Home From Hospital, Man Wonders: How 'Negative' Was That Coronavirus Test?

Hadas Kuznits
May 27, 2020 - 2:15 pm

    A Philadelphia man who had symptoms of the coronavirus for nearly a month is finally recovering at home. His experience shows that a COVID-19 diagnosis can still be a slippery thing.

    Justin Gilmore, 42, says the infection is like nothing he's ever experienced.

    ”I’ve had the flu a few times,” Gilmore said. 

    But this has been different.

    “I would say it's like the flu on steroids. The chills and the sweats that I was experiencing with this particular fever was at the next level."

    He said his first symptoms appeared April 30, when he spiked a fever, and got progressively worse with a cough, severe fatigue and extreme shortness of breath.

    "When this whole thing started, what we were being told was ‘Don't go to the hospital unless you really need to,’ so I was just trying my best to just fight this as home,” Gilmore said.

    But when a borrowed pulse oximeter showed low oxygen levels, he says he knew he had to go to the emergency room. He was diagnosed with pneumonia. 

    "I was put on oxygen,” he said. “I had very bad pneumonia and fortunately my body responded to the antibiotic treatment that they gave me," he said.

    He says he believes getting treatment when he did likely saved his life.

    A test for COVID-19 came back negative, but he had every symptom of the coronavirus.

    “Every doctor agreed, ‘Oh yeah, you had COVID,’” Gilmore said.

    Justin Gilmore with daughters
    Photo credit Justin Gilmore

    Gilmore says, after he was clinically diagnosed, he spent much of the next week in hospital isolation. He got better and was discharged.

    He has had to return to the hospital twice more in the last month.

    "It's very devious and crafty. I almost describe it to people as like a three-shell game, where you manage this thing over here, and now something else pops up, and we don't know why that happened,” he said.

    Throughout his ordeal, Gilmore took four coronavirus tests, all of which came back negative. Penn infectious disease specialist Dr. Stephen Gluckman says as many as 20% of tests can produce false negative results. That can be due to lab errors, collection errors or bad timing.

    "Because it starts in the upper respiratory tract … and then, as the disease progresses, it's harder to find evidence of the virus in the throat and the nose, and then more commonly found in the lungs,” Gluckman said.

    Gilmore is home with his family, but he says he still doesn't feel completely like himself yet. He says everyone should take the virus seriously and the psychological toll can be just as trying as the physical symptoms.

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