Illustrations: Sisi Yu

‘Gaslighted by the Medical System’: The Covid-19 Patients Left Behind

When there’s only so much care to go around, the medical system leans too hard on test results — and prejudice

Melinda Wenner Moyer
Published in
17 min readAug 26, 2020

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Jessica Kyle took one look at her best friend and began to worry. Kyle, 34, had just arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, to attend her cousin’s funeral. She had arranged to stay with her best friend Leah, whom she hadn’t seen in nearly two years. Immediately after arriving, Kyle saw that Leah was coughing.

It was March 15, 2020, the week when everyone seemed to begin taking the coronavirus seriously. That was the week when many U.S. schools shut down, when news broke that Tom Hanks had Covid-19, and when the NBA suspended its season because a player tested positive. Kyle had already been taking precautions. She made the nearly five-hour drive from her home in Atlanta to Charleston in one shot, not wanting to stop somewhere and potentially get exposed.

Leah, who asked that we use only her first name, did have Covid-19 symptoms: cough, fever, and shortness of breath. She’d gone to see a doctor the day before, but the physician reassured her that she didn’t have the coronavirus. He didn’t give her a test, even though she asked for one. The doctor was so dismissive about the possibility that she could have the coronavirus, “he kind of made it seem like I was crazy,” she says.

Kyle was uncomfortable with the idea of staying with her sick friend but didn’t see any other choice. Then, her worst fears materialized: Two days after returning home to Atlanta, she developed the same symptoms. “I had a real heaviness in my chest,” she recalls. “Every breath was a chore.”

Kyle got worse, and on March 24, she went to urgent care. It was cold and raining, and she had to wait outside in a crowded tent. There, a nurse took her blood pressure and temperature and, as Kyle recalls, told her, “You have a cold. Go home.” Kyle asked for a Covid-19 test but didn’t get one.

Over the next few days, Kyle began feeling better — until she didn’t, and the pain in her chest intensified. She had to sleep on her stomach to breathe. On April 3, she drove herself back to the urgent care, where a doctor told her the same thing the…

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Melinda Wenner Moyer
Elemental

Science and parenting journalist. Author of HOW TO RAISE KIDS WHO AREN’T ASSHOLES. Sign up for my free parenting newsletter: melindawmoyer.substack.com.