What it’s like to be tested for COVID-19

Photo by Jonathan Villagomez

It’s not easy working in healthcare at this time. 

I work as a caregiver for the elderly performing tasks including administering medication and making sure my clients are happy, clean and healthy in their homes. I work with people who have cancer, people who are paralyzed, some have suffered strokes — I work with people who are at constant risk of infection. I operate with a fear in the back of my mind that if I let down my guard and make a mistake, it can be life-or-death for my client. In a field where the work you do can determine if someone is in good health or poor, that anxiety has now been multiplied by COVID-19. Since the beginning of the virus’ spread throughout the U.S., it has made my job significantly more difficult; everything must be perfectly disinfected and sterile and masks and gloves are a must. You never know when you see your client if they’ve been exposed. Workers no longer have to monitor and maintain just their patient’s health and safety but their own as well. 

You can imagine my concern when I woke up a month ago with a bad cough, stuffy nose and somewhat-high temperature. As much as it pained me to do it, I knew I had to contact my healthcare provider about getting tested. For the sake of the wellbeing of the at-risk individuals I care for, as well as myself, I had to know whether or not I was carrying the virus. I called a hospital and explained my situation — how the people I work around are at a high risk of infection, and how I may needlessly be putting them at risk even though I’m trying to keep them safe. Within minutes, every nurse they talked to had come to the unanimous decision that I should be tested that same day at no cost to me.

I got in my car and drove over to the hospital — surprisingly, it was a lot emptier than normal, with empty parking spaces everywhere and no one walking outside. Outside the urgent care center there were people holding clipboards and masks. I was told to park near a tent on the far side of the hospital, away from the entrance and anyone else outside. I sat in my car and waited, nervous about what was to come. I’d been trying to avoid listening to the horror stories about the tests and wasn’t sure what to expect. Still, I tried to hold onto a small amount of optimism that maybe it wouldn’t be that bad. A few minutes later, a nurse came with a woman wearing a plastic screen covering her entire face. In the plastic-covered woman’s hands was a large plastic stick with an absorbent pad on the end, sort of like a very long cotton swab. She pulled the oddly spear-like object out, lubricated it and asked if I’d prefer for it to be put up my right or left nostril. My initial thought was “oh, she’s just going to stick it up my nose for a second, this won’t be so bad.” After I chose the right nostril, she had me lean my head back and count to three. After the count of three I was subjected to the most uncomfortable sensation I have ever experienced at a hospital — worse than any shot and worse than the time I had a biopsy performed by removing part of my fingernail. Immediately my jaw dropped and I felt my eyes widen in shock. I was feeling that swab swirling around in the center of my head. It was like someone was shoving needles into my cranium through my nose; the pad scrubbed against the inside of my sinuses like sandpaper. Though it only lasted about 15 seconds, it felt like the swabbing was drawn out for 60. Finally, the plastic-laden woman pulled her instrument out from my nose along with what felt like my entire brain. I gasped for air and could feel my eyes welling up with tears as I slumped against my steering wheel and looked back at her. In her hand, to my horror, was the stick — tinted pink with blood. The women said goodbye and began to walk away. The only thanks I could muster was a weak wave of my hand. 

I drove home in shock, completely shaken by the brutality of the test and the bizarre, nearly-deserted scene at the hospital. I climbed into my bed and spent the rest of the day playing video games; needless to say, I wasn’t in the most active mood.

I had to wait 48 hours to get my test results back from the hospital. Two days spent coughing and wheezing and wondering if I had COVID-19. If I was infecting the people I live with. It was just as troubling as when I had been tested for skin cancer. When I opened up my email two days later to read the words “negative” concerning my test, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and finally felt all that anxiety drain out of me.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the experience of being tested for the virus. It was an absolutely miserable experience, the kind you hope you never have to have again. However, I started to think about what would have happened had I never taken the test. What if I had been positive? I’d have likely infected all of the people I work with, putting their lives in grave danger. I’d have been a walking pathogen. Without the help of those brave nurses, I would have been putting everyone I was in contact with at risk. As unpleasant as the test was for me to take, I’m sure it was far more miserable for the healthcare professionals administering them day after day — putting their health on the line to keep others safe. Hospital workers have my deepest gratitude, as does anyone else who has to work during this time. 

Everyone’s jobs are important, but if we act ignorantly towards this pandemic, we could risk worsening the situation when we come into contact with clients or customers. Please, if you are an essential worker like me and are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, ask your healthcare provider if you may be tested and try your hardest to stay isolated and at home. You could be saving not only your own life but the lives of countless others as well.