October 9, 2020
Have you ever wondered what a COVID test feels like? With BC schools back in session, many teachers, staff and students will need to get regular COVID tests to monitor their own health and help limit the spread.
According to the Government of BC’s Back To School Plan, staff, parents and caregivers adults need to understand their responsibility for assessing themselves and their children daily for symptoms prior to entering the school. They go on to say: “At this time, it is recommended that only people with symptoms or people otherwise identified by a health professional should be tested for COVID-19.”
I recently surveyed my community and found that 69% of the 113 respondents had not had a COVID test yet. An informal survey of my own students showed the ratio was roughly the same. Many shared they are afraid of what it’s really like and if it will hurt. I’m writing this for them, in the hope that they will better understand what to anticipate.
Please note that I’m not a health professional, and this is based on my own experience. If you’re having symptoms, please get yourself to a doctor or testing site ASAP.
You wake up in the morning feeling terrible. You search ‘COVID symptoms list’ and your mind starts racing when you realize you have 9 of the 13 symptoms.
You don’t want to be paranoid or feel like a drama queen. But you also don’t want to accidently infect your family, co-workers and students. It’s close to the weekend, so you want answers for the next work week. It can take a while to get results, so you’d better take the plunge and get a test. You look up COVID testing sites in your area, and see the appointments are only available for the next day. Not wanting to wait, you decide to try your luck at the drop in.
Driving up to the hospital, you see handmade signs that say “COVID TESTING. STAY IN CAR”. You park and wait in your car, with your mask on. It’s sunny and hot. You start sweating, unsure if it’s just the heat or if you actually have a fever. A nurse dressed in pastel colours approaches. She wears a billowy translucent pale Easter chick yellow gown, robin’s egg blue mask, hair covering and gloves, and a shiny pair of goggles.
She’s friendly and reassuring, and stands surprisingly close to your open window. You realize you haven’t stood that close to a stranger in over half a year. It feels both unfamiliar yet comforting. Yet her PPE makes it OK.
While you wait, you catch up on the latest news about Donald Trump being admitted to a military hospital. The article says he’s being treated with experimental drugs, along with Zinc, Vitamin D, Famotinine (Pepsid), Melatonin and a daily Aspirin. You almost resist the urge, but take a screenshot just in case you might need this for later. It sounds better than injecting bleach in your arm, at least.
There are about a dozen other cars in the parking lot, with masked drivers. A handful of people stand social distanced outside. You’re surprised how many kids are there.
An hour later, the nurse arrives and says it’s your turn. You’re led into a ground floor lobby, now repurposed. A handful of pale yellow, white and blue clad nurses are standing on the edges. In the corner are the remains of an abandoned Tim Horton’s, now cordoned off with a red ribbon. The chairs are overturned on the tables. No one will be ordering double doubles or Timbits anytime soon.
You’re told to stand on an X of green painter’s tape. You look up and are greeted by a cheerful blonde nurse. Like the first nurse, she stands very close. After asking a few questions about your symptoms, she frowns a bit and writes a note when she learns you’re a teacher. She asks what school you teach at and records that as well.
The nurse is encouraging and demonstrative with care. She seems more human than human. You can’t help but wonder how exhausted she must be at the end of her shift from all this over-expression.
She brings out the COVID test, which is basically a very long Q-Tip in a burgundy-capped clear plastic vial. She warns that it’s not comfortable, but “I know you can do this and will do a great job”. It sounds like a line, but you’re nevertheless comforted and caught up in her positive energy.
The swab takes 2-3 seconds to wind its way through your nostril to its destination of the back of your throat. The nurse counts 8 seconds, punctuated by jabbing and twisting. You focus on her voice, not sure if you should hold your breath for the whole thing.
A friend described it as “tickling the brain”. Another— a nurse— says it’s “like a PAP smear, but for your nose”. You’re reminded of a childhood fascination with King Tut and the Egyptian mummification process of excerebration, where the brain was pulled out through the nose with a long embalmer’s hook.
The swab exits your nose quickly, and the nurse tells you what a great job you did. She gives you a piece of paper to register to receive a text with your results in 24-48 hours. You are to stay at home and isolate until you get the results. If it’s negative, you are expected to stay at home until you’re feeling better. There have been false negatives, she warns.
On your way out, you hear another nurse comments, “This has been the busiest day so far”.
In your car, you rip off your facemask and take a deep breath. Another friend calls this ‘an airgasm’. Your right nostril throbs. You wonder how strange thing are right now– dystopian, really.
The tears come as you drive towards home. You feel overcome with fatigue and need a nap.
You tell your boss and a few friends, but not your parents. You don’t want them to worry.
Now it’s time to try to stay away from the family you live with. You tell your child you have a ‘back to school sore throat’ and want to keep him healthy. You don’t share serving spoons or towels.
You’re lucky your son is old enough to bath, dress and brush his teeth himself. Bedtime usually includes a book and cuddle time. But you don’t want to get that close right now. You make a game of laying on the floor, offering him your feet, trying to act playful and casual. Your feet pat him on the back while you read to him and sing his songs.
You do this the next night as well. The weekend feels like an odd oscillation between feeling like it’s just a flu, and convinced you have COVID. You have bizarre dreams.
You decline all social invitations– including a last minute family Christmas Card photoshoot. When pressed, you break down and tell them you’ve been tested for COVID and are waiting for the results. Who can argue with that?
48 hours later, you get a text from the BC Centre for Disease Control with your test results.
You may also want to check out Why We Bang Pots And Pans At 7:00 Every Evening to thank our healthcare heroes.