Isolation Drills: Attia Taylor

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area had been staying at home because of the pandemic, learning to adapt to a “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’d been doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Taylor: I got COVID about two weeks into lockdown in 2020. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had every symptom imaginable. I spent days in bed. And realized at a certain point that I had a hard time just moving around my apartment due to shortness of breath. I ended up in the ER after a good friend, who is also a medical professional, expressed concern.

Once the EMTs arrived at my door, they began to grill me about whether I wanted to go to the ER and if I knew what I was getting myself into. The gentleman told me that I would be fine, that I sounded fine, and that I would wait forever just to be sent home. He asked me repeatedly if I was sure. And I was. So we went.

We arrived at a Bed–Stuy hospital, and I sat in the waiting room for about 15 minutes. The ER was a very scary place during that time. No one really knew what we were dealing with, and there was no vaccine in sight. The EMT continued to stand over me while I waited, intimidating me and doubting my need to be there. The hospital was very unclean.

I remember a woman in a wheelchair yelling at the top of her lungs in the middle of the waiting room. No one saw to her needs. A TV was on but only gray static appeared on the screen. There were about seven or eight others in the room waiting. I began to cry. I was afraid of what I’d see when I went into the other room and what would happen to me. 

They called me into the back after about 20 minutes and took my vitals. I had a fever. The EMT followed me in and stood over me again to tell me that my temperature wasn’t that high and they would be releasing me soon because there was nothing they could do. I didn’t respond and waited to talk to a real doctor. The hospital was next to a shelter in Brooklyn so there were houseless people with COVID of varying degrees scattered across the open layout. Beds were separated by curtains only. Many middle-aged to elderly, mostly Black and Latinx people, were wailing loudly through the room for help.

I sat on a bench waiting in the front of the room with shallow breaths for more than an hour when a doctor finally arrived to listen to my breathing. I was told to change into a gown in the bathroom. A very unclean bathroom. It was hard to navigate who I was speaking to because the hospital staff were in PPE. It was pure chaos walking around the room trying to figure out what to do next. Finally I was approached and told to go sit near the X-ray room. It was a very small area of the hospital so I didn’t have to go far.

I had an X-ray of my chest, was told that I had pneumonia and was released into the night. Fluid had built up into my lungs. I took antibiotics for the next few days and finally started to feel better. I can’t help but think what could have happened if I had stayed home. I can’t help but wonder why I didn’t go to a clean hospital and receive attentive care. Why are we gaslighted and abused during our darkest moments?

I say all this to raise awareness about the poor quality of health care in this country for people who are poor and non-white. There is a huge problem related to who gets good health care in this country, and it was never more real to me than that night in the ER. I deserved better. We deserve better. Even when there isn’t a pandemic. How will we ensure people—no matter what they look like and what they have in their bank account—have access to quality health care?