So, let’s say this up front: this post is not from me, but from a friend. A friend who wanted this kept anonymous due to — well, not just the Internet, I’m sure, but friends and family. You are wise not to trust this, because it’s an account from a person you don’t know, a person without a name. I know them. And I trust them. And this story isn’t even that salacious or terrifying, except for me in a kind of subtle, dystopian way. This person asked if I could post this somewhere, and so here I am, posting it.
* * *
I got swabbed for covid-19 today.
I went in to my rheumatologist for a routine appointment, and at admission, I was asked if I’d had any of the symptoms listed on the wall. As it happens, I’ve had a very mild fever (between normal and 99.6) off and on since Feb. 20 (it’s March 10 as I write this, so 18 days), and a cough intermittently for even longer —but I have asthma, I have a cough a lot of the time.
So I told the nice woman manning the desk. She very apologetically gave me a paper surgical mask, then told me to sit in the waiting room. Some time later, I was told to go into an exam room to wait instead.
Even later still, a PA came in with gloves, a gown, a surgical mask and visor, awkwardly tried to take my temperature without holding the thermometer, and when it fell out of the sleeve and onto the ground, she gave up. Then she said my rheumatologist would call me later, and I should go to urgent care to be tested. She gave me a bad photocopy showing three locations where testing for coronavirus was already set up.
When I left, all of the desk staff were wearing masks. They hadn’t been before.
Let me back up. I’m absolutely confident I don’t have coronavirus at this time. If nothing else, I have a pretty bad immune system, am on immunosuppressants, and suffer some comorbidities — I would expect to be much sicker than this.
OK, so, not especially sick, but I try to do the right thing. And so in the interest of public health, and feeling slightly ridiculous, I went to urgent care.
I put my mask back on, went in, waited for a while as the patient in front of my finished checking out. They were not wearing masks at this urgent care.
When I explained why I was there, the receptionist told me to go sit in my car and call her. So I did. I was checked in, she told me there were five patients ahead of me, and she’d call when it was time for me to come in.
OK. Abundance of caution. Also very, very frightening. I watched people around me come and go. I wondered if it was OK to have my car windows open or not.
An hour and change later, I called again from the parking lot wondering what my ETA was. She told me I was still behind five other patients — they had been waiting on a delivery of gowns — but there was no wait at an associated urgent care facility seven minutes away.
Fine. I went.
This place let me wait in the waiting room until I was called. Half the front desk staff had masks, but not everyone.
When I was called, the nice woman in a gown, gloves, and mask but no visor took my blood pressure and temperature (99), then swabbed both nostrils with the same two Q-tips (deeply uncomfortable but not painful.) “I’ve been testing for two or three days and haven’t seen any come back yet,” she said. “So it may be a while.”
I laughed. “So I should hear in, what, a week?”
“You’re optimistic,” she said. Then she sent me on my way.
I stopped at the front desk about my copay. “Should I pay here, or…?” I asked. I gestured at my mask. Handing over a credit card didn’t seem like the best idea.
The front desk staff consulted with each other and shrugged. “You can pay,” one said.
That seemed… wrong. Unhygienic. “Are you sure? I don’t want to…”
“We can bill you,” the other one said. “Have a nice day.”
Here are some things I have learned:
* When you are already short of breath, wearing a mask makes it worse.
* When you are already kinda freaked out, waiting alone in your car makes it worse.
* There is wildly inconsistent medical practice on protocols to prevent transmission.
All of these things are going to need to be addressed. The first two because the more isolating, uncomfortable, and flat out terrifying the experience of getting tested is, the less likely people are going to follow through. Note that there were several steps in here where I could have just not done my civic duty and no one would be the wiser.
And the third is a problem for obvious reasons. If even people working on the front lines aren’t taking consistent steps against transmission, what hope do the rest of us have?
This is going to be rough, friends. Take care of yourselves, wash your hands, and flattenthecurve.com.