Written by Julie Bosman, Sarah Mervosh, Amy Harmon and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
When Chanon DiCarlo’s husband and three children fell ill with the coronavirus, she nursed them herself at their home in Chicago, shuttling between upstairs bedrooms and the basement where they were kept in careful quarantine. Sometimes she administered Tylenol for pain. On the rare day they saw a doctor, it was via Zoom.
“You didn’t get to have somebody check out your lungs, you didn’t get to have an X-ray,” said Ms. DiCarlo, 46, who works in the concert industry. “No doctor got to check my children’s heart rate or breathing.”
As a buoyant President Trump emerged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center this week, appeared on a balcony at the White House, and proclaimed on Twitter that the public should have no fear of the coronavirus, many Americans saw few parallels between Mr. Trump’s experience with the virus and their own.
Ms. DiCarlo thought back to her struggles obtaining tests early in the pandemic, when few were available anywhere in the country.
A woman in Brooklyn was reminded of the $4,000 she was charged for medication for her father, who eventually died from the coronavirus.
One man in Texas said he understood why the president of the United States would have top-flight doctors, but could not help comparing the place where Mr. Trump was treated with the facility where his 87-year-old mother became sick.
“He’s got the best care in the world,” said Samuel Roy Quinn, whose mother died at a nursing home in April. “I’m not sure that my mom got the best care in the world at that facility she was staying at.”
Some Covid-19 survivors, even those who support Mr. Trump, found what they consider his lack of compassion off-putting. Dale Grizzle, a retired house painter in Rydal, Ga., said he understood the intention of the president’s “don’t panic” message but did not care for the way he said it.
Mr. Grizzle, 70, recalls the horror of feeling that he was going to die during his own hospital stay with the coronavirus.
“If I had been him, I probably wouldn’t have said, ‘Don’t be scared of the virus,’” Mr. Grizzle said. “I probably would have said, ‘Man, this stuff can be really rough on certain people.’ I would have said, ‘Even people my age really have a problem with it under certain conditions.’ I wouldn’t have downplayed it so much.”
As Mr. Trump made his televised return to the White House on Monday, Kerri Hill lay in her bed in Galivants Ferry, S.C., and felt a flash of recognition in a fellow coronavirus patient who looked to be struggling to breathe.
But any similarities between herself and the president soon faded.
“I got angry,” said Ms. Hill, 41, who isolated in her bedroom for weeks while her husband left meals at the doorstep and her teenage son could only wave through a window. “He whipped that mask off. It’s not been 10 days, it’s not been two weeks. If he’s positive, then he just exposed everybody.”
After Ms. Hill got sick, compounding a pre-existing heart condition, her doctors pumped her with steroids and antibiotics. She did not have access to experimental treatment, she said, something she would have welcomed.
“Don’t fear Covid? Tell that to the ones who died, the ones who buried family members, the ones with empty seats at their dining room tables, and all of us who are still suffering,” said Ms. Hill, who is nearly 200 days into her illness and still experiencing fevers and vacillating blood pressure. She plans to support Joseph R. Biden Jr. in November.
Nothing about the medical care that presidents receive is typical.
The coronavirus is no different: From the beginning, Mr. Trump’s experience has stood in stark contrast to that of everyday Americans who have also contracted the virus. He so far seems to have benefited not only from power, money and access to first-class medical treatment, but also from the timing of his illness. He caught the virus seven months into the pandemic, after the country built up supplies and doctors honed their understanding of the disease.
After Mr. Trump’s close adviser Hope Hicks tested positive, the president and the first lady were able to get tested and learn their results within hours, an experience shared by few Americans.
In March, feverish New Yorkers wrapped themselves in blankets in their apartments and were told to presume they had the virus. Some died there alone. In places like Phoenix and New Orleans this summer, people waited for hours in lines that stretched around blocks and parking lots. Then they waited again for their results — sometimes 14 days or more.
In the chaotic halls of hospitals on the southern border of Texas, there were not enough beds. For hours, patients waited in ambulances outside the hospitals. Once inside, they were left in recliners and hallway cots.
Mr. Trump also has had access to therapies available to few of his constituents. One of his treatments, the steroid dexamethasone, was not used widely to treat coronavirus patients at the beginning of the pandemic and was not adopted by some hospital officials in the United States until as recently as this summer.
By Monday, Mr. Trump, who is 74, left Walter Reed, the military’s health center in Bethesda, Md., declaring that he felt better than he had in decades, ready to hit the campaign trail before long.
The brief hospital stay and apparently speedy recovery bore no resemblance to the experience of Clement Chow, 39, a human genetics professor in Salt Lake City.
“Maddening,” he called Mr. Trump’s rosy account of his visit to Walter Reed, recalling that when he was admitted to a hospital, he was gasping for breath. He received high-flow oxygen for several days. There were no promising experimental therapies offered — just antibiotics.
The isolation was emotionally grueling. And it was, he recalls, “the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced physically.” His recovery took weeks.
Prudencio Matias Mendoza’s brother, Mariano, died from the coronavirus in late July, and in the past week, Mr. Matias Mendoza, 38, has been following Mr. Trump’s bout with the virus.
He is a supporter of some of the president’s policies. But he could not help but feel angry to see Mr. Trump and other officials ignoring social distancing and mask-wearing mandates.
“The president is not a god,” Mr. Matias Mendoza said. “Everyone has to do their part. This is a virus that comes to kill.”
Still, some came away holding onto the upbeat note in Mr. Trump’s message.
Lupe Harpster of Flat Rock, Mich., spent 28 days in a hospital during her battle with the coronavirus, including 10 days on a ventilator. Six months later, she is still suffering from fatigue; a short bike ride leaves her exhausted for the rest of the day.
But she also agrees with Mr. Trump that people should not let the coronavirus dominate their lives.
“I see a lot of people who are so afraid, and they are locked up in their homes. They are so critical of other people,” Ms. Harpster, 61, said. “I’m not going to live my life in fear.”
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