Ex-Florida firefighter quarantines at home after test frustration

Miami (AFP) –


Michael Barker started feeling sick about two weeks ago while on vacation with friends in the mountains of Colorado.

The 69-year-old retired firefighter thought at first that he was just suffering from dehydration.

"I had a headache," he said. "I had a fever, had body aches, excessive thirst."

He suspected he had coronavirus after returning on March 11 to his home in Wellington, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of Miami.

"I wanted to let my friends know," Barker said of the couples he had gone on vacation with in Vail, Colorado.

"And then we also have my daughter who lives close to us down here," he said. "And we have two grandkids. I certainly did not want to expose anyone until I found out something for sure."

Barker, who retired 10 years ago as the assistant chief of the Boca Raton Fire Rescue Services Department, embarked on the frustrating experience shared by many other Americans of getting tested.

At the time, there were just 23 cases of coronavirus in Florida, which has a population of more than 21 million people.

There are now more than 1,200 cases in the "Sunshine State" and there have been 18 deaths.

"I spent the day trying to find a place where I could be tested," said Barker. "But that didn't pan out at all."

"I called my doctor and went over for an appointment and they examined me and the opinion was that I likely had the coronavirus, but they didn't have any tests," Barker said.

As his condition worsened, Barker's wife contacted a neighbor.

"Our next door neighbor, who is an ER physician in Palm Beach county, was able to get me in and test me," he said.

The test came back positive -- five days later.

- 'Strange illness' -

"This is a strange illness," Barker said. "When you breathe it hurts, makes you confused and light headed.

"It killed my appetite and I've lost 14 pounds."

Barker and his wife have been in self-quarantine in their home since the diagnosis and they spoke to AFP by telephone.

Barker's 66-year-old wife, who asked that her name not be used, is now suffering from what feels like bronchitis.

"Hard to take a deep breath," she said. "I've had that since I came back."

"I still have a cough that I'm dealing with, although I'm much better than I was," she said.

"You can't really totally separate when you come home," she said. "I was already exposed without probably me even knowing it."

Barker's wife said the Palm Beach County Health Department has been in constant contact since it was confirmed her husband had the virus.

"They call me every day to find out what my temperature is," she said.

Barker said he had been told that "if I do three days with no fever, I'm pretty much over it."

As the virus spreads, the Florida authorities have purchased thousands of test kits and have conducted more than 13,000 tests.

Because of the shortage of tests, however, they are currently only testing health workers and people over the age of 65 who show symptoms of the virus.