A journal: Symptoms, a coronavirus test, quarantine


**Editor’s note: Target 8 investigator Ken Kolker was tested for COVID-19 on March 17 after returning from a conference where two participants tested positive. Here’s his daily journal as he waits for results.

Monday, March 16, evening: 

I’m feeling heavy in the chest, like a brick on my sternum, with a dry cough, but no fever. It doesn’t feel like it’s going to kill me, but it makes me wonder. Is this how it starts? Or is this what the mind does in a pandemic?

I was at a conference two weekends ago in New Orleans and later learned two people there tested positive for COVID-19. Also was in Los Angeles right after that (before learning about the conference infections). My doctors told me several weeks ago that I likely have an acquired autoimmune disease that last year caused my blood clots, including pulmonary embolisms. The only way they could test for it was to take me off blood thinners, but that was too risky. Also, I’m over 60. So, there’s that.

A parade in New Orleans. (Ken Kolker/WOOD TV8)

Tuesday, March 17:

Call my doctor first thing in the morning, tell him my symptoms, which haven’t changed overnight. He says it’s ridiculously hard to get tested, but he would work on it. Within an hour, he gets me set up for screening for a COVID-19 test at Mercy Health in Grand Rapids. No guarantee I’ll get tested, but they’d check if I meet the guidelines.

There’s been lots of stories nationally about a shortage of tests. They can’t test everyone. So, how are they supposed to know how far and wide this has spread?

I call the number my doctor gave me. They tell me to show up at 1 p.m. THAT DAY, to pull up to the front door and to give them a call. I’ve never seen medicine practiced like that. Within minutes of calling, a nurse wearing a clear plastic face shield and a surgical mask comes out, asks if I was the patient, hands me a face mask and leads me inside.

Ken Kolker arrives at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids to be tested for coronavirus. (March 17, 2020)

I follow her into a small room, where she takes my blood pressure (it’s really high, up to 200 over 100, but hey, I’m nervous), checks my oxygen levels, which are normal, and my temperature, which is also normal (about 97.3 degrees). She is certain, based on my symptoms and history, that I will get tested, but says a doctor will have to decide. She wonders if the chest pressure could be new blood clots, even though I’m still on blood thinners. (My doctor later dismissed this).

Ken Kolker is tested for coronavirus at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids. (March 17, 2020)

Within minutes, after a doctor asked the same questions, another woman wearing protective gear leans into the room: “Test him.” The nurse tells me the long Q-tips she’s about to jam up my nostrils will feel like they’re hitting my brain. But it’s not bad at all. One up each nostril, quick, and another swabbing the back of the throat. The test results, the nurse tells me, could take four to six days.

Ken Kolker’s coronavirus test kit. (March 17, 2020)

In the meantime, she says, I’d have to self-quarantine at home. So, she says, would my wife, Hope. We’re told we should keep a distance from each other, so guess who’s sleeping in the guest room?

Quarantines, mass quarantines: Never thought we’d live through something like this. But quarantines are the key to actually living through something like this. So, quarantine it is.

Later that night, a mild fever. I’m usually in the 97-degree range (That’s cuz I’m pretty cool), but this is 99.0. Mild, but I feel chills. “Could be regular virus,” my doctor says in a text. “But coronavirus high on the list. If you get more short of breath, please call.”

Thank God for doctors and nurses and everybody out there helping. My friend’s wife is an epidemiologist who gives me advice. So grateful for that.

Wednesday, March 18:

Wake up still feeling like a brick on my chest and a mild cough. Fever gone. Still waiting for test results. Anxious. But we don’t want our kids to know yet. No reason to scare them without knowing the results. For sure don’t want them to know I have symptoms.

Want to stay active, but still not leaving our home, except to walk to my man cave in our garage.

Sarah Stier, a good friend whose husband works at the station, calls my wife: “What kind of coffee do you like?” A few minutes later, she drops off a care package, including Kleenex, toilet paper (lots of TP), margarita mix, Starbucks and a bouquet of tulips. So sweet. She kisses the glass on our front door and dashes away.

A care package left for Ken Kolker and his wife by Sarah Stier, a friend and wife of a co-worker. (March 18, 2020)

We order a pizza from Domino’s. The driver rings the doorbell, sets the pizza box on our doorstep, then drives away. It was like ding-dong-ditch it. Pizza was good, though.

