Close Call: Oncologist on Her COVID-19 Test and How Health Care Has Changed Forever

Narjust Duma, MD, shares her experience with being tested for COVID-19 and discusses the lasting implications of the pandemic.

Narjust Duma, MD

We left our conversation when I was waiting to be tested for COVID-19. While waiting in my car, I could see our nurses crossing the lot wearing full suits and layers of personal protective equipment. I was, and am, so thankful to our nurses. They are risking their lives to test one health care worker after another. The test only took a few seconds to perform; the swab was done, and I was told, “You can drive away now.”

I knew it would take a few hours to receive the results. To pass the time, I did what I do best: get busy. I started with doing laundry, followed by cleaning the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms. I was still tired and experiencing symptoms, but I needed to keep my mind busy.

It was 4 PM on a Saturday when my phone rang. It was employee health and my test was negative for COVID-19. I shared the results with my husband and father and they were so relieved; I was relieved and the thought of going back to work excited me. However, I still had a cough and other symptoms. As such, I was not cleared by employee health right away; I needed to monitor those symptoms.

Sunday morning came around and the fatigue and cough grew worse—but why? My test was negative. I wrote and read all day, hoping to get better. When Monday arrived, and I was still not feeling better, employee health wanted to test me for influenza. That test also came back negative. Although I was still sick, I “saw” 10 patients over telemedicine, from my home, the following day. When I was interacting with my patients, all symptoms went away.

The idea of re-testing for COVID-19 came up during a conversation with our employees' Health Department. It was then, nearing the end of Tuesday, that I learned about the high false-negative rate in health care workers.

However, by Wednesday, 1 week after the symptoms started, I was finally feeling better. The cough has since resolved. I was officially cleared by employee health, and no additional tests were determined to be necessary. It turns out that it was a common cold, after all.

I was one of the lucky ones; I am one of the lucky ones. It was a common cold, one that in ordinary circumstances, I would have probably ignored. However, you cannot do something like that anymore. We may never be able to ignore a cold again. This pandemic is changing us, and it will continue to change our health care system. Nothing will be the same, but we are becoming stronger. We are learning from our mistakes, and we are valuing all the members of our teams because we are all in this together!

Narjust Duma, MD, is an assistant professor of medicine and a thoracic oncologist at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center.