Even as a privileged white woman, Covid-19 has been a personal hell for me. Early March, I land back in Chicago from a blissful weekend vacation and the world takes its first dive into chaos. The eve of the pandemic itself triggered a distressing bout of childhood memories of being sickly with bronchitis and pneumonia. What a day.
I go ahead and fill a script for alprazolam – a generic for xanax.
I begin taking it daily – more often than I’ve ever used the stuff. Next up, I’m introduced to a new level of heartbreak and I take a nosedive out of reality.
For me, barbiturates cause paranoid and disordered thinking, add that to a painful and dangerous withdrawal cycle, and what were all too likely Covid symptoms, and I’m on track to be an absolute basket-case for months.
Rushing to finish packing, I fall and hit my head – hard. Turns out concussions don’t help with my sanity. My landlord has done the charitable thing and offered to let me stay an extra week – for a mere $500. Comical.
Family and friends do their best to help, and I’m eternally grateful.
Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished and through my mom’s best efforts to get me a much needed CT scan, I end up admitted to Amita health where I’m forcefully injected with drugs that make me more paranoid and trigger a severe allergic reaction- no CT scan in sight.
My tongue swells so badly I am choking on the floor before a nurse realizes what has happened and injects me with a benadryl derivative, effectively saving my life.
I make it out on the fourth day and end up living with my ex-boyfriend (yes, my life is a dark comedy.) He’s a real one and patient enough to nurse me back to health and sanity as I come off of yet another withdrawal cycle (thanks, Doc.)
The stress of this episode of “Healthcare in America” lands me in an ambulance. I’m experiencing what feels like a blood clot moving up my left arm. My vision blurs, and for a moment I can’t feel my toes. I’m able to bark commands at my poor companion, demanding aspirin immediately.
He finds it and I take two, maybe just in time. There’s a history of blood clots in my family.
I make it to the hospital in a stretcher. My symptoms begin to clear, and by that I mean I can see clearly and my headache has moved from an 11 to a 9 on my personal pain scale.
I’m immediately hit with the stress of what all of this is probably costing. I stand up and walk myself out. I still haven’t dealt with the $2k ambulance bill. I leave with a diagnosis of neurologia- med-speak for “hysterical woman faking symptoms”.
At last I hear the sound of angels singing as I’m able to see a female resident from U Chicago. “It definitely seems like you’re experiencing head trauma.”
Part me wants to laugh at the obviousness of her statement, but a bigger part me is relieved, this is a better diagnosis than the psychosis my former psychiatrist slapped onto me. Yay.
Next up is a battle with the all too notorious Blue Cross Blue Shield.
I don’t want to bounce between doctors. I like the resident from U of Chicago.
Forgive me for my lack of trust in many medical professionals. The fact of the matter is, they don’t have the best track record with believing their female patients. I’ve read too much information on the subject.
I go back and forth between the resident and the health insurance company. It’s a battle of “he said she said” as both claim the other is responsible for getting the pre-authorization form together for my CT scan.
The insurance company wants a diagnosis code before providing me with the proper form. I explain I need a CT scan for a diagnosis. I’m remarkably polite for someone becoming increasingly homicidal.
I finally give up and set my sights on a new setting. My ex is a gem, but sharing a garden apartment with your ex boyfriend is not exactly recommended by 4 out of 5 specialists.
Luckily, my friend Rachel has a place I can stay in Manhattan, and by “place” I mean a stunning gut-renovated apartment with high ceilings, wood floors and plenty of space for me and my two cats. My ex and I pack up the car and head out of Chicago stopping at my old apartment to pick up any last mail. Funny, the unit is still empty, cool.
We make it to New York and manage to steer clear of protestors while we unpack the car into Rachel’s unit. I immediately feel like I’ve come home. This is a much better setting for me to figure out why the state of Illinois thinks I deserve only $200 a week in unemployment!
Monday, I wander out to explore. It’s the beginning of the biggest day of protests decrying systematic racism in this country. I make it to Union Square and witness the protestors gathered in the center. I walk around the perimeter and see the members of the NYPD standing around, waiting.
Everyone looks riled up. That can’t be a good sign.
I continue south, grabbing a slice of Sleeping Beauty cake from famed bakery Little Cupcake on Prince street. Despite the tinge of guilt I feel purchasing the overpriced dessert while I continue to bleed out over half of my savings, it feels awfully good to eat my feelings.
I come back through the city on Broadway, assessing the damage. Men stand on ladders boarding up broken store fronts. It’s as dystopian as it gets.
I look up at the two helicopters still hovering north of me up towards the square. I stop, staring up at them. A man passes me on the sidewalk and makes a remark about the protests. “Let’s hope they turn out okay” is my only lame response.
From there, shit gets more weird. Everyone is watching the protests, but what has caught my attention is the traffic patterns in the city. Almost every car on the street seems to be black, white, or a large silver-grey escalade with winged headlights.
I grab some footage of the protestors marching through the square before heading back to the apartment. I’m crossing East to West through the city when I notice a fleet of black cars driving south on 6th.
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Leading the procession are the police in SUVs. In the middle cars, I spot some insolent looking blonde children – one girl in particular stands out in my memory. The pack of black cars is flanked by Nissan Rogues. I commit a license plate to memory.
I continue moving. Back on the street where I’m staying I watch as a similar procession of all white cars drives East.
I turn and bolt up into the apartment. I snap at my poor companion as he tries to ask me something as I finally rush to my computer to conduct a license plate search for the black Nissan Rogue that I can remember. It comes back as an “any use vehicle.”
We go back out to get some supplies for the apartment. I watch in horror as a flood of Black boys run south through the streets of New York. I want to follow. Unfortunately, my companion is reasonably afraid I’ll bring home another bout of Covid and my host, Rachel is terrified of my being arrested.
I’m horrified by what the last few months of my life would have been if I looked like these boys. I know one thing in my gut: Odds say I would still be in that last unit of Amita – Alexian Brothers – being prescribed more pills and diagnosed psychotic thanks to their side effects.
I would probably be labeled as “aggressive” and strapped to a bed somewhere. I haven’t been one to turn to religion, but this week I pray for all Black bodies.
Laura Day is a Reel New York correspondent. Contact her at Laura@reelchicago.com