A Guy Got Tested For The Coronavirus, Then A Stranger On Grindr Came To His Rescue
"There are reasons people cross our path in life. The people who come into your life are there for a reason."
Tarik Dobbs is a 23-year-old teaching assistant at the University of Minnesota, where he is a graduate student in creative writing.
On Friday, March 13, Dobbs had been hanging out with a friend on their book tour when he began feeling unwell.
"I just started feeling really achey and tired and I felt feverish," he told BuzzFeed News.
After consulting with doctors online and over the phone, one recommended he take himself to get tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
There are drive-through testing centers in Minnesota, which currently has more than 100 confirmed cases of the disease, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But without a car to get to one of those centers, Dobbs instead walked himself over to a hospital emergency room, where he was able to get the test after waiting for hours in isolation.
"It was really unpleasant and very strange," he said of the experience.
Since then, he's been quarantining at home with his two roommates, awaiting his test results. Almost a week later, he still hasn't heard anything.
"The worst day was probably yesterday," he said in a phone call Friday night. "My fever was like 103, so I'm just riding it out."
Bored out of his brain, he did what any young gay man would do to pass the time: he opened Grindr.
"I have a boyfriend, but we both use Grindr for friends and chat," he said. "With quarantine, everyone is on Grindr now of course."
On Sunday, not long after his test, he heard the familiar ping of a Grindr message arrive — this one from a man in his fifties.
Dobbs, a Bernie Sanders fan, has the Grindr username "Bernie 2020." Perhaps confused, the man opened his message to Dobbs with "Hi, Bernie."
"He was really sweet and he was asking how I'm doing," Dobbs recalled. "I was like, 'First of all, we shouldn't be hanging out. There is a pandemic and I'm literally waiting for my COVID results."
That's when the conversation changed.
The man explained he was a retired doctor and began peppering Dobbs — whom he kept calling Bernie — with questions about his symptoms.
To test if the man was legit, Dobbs sent him a picture of his hands and asked him to identify his congenital birth defect. Immediately, the man was able to say Dobbs had Poland syndrome, which causes asymmetry on one side of the body.
"He was very concerned," said Dobbs. "He was asking if I had enough medication and if my family was looking after me."
When Dobbs explained he came from a low-income family that lived hours away, the man sprang into action.
"He said, 'You need a team, so I want to be part of that team and be an advocate for you,'" Dobbs recalled.
The man, a 55-year-old retried pediatrician, spoke with BuzzFeed News on Saturday and asked to be referred to only as Dr. Gary, his first name. "I have a hard time trying to stay out of doctor mode," he said in of his messages to Dobbs.
"I felt bad for him and he didn't have any food and there was no one there to help him," Gary explained. "To me, it seemed like a no-brainer."
Two days later, Tuesday night, Gary turned up at Dobbs' doorstop with a bunch of food, which Dobbs had requested. Gary had tried to go to the supermarket earlier that night but it was closed, so instead he improvised and brought supplies from his own home: some eggs, homemade yogurt, four pears, granola bars, a tomato, some apple and rhubarb compote, and a plate of poached salmon and balsamic asparagus he had cooked earlier that day.
"I had stocked up so much food I was prepared for a nuclear holocaust," Gary said, "so I just pulled some stuff out of the fridge."
The two men stood safely far apart and spoke through a screen door, never touching one another. "I could only see him from a distance," Gary said. "I had no protective clothing."
Dobbs said the entire exchange was brief, but memorable. "First he saw me through the door and said, 'Oh, you don't look so sick,'" said Dobbs, "and then a minute later he said, 'Oh,' and he got kind of quiet and sad."
Dobbs gratefully took the food, thanked Gary, and the two went their separate ways.
But as Gary walked back to his car, he called out, "Good luck, Bernie."
"I was a little moved," Gary told BuzzFeed News, "as I am now when I think about it."
Dobbs' two roommates, with whom he is quarantining, also recalled the memorable evening.
"The delivery was very casual," said Haruka Yukioka, 20. "I just came into the kitchen and saw this food and [Dobbs] was like, 'Oh yeah, this old man came by. Also, I met him on Grindr.'"
"It was like a sitcom flash-freeze moment," Yukioka said. "I was like, 'You need to say that again with more details.'"
Another roommate, torrin a. greathouse, a 25-year-old poet and fellow grad student who stylizes her name lowercase, said the delivery was "wild."
"It was the most ridiculous, very opulent things," she said. "Like compote. Not jam or preserves, but compote!"
Dobbs first shared his Grindr story with Brandon Stanton who is running a quarantine series for his Humans of New York photo blog.
The pair chatted over FaceTime, and Stanton snapped Dobbs' photo as a screenshot for a post that went viral late Friday.
Online, people reveled in the act of kindness during such dark and scary times.
Dobbs' roommates said they're not surprised people are enjoying the story so much.
"At the end of the day, it was just nice to see people sticking together," said greathouse, who is also currently battling flu symptoms. "With how much people are buying supplies and hoarding them, seeing people willing to help out — particularly within our own community — it meant a lot."
Although Dobbs said he's used Grindr in the past to make friends and connect with LGBTQ people, he'd never before used it for medical care. "I never thought I would find a doctor who would provide treatment for me on Grindr, that's for sure," he said.
The two men still did not know each other's real names until they spoke with BuzzFeed News. Gary had to be told that Dobbs' first name was Tarik, not Bernie. "I suppose that makes more sense," he said, laughing.
Gary knows firsthand what it's like to be recuperating from illness. He retired from medicine four years ago after a viral infection resulted in a heart condition. His recovery took over a year.
Speaking to BuzzFeed News on Saturday, he cried on the telephone when told how his act of kindness had touched people around the world.
"It's so unfortunate that people are so separated from each other at a point in time when they need each other so much," said Gary through tears.
"Often in places like Grindr, our lesser selves are presented, rather than the people we truly are," he added.
"I think really there aren't any coincidences. There are reasons people cross our path in life. The people who come into your life are there for a reason," Gary said. "Ask yourself: What is that purpose? And how can I follow through?"