If You Haven’t Been Tested Yet You Need to Know How Awful it Feels

I’m negative. I’m also negative about wanting another swab.

In order to return to work, every employee in my enormous workplace has to be tested for COVID-19. You and I both know that such a test will show only if we are positive or negative for the virus at the time of testing. Usually correctly.

I very well may have stopped by a party for a group hug after taking the test and gotten infected there. I may have gone for a jog and been only 30 feet (instead of the prescribed 32 feet) behind a sneezing, spraying jogger ahead of me and caught whatever he shared with me. In other words, before I even have my test results, I may have made them meaningless by getting infected after taking the test.

But I won’t.

Here’s why

I had the nasal swab test. Ten seconds of deep discomfort while a medical professional swirled the swab so far up my nose I swear she touched my brain.

It felt as if a screwdriver directed the flexible, skinny swab into the depths of my nasal passages, much as a plumber might twist a snake through plumbing to release a blockage. Except that my nasal passages feel whereas toilets and pipes do not.

Do I want to repeat such a test? Absolutely not. The test was so uncomfortable that I will do everything in my power — and then some — to ensure I never have a reason to test for COVID-19 again.

I will stay socially distant, wear a mask in public, avoid groups, stay outside as much as possible. I will wash my hands for 20 seconds while reciting the 23rd Psalm. Heck, I would even wash them for 8.5 minutes while reciting Psalm 119 (all 176 verses) if that’s what it takes. Once an hour, if necessary.

I will wipe down packages and envelopes delivered in the mail or to my doorstep. I will wash my hands after opening packages or unpacking groceries. I will skip hugs, avoid crowded restaurants, and forgo frivolous shopping sprees.

All of it! In short, will I do everything in my power not to get COVID-19 — which may give me no symptoms or trouble at all — so I do not have to repeat the nasal swab test?

You better believe it.

They warned me

Employees in my department are coming back slowly. We each have our own enclosed offices, and as all meetings still happen online, the threat of exposure to coronavirus seems small. Because of that, about a fourth of us agreed to be the first to return to the office.

It was only once we’d committed that our boss surprised us with the news that we had to get tested.

I didn’t get my test until the second day my unit started to get scheduled for the test. That meant I got to hear the horror stories about the test from those who went before me.

My boss, a tough military guy, was first.

“I had never seen a swab that long,” he said. “But it wasn’t the depth of the swab that was the problem. It was how they twisted it once they had it deep in my nose. It wasn’t painful, exactly, just highly uncomfortable.”

My co-worker John told me his experience, in which the medical personnel counted down from 10, one twist at a time.

“I told her, ‘If this virus is so contagious, why can’t you just sample the air around me?’”

Karen was next.

“They couldn’t get the first swab in place, so they did the second one in the other nostril,” she told me. “I thought I was going to pass out.”

When a colleague who is also a medical doctor passed me by with a worried look on his face, I felt even less confident.

Then it was my turn

Our employer had health care set up a drive-through test site in a parking lot on our vast campus. A man in a lime-green vest ushered my car onto the side road leading to the lot, where a masked woman greeted me, asked me my name, employee ID number, and the time of my appointment.

She called into a walkie talkie that a black SUV was heading toward the testing site. (I worried they might get confused because my SUV is Kodiak brown, not black.) I made the left turn and saw only medical personnel and no other cars in line. No problem identifying my vehicle.

The next masked woman flagged me down, asked me my name and appointment time, and extended a box of tissues toward me so I could pluck one.

“You’re going to want one of these afterward,” she said. “Drive forward. You aren’t going to park, but do put your car in park while they’re doing the test.”

At the next station, two more masked women greeted me, asked me my name, birthday, and address. Really, did they think someone else would take the test on my behalf? It’s not like I was trying to get into college; I just wanted to return to work.

They suggested I lean my car seat back, close my eyes, and open my mouth slightly as they did the test.

“This won’t hurt, but it will be uncomfortable,” one told me.

“Oh, I’ve heard horror stories all day,” I told them. I played with buttons on my seat until I managed to lean back.

As anticipated, the swab was long and the 10 seconds of swirling deep inside my nasal passage even longer.

Then it was over, and the medical personnel cheered.

“Thank you,” I said modestly, both for the test and for the applause.

Their cheer wasn’t for me, exactly. I was the last patient of the day.

“You should get the results in 24 to 48 hours,” I was told. An earlier email had already indicated negative test results would come via email while a positive one would come via phone and be the start of contact tracing.

I fumbled with the buttons to return my seat to the right position without success. I drove a few feet before I realized I couldn’t drive like that and stopped, right beside the police officer guarding the drive-through nasal gouging service. He looked up as I opened my car door.

“I have to figure out how to put my seat back into position,” I explained as I opened up the door and fidgeted with the buttons. We both laughed.

The odd sensation of having a nasal swab swirling deep in my head lingered for a couple of hours, much like an intense need to sneeze without the ability to do so; I get the heebie geebies just thinking about it now.

But that is good

“I sure hope no one in my office has the virus,” I told my husband. “For obvious reasons, of course, but also for a completely selfish reason: I never want to be tested again.”

I thought of all those people I’ve seen not following social distancing and other guidelines (in the news, not at my work!). I say line them up on the spot and swab their noses right there. No arrest needed. One twist of the skinny white swab and they’ll be begging for social distancing. The beaches and parks then can remain open.

Having all Americans get a nasal swab test for COVID-19 would be like sending juvenile delinquents to prison for a day to scare them straight.

It would work for me. Scared healthy. What do you think?

All hope is lost

This morning, a colleague and I, wearing masks and standing at least six feet apart in the lobby, shared our testing experience with my boss. This colleague admitted she shrieked and burst into tears when she got the test.

In what I thought was encouragement, my boss said that of the 250 people in our company tested last week, only 1 person was positive for COVID-19, and the person wasn’t in our department.

“Good!” I said. “I hope no one in our department ever gets it. I never want to have a reason to take that test again.”

“Oh, you’ll likely take it once a month,” my boss said. “It will be 17 or 18 months before we have a vaccine, and frequent testing is expected.”

“You’re kidding!” Please be kidding.

“No. You’ll get used to it after the 10th time or so.”

Sigh. Then he continued:

“Before they have a vaccine, most of us will have had the virus,” my ever-encouraging boss continued. “Once you can prove you’ve had the virus or have antibodies, you can stop getting tested.”

Oh. That almost seems to incentivize getting the disease, and the sooner the better.

Except for that whole getting sick, potentially dying, or spreading the illness to others.

Sigh. I guess my desire to avoid the risk COVID-19 presents to me and others is stronger than my aversion to the nasal test.

Stay healthy, my friends, even if it means repeated testing.


Originally published on May 17 on Publishous, a Medium.com publication.

Photo by Martin Lopez from Pexels

4 thoughts on “If You Haven’t Been Tested Yet You Need to Know How Awful it Feels

  1. You’ve convinced me that I need to continue social distancing as much as practicable–I certainly do not want Covid-19 OR the test! I do make the occasional trip to Publix, and I’ve been back to work in the office for 2 weeks. The gym remains off-limits for me since I’m considered highly vulnerable. I miss my friends!!

    Liked by 1 person

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