The COVID-19 crash comes suddenly. In early March, the 37-year-old writer F. T. Kola began to feel mildly ill, with a fever and body aches. To be safe, she isolated herself at home in San Francisco. Life continued apace for a week, until one day she tried to load her dishwasher and felt strangely exhausted.
Her doctor recommended that she go to Stanford University’s drive-through coronavirus testing site. “I remember waiting in my car, and the doctors in their intense [protective equipment] coming towards me like a scene out of Contagion,” she told me when we spoke for The Atlantic’s podcast Social Distance. “I felt like I was a biohazard—and I was.” The doctors stuck a long swab into the back of her nose and sent her home to await results.
Lying in bed that night, she began to shake, overtaken by the most intense chills of her life. “My teeth were chattering so hard that I was really afraid they would break,” she said. Then she started to hallucinate. “I thought I was holding a very big spoon for some reason, and I kept thinking, Where am I going to put my spoon down?”
An ambulance raced her to the hospital, where she spent three days in the ICU, before being moved to a newly created coronavirus-only ward. Sometimes she barely felt sick at all, and other times she felt on the verge of death. But after two weeks in the hospital, she walked out. Now, as the death toll from the coronavirus has climbed to more than 150,000 people globally, Kola has flashes of guilt and disbelief: “Why did my lungs make it through this? Why did I go home? Why am I okay now?”