– By Josh Durso
For one Seneca Falls resident, the last two weeks have been among the most-distressing and difficult of her life.
Theresa Parker told FingerLakes1.com she first spoke with her doctor more than two weeks ago. “I had a low-grade fever, really difficult cough,” she said. “You know, the symptoms – they say – of Coronavirus.”
Parker says she didn’t have any direct contact with a person who tested positive. However, she had concerns after a friend that she had recently visited passed away at a local nursing home. The fever broke several days after it began. However, other symptoms progressed to a concerning degree. “The breathing kept getting worse,” she recounted. The 57-year-old was struggling to keep her breath during a phone call with FingerLakes1.com.
Her doctor recommended that she head to the hospital. Parker says she placed the call to her doctor because of the restrictions on visiting medical offices in-person with symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
“He said, ‘If you’re having difficulty breathing, go to the emergency room’,” Parker continued. She made her way to Geneva General Hospital – having a family member drive her there. They did a chest x-ray, nose swab, and a number of other tests. Altogether, the medical team at Geneva General Hospital told her she was checked for 22 different bacterial infections. “Of course, my oxygen level is lower than normal, but it’s not below 90, so I’m not in the danger range, as far as they’re concerned,” she continued.
Parker says the panel came back, and based on that doctors told her she didn’t have bacterial pneumonia. “They said nothing about the x-ray. I assume it wasn’t read,” she continued. “And they told me when they released me, ‘Just so you know, we don’t do coronavirus testing unless admitting somebody to the hospital.’ Otherwise we don’t do it.”
She said that doctors at the emergency room ‘strongly recommended’ that she isolate from her family for 14 days, and to keep an eye on her overall wellness. They instructed her that if her breathing worsened, to come back to the hospital.
Parker was struggling to keep her breath throughout the phone call. “I felt humiliated,” she continued. “I think they thought that’s the only reason I went. It isn’t. I’ve just been really sick.”
She says her family was also instructed to isolate. “I went home thinking, you know what? Whether I have Coronavirus or not, why aren’t they testing people in Upstate New York? Why are they saying you have to be sick enough to end up in the hospital?” Parker asked.
Beyond her own experience and health, the Seneca Falls resident says she’s concerned about how many people are being infected every day, even if they’re practicing social distancing. “People are walking around with coronavirus and not knowing it, because they’re refusing to test people,” Parker continued. “Unless they’re sick enough to end up in the hospital.”
Lara Turbide, VP of Community Services for Finger Lakes Health said supply chain challenges play a major role in how many tests can be performed.
“It is understandable that community members have questions about testing. Certainly, the larger context of supply chain and testing availability has informed how we and the nation at large have responded to this global pandemic,” Turbide said in an email to FingerLakes1.com. “Medical assessment plays a key role in determining the right approach for each patient.”
Finger Lakes Health has employed a variety of different approaches to treating patients throughout the pandemic.
“CDC guidelines continue to emphasize that those with mild symptoms stay home and call primary care provider for assessment,” Turbide continued. “At this time we are not able to provide widespread testing for COVID-19 in our facilities due to limited availability of reagents.”
She says reagents have been ordered, however they have not yet been delivered. “We expect a very limited supply of reagents to arrive this month. The testing currently being done by FLH includes specimen collection for which we often complete influenza and viral panel. FLH then sends COVID-19 testing to outside labs until we have the necessary reagents on-site.”
At this point in time, Finger Leakes Health prioritizes symptomatic inpatients, ED patients, EMS/emergency services and healthcare workers for testing, according to Turbide. “Community outpatients who are symptomatic will be considered for testing based on medical risk triage through their Primary Care Provider. We do not anticipate general testing of non-symptomatic people in the near future.”
That said, Parker, as audio from the phone call showcased was symptomatic. To make matters worse, Parker says she has extensive preexisting conditions. “According to CDC guidelines, I qualify for testing, but according to guidelines at the hospital, I don’t qualify for testing.”
“If I lay down I can breathe a little better. But when I get up to use the bathroom or anything this is how I get,” Parker said. “I can’t catch my breath for a period of time.” Throughout the conversation she had to stop several times to catch her breath.
“I got sick within, maybe, five days after visiting my friend who had breathing problems,” she continued. “He was from a nursing home in Waterloo and they said he had pneumonia and flu.”
That nursing home resident Parker was friends with passed away days after their visit. “Breathing complications was the reason,” Parker added. “His wife asked specifically about Coronavirus, but they didn’t answer. Just told her breathing complications and changed the subject.”
All of that was specifically the reason why Parker says her doctor wanted a chest x-ray performed at the hospital.
Did that nursing home resident have Coronavirus? Does Parker herself have Coronavirus? Those are two questions that remain unanswered, but unlocking the answers can only happen if widespread testing is available. “The panel came back normal, so we just strongly encourage you to isolate and come back if you really can’t breathe, or if your breathing gets worse,” Parker said, recalling what she was told at the emergency room. “It’s like, what’s worse? When I stop breathing? I don’t know.”
“I can’t climb stairs, I can’t take care of my grandchildren. I was trying to help them with schooling – I can’t. I can’t make meals, I just have to stay in bed – I just can’t do anything,” she continued. “I was humiliated. I won’t go back until I’m blue. Not until I’m blue and just gasping. I won’t go back.”
For now, Parker quarantines from her family. They live together in the same household. The grandchildren are not allowed to use the bathroom she uses, and her bedroom is the place where she must remain to ensure they all remain healthy, too. Even then, though, there’s risk.
Parker says the entire experience has left her frustrated and feeling defeated. “When I called my doctors, they immediately said on the phone, ‘We’re not doing testing for the coronavirus’, and I said, ‘I’m not asking you to. I’m sick, and I don’t know what’s going on,” she said.
As of publishing this story, Seneca County has around a dozen confirmed cases of COVID-19. The Health Department has received results on less than 200 tests.