Updated: May 7, 2020
By Teresa Ge
COVID-19 tales from Irvine, CA.
I was born and raised in Shanghai and now live in Southern California with my two daughters. In late February, my younger daughter started showing cold symptoms, so I phoned my daughters’ pediatrician, Dr. T. Normally, it was hard to get an appointment the same day, but there’d been a cancellation, so the receptionist got us in. I couldn’t believe our good luck and immediately dragged my kids to the doctor.
We were one step away from the sliding door, but it didn’t open as it usually did, and I almost walked right into it. I stopped so abruptly, another mother dragging her daughter almost bumped right into me. She looked just as confused as I was. I raised my hand to shield my eyes and saw that the receptionist inside was gesturing to me. She was motioning to call her, so I took out my phone and dialed. The line was suddenly busy. I looked inside again and could see that she was talking on the phone. Soon, the mother beside me received a call and I overheard that the receptionist instructed her to use the back door. Confused, I watched the mother and daughter disappear around the corner. Finally, my call went through.
“Dr. T canceled your appointment,” she said.
“Could I know the reason?”
“He didn’t mention it.”
It dawned on me that Dr. T must think my daughters had COVID-19.
My oldest daughter saw him about a week ago. When he was examining my daughter, I mentioned that my parents had just flown in from Shanghai. His face froze and his expression became empty. He left the room without another word, leaving us confused. In about half-hour, a nurse came in with a full set of PPE. She asked for my parents’ flight number, current address, their general health, and how recently they’d seen a doctor. I felt uncomfortable, but my daughters found the situation exciting. The nurse’s outfit felt like something out of a sci-fi movie.
Then the nurse disappeared. In another half hour, Dr. T returned. He told me he had to report our case to the CDC and ask for further advice. After careful evaluation, the CDC informed him that we were low risk, and he was here to happily discharge us.
I figured that he assumed my oldest daughter had gotten worse, but I remembered his final words: “If she doesn’t get better in a few days, please come back for a follow-up exam.” Thanks to his treatment, my eldest daughter had fully recovered. I told the receptionist, “Could you please pass my message to Dr. T? My oldest daughter has recovered since the last visit. My younger daughter needs to see him today.”
“Sure,” she hung up.
I watched her nervously through the glass. My daughters felt impatient, asking me again and again why only we couldn’t get in. Meanwhile, every patient after us was simply directed to the back door. People passing us carefully sized us up and avoided eye contact. I didn’t know what they were thinking. My imagination ran wild.
The receptionist called me back. Dr. T had received my message, but he was booked full. He wouldn’t be able to answer my call.
We ended up in an emergency room. I told them upfront that we were canceled by Dr. T without a reason, but I assumed that he suspected that my daughters had COVID-19. They took me very seriously. While I spoke with one nurse about my daughters’ medical history, the other nurse entertained them with a basket of toys.
They finally cracked a smile and I felt my heart warmed again.
“I think it’s a cold,” the doctor told me.
“Are you sure?” I became paranoid after Dr. T canceled on us. “My parents flew in from Shanghai a month ago.”
“If you insist, we can run more tests,” he said.
The test results all indicated that it was simply the common cold. I was relieved.
We would have saved an expensive visit to the emergency room had Dr. T not canceled on us. However, neither the staff nor the doctor has ever said “ I’m sorry” for even one time.
So far, this has been my only unpleasant experience since the outbreak of COVID-19, as a Chinese American.
My daughters had made good friends at kindergarten and they still talked with each other online from time to time. They didn’t understand what happened when we were standing in front of Dr. T’s office’s gliding door, and certainly, there would be no trace of memory of a deserter in their mind. That’s what I really care about.
Born and raised in Shanghai, China, Teresa Ge is a professional writer based in California. She has published five novels in three languages. She recently focuses on mystery fiction related to her previous working experiences.