Tonight, I tell my kids I was tested but not that I have symptoms. No need to scare them unnecessarily. There’s a good chance this is something else. Even if I have COVID-19, it appears the symptoms aren’t knocking me over. So far, so good.

Too much bad news on TV. Wall-to-wall coronavirus. I’m normally a pretty level person, but this is making me anxious. Not just about myself or my family. It’s about all the doomsday, the domino effect, the potential for this thing: overloaded hospitals, deaths, lost jobs. How’d this happen all so fast? There must be a nice puppy story out there. Think I’ll watch my go-to: “Family Guy.” Peter Griffin never fails me.

Thursday, March 19:

Still feel chest pressure, still mild cough, but coughing only when I breathe too hard, like when more active. Working in my man cave above my garage. Sure miss my buddies at work. Would love a cigar. (Saw a video of Arnold Schwarzenegger sitting in a hot tub, smoking a cigar, warning young people to practice social distancing. “Stay away from the crowds. Go home,” he said. That cigar, as ironic as it was, looked good.)

For first time, we order groceries from Meijer through Shipt. Half a dozen bags show up on front porch. Never saw the woman who dropped them off. My wife, Hope, was obviously hungry when she ordered: Oreo Thins, crackers, ice cream sandwiches.

Finally get to pitch in on our coverage of the coronavirus. Make calls and write a story about much-needed supplies going to local hospitals.

More big news from LA, where my daughters, Jessica and Dana, live. The city is pretty much on lockdown. I want to drive out there and pick them up, but I guess that would defeat the purpose of a quarantine.

Talk to my daughter, Dana, on the phone, who somehow figures out I have symptoms, but I assure her they are mild, and they are.

Friday, March 20:

Woke up feeling a bit worse. Chest heavy, a cough, a little nauseous, but no fever. Still waiting for test results. Been three days. They said it would take four to six days. My doctor’s office calls this morning, like it has every morning since I got tested, just to check in. This will probably be nothing, and I’ll feel stupid. My only time spent outside is walking from my home to my garage. (Other than when I reached out to get the pizza and groceries.) I think I heard a bird today. Should tweet about that.

Ken Kolker in his den above his garage. (March 2020)

Made some calls on a possible story today: Nurses and doctors at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital worried about a shortage of protective masks. They say they have to wear the same surgical masks all day when working with COVID-19 patients and then stuff the masks into bags with their names on them when they leave a patient’s room. These are masks that they normally use for only 20 minutes at a time. They’re asking volunteers to create makeshift mask covers.

Saturday, March 21:

Symptoms still the same. Feels very similar to last year when I had blood clots. Short of breath. Call Mercy Health to ask about tests. Amazingly, they pick up right away. Results not in. My doc thinks it will be Monday.

My friend, Bilal Kurdi, stops by with treats: Starbucks, rotisserie chicken and tiramisu cake. No surprise. He’s probably the most generous person I know. Hope and I went for a short walk, my first time off my property since this started, saw a woman walking on the sidewalk towards us, so we moved across the street. Social distancing seems so offensive.

Sunday, March 22:

Feel the same, maybe a tad worse, but this won’t kill me. Be nice to know results. I feel guilty even getting tested. A guy who used to work at the station posted on Facebook that he’s been sick, with a high fever, but he can’t get tested. He’s not sure why. So why me? I’m certain it’s not because of my job. They didn’t recognize me at the testing center.

There are lots of conflicting reports about the need for testing, but it seems that without it the government wouldn’t know where to send the most resources. And, without it, those daily updates on positive COVID-19 patients would seem worthless. Are they already?

Monday, March 23:

Day 6 of waiting for test results. They said it would be four to six days. So, today I should know.

Start out feeling OK, but by afternoon, chest is hurting more. Then I read about a woman who died in New Orleans after starting out with the same symptoms. Died while waiting for test results. Oh, and I was in New Orleans. Is my chest really heavier? Or is my mind playing tricks on me? Mid-afternoon, get all excited when I see Mercy Health on my caller ID. No, she says, no test results. She’s very nice and apologetic. She doesn’t know what’s taking so long. Maybe tomorrow. This waiting is getting old.

New Orleans in March 2020. (Ken Kolker/WOOD TV8)

In the meantime, I finish writing my story on the test I took. Write it in my man cave, send in video through my phone, voice it on my phone. A brave new world.

Just get a call from my youngest daughter, Dana. Heartbroken. Today, she got let go from a job she loved in LA. The company makes movie trailers. She was a victim of COVID-19.

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