Leave It to the Experts

In April, like a lot of people in New York City, my wife B and I started feeling sick. Extremely itchy coughs, weird aches, grotesque nasal congestion – you know the symptoms. Covid-19 tests were still being rationed to the sickest. We didn’t qualify. A friend, C, had just lost her mother to the virus. She was devastated – and determined to help others. She decided that we needed a pulse oximeter, a device you fit on a fingertip to measure your blood oxygen level. Ninety-four percent and above – that’s where you want to be, the reputable medical websites say. C dropped one off in the lobby of our building.

Over the next couple weeks, we used it often. We were always ninety-five percent or higher. Perfect. Until the morning I placed my index finger in the pulse ox and the blue LED readout showed a sixty-six. Two more tries, two more scary results. In full-on panic mode, I packed a bag and got ready to walk a few blocks south to Mount Sinai Hospital. My wife sat me down on our bed, took me by the elbows. Breathe, she said. Before you go, she said, let’s call our family doctor. I did. A nurse came on the line. She asked how often we’d been using the device. A lot, I told her. She suggested we change the batteries. I did. I tried it again – ninety-six. Two more tries, two more good results. I felt relieved. And foolish. We still aren’t sure if we had Covid. I hope we won’t need it again, but the pulse ox, and a new pack of AAA batteries, is in my nightstand drawer.

Kevin Canfield is a writer in New York City. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Bookforum, and many other publications.

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