as myself, had the audacity to say that he was feeling better than ever. It’s insulting and heartbreaking in ways that I’m sure I’ll be discussing with a therapist someday. As President Trump parades himself in front of cameras, I can’t help but think about his supporters who will take his behavior and his words as a license to resume business as usual at the expense of human lives.
COVID-19 survivors, victims, and their loved ones deserve better. We’ve deserved better from the start of this pandemic, when he continually “downplayed” its severity, and we especially deserve it now that we know what we know.
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