COVID-19 test process takes a bit of time

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I know how rumours can thunder around Salt Spring with very little encouragement, so I am going to state this clearly at the outset: I do not and did not have COVID-19.

But maybe I should be more specific. When I was tested in the parking lot of Lady Minto Hospital on Tuesday, Aug. 11 at 3:45 p.m., I did not have COVID-19.

I woke up last Tuesday morning with a tickle in my throat and a mild burning sensation in my sinuses. Even though I did not have a fever, you know what my first thought was. How it could be otherwise?

I knew the responsible thing to do was to not go to the office, to cancel my 10 a.m. coffee date with a friend and arrange to get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible.

In the now well-established tent outside the main entrance to Lady Minto Hospital, the ever-cheerful Maggie O’Scalleigh gave me a card with the testing appointment line number on it. I beetled back home and made the first call at 8:35 a.m. The automated voice estimated I had a four-minute wait. “Perfect!” I thought.

At the 105-minute mark, my phone connection cut off. Just as well, since the recorded voice message I had on speakerphone about my call being answered in the order it was received, and other information I should be able to effortlessly repeat, was driving me crazy. The message had indicated that early afternoon was the less-busy time to call. I gave it a break and at 12:22 p.m. scored a 34-minute estimate. I decided to stick with that one, putting the phone in another room so I would be less irritated by Mr. Too-Much-Info Voice.

Ninety minutes later a fellow named Ben was suddenly my best friend. But Ben was only the first of three people I needed to talk to as he got my basic medical and contact info. My next best friend, who I met much later, was a nurse named Hilary. After I described my symptoms, she said I qualified for the test and would be transferred to another person for scheduling.

“How long will that take?” I asked nervously.

She assured me there was no one ahead of me in the queue for an appointment time, unlike the 45 people on hold still waiting to talk to her. Yikes.

I did not remember the name of the scheduler, but accepted a 3:45 p.m. appointment time at Lady Minto Hospital and took down the number I was instructed to call once I was in the allotted spot in the parking lot.

Wonderful nurse Ian came out in his PPE holding the ominous-looking swab package. He asked me if I had a preferred nostril and I chose the right one. (Don’t ask me why.) He kindly showed me how much of the swab would go up my nostril and before I could suggest that wouldn’t be physically possible, he was trying to prove me wrong. Up it went, but encountered resistance, probably because I was furiously scrunching up my face in reaction to the discomfort. Ian told me to relax — ha! — and once I mastered that the swab found its desired resting spot. It felt like the back of my eyeball was being tickled, and the swab needed to do that for eight seconds. It wasn’t really painful, just uncomfortable. Do not let this description deter you from getting tested if it is determined that you should!

After I had the test and was at home again, I made a list of all the people I interacted with somewhat significantly in the previous two weeks. Besides my six co-workers, there were 13 individuals, including a hair stylist and massage therapist. I shuddered to think of the repercussions of all of those people needing to isolate and/or be tested; and all of their contacts, if I had tested positive. But there was no point anticipating the worst, or unnecessarily worrying people, although I did tell some of those people on the list about the test, as well as my co-workers.

Ian advised the result should be available 48 hours later. I had missed the 2 p.m. lab sample ship-out time for that day; otherwise it would only be a 24-hour wait. The info sheet Ian gave me stated that I would be contacted if the result was positive. I signed up for a service that would send a text message to my phone if the result was negative.

As the 48-hour mark passed without a call, I felt reasonably assured I did not have COVID-19, but of course needed the negative confirmation in order to venture out. I looked at the info sheet again and saw I could call the Island Health lab at 7 a.m. the next morning, which is what I did and how I got my thankfully negative result.

Several hours later I received a text message reiterating that my test result was negative.

Getting a negative result put me with 99 per cent of the 5.47 million other tests undertaken in Canada so far during the pandemic. 

Phew! For now . . . .

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