So last Saturday when I started feeling extra tired and “off,” I didn’t take too much notice. I had a runny nose, but it’s allergy season and I have bad allergies. My head hurt. I took ibuprofen. I watched the news about the COVID-19 virus spreading in Europe and worried about our family in Ireland and our impending trip home in May to visit. I packed for my business trip Sunday night, with one eye on the news about a few COVID positives in Denver – where I was traveling for work.
Monday morning, a sore throat was added to my list of aches and pains. I flew anyway – I had no fever and no cough. I landed in Colorado and the meeting was a “maybe” now. By Tuesday night, I felt awful and my meeting was cancelled. I flew home Wednesday, making sure to use my hand sanitizer and touch no one.
When I went to see my doctor the next morning, I tested negative for flu and strep, but she also gave me a referral for COVID-19 testing.
I woke up on Friday morning to a totally different world. Schools were closing, travel bans in place, European countries locked down.
Our state government had established a hotline, so I called it. They recommended I get tested after I listed my symptoms. They referred me to a local hospital. And then I fell down the rabbit hole. I was given no less than five different numbers to contact from Baltimore County’s Public Health hotline (they are closed on the weekends, even during a crisis), to a hospital number that kept ringing. As my husband and I were spending hours trying to get an appointment for me to get tested, my coughing fits increased exponentially.
Finally my doctor called Sunday night and told me they were going to start mobile testing at a nearby hospital. I got there at 8:30 am. I pulled right up to the sign that said “stop here” and cut the engine. A big, open sided white tent loomed in front of me, with a shipping container and orange traffic cones set up. Outside the container, various medical people roamed around – a few in full head-to-toe protective gear – straight out of the movie Outbreak. They all stopped in their tracks when I cut the engine. An older man in a brown flat cap and khaki trench coat looked like the guy in charge as he strode toward my car with purpose.
I rolled down my window, but had a coughing fit at the same time. He jumped back maybe six feet and went white. So much for his previous bravado. He asked if I had an appointment; I said no. I couldn’t figure out how to make one, I told him, but I had a doctor’s order. He instructed me to roll up the window and wait. As I did, he spun around on his heel, bravado firmly back in place, and shouted, “This is not a drill, people!” (insert LOL emoji here).
A doctor in full protective gear approached my car 20 minutes later, holding a slip of paper with a number on it against my rolled up window, and gave me instructions to call that number to make an appointment so they could register my information and test me. She was so apologetic and so kind. The line rang busy for 45 minutes. They could hear me coughing in the car, and a nurse in full protective gear came over and handed me a bottle of water. Another 20 minutes went by; I called the hotline again and they instructed me to go to the ER after listening to me cough. But… I’m sitting at the testing center. I have no fever. If I don’t have COVID-19 now, I certainly will if I go to the ER!
I heard my Mom’s voice in my head, my beacon of tenacity mixed with grace, telling me “there’s always a way to make it possible.” So I pulled back up to the testing site. The doctor came over again, and I told her they instructed me to go the ER. She was so frustrated and apologetic about the lack of clarity in this testing process. She beckoned another woman over and instructed me to roll up my window so they could take a picture of my driver’s license. They then took my number, told me to wait, and disappeared into the shipping container. Fifteen minutes later, my phone rang.
The hotline was calling me.
They screened me, and agreed with the doctor and previous hotline people that I needed to be tested. I was passed over to registration. They took all my info, and told me to drive up and get tested. At this point, I was in tears. I’m a tough cookie, but through all the worry about my kids and feeling awful, and the uncertainty in the world, and then the confusion of the testing process … it was too much. I let it out, then dried my tears, and pulled up to the testing area.
They had me park the car, and call a number. A nurse outside the car answered, verified my details, and had me pull up another five feet. The nurse in full face mask and protective gear approached and instructed me to roll down the window and lean back my seat as much as possible. She then stuck a cotton swab so far up my nose on both sides that I swear to the heavens above – it touched my brain. More tears rolled out of my eyes.
And that was it.
Days of anxiety and nervousness were over.
A ten-second swab up the nose.
They indicated I should roll up the window and could leave. As I was pulling away, nurses on the sides made the sign of the cross, and the doctor created a heart with her hands, ala Taylor Swift. It made me smile and reminded me, yet again, how incredible our medical personnel are. There is no truer saying than “Not all heroes wear capes.”
They sent me on my way with an instruction sheet to isolate myself inside my house for the next four to five days, when results will be back.
Hopefully this story has a happy ending and we get a negative result. I want my family healthy. I’m hopeful that our government gets this figured out and helps to quell the rising panic and fears by making testing more widely available with more immediate results.
In the meantime:
Author update: I was premature thinking the days of anxiousness were over. They had just begun with the testing. The results took much longer than anticipated. After seven days and nights of self isolation, jumping at every phone call, insomnia from stress, physically pushing my young children away from me at times to try and protect them, and denying the hugs they so desperately wanted for comfort, I’m incredibly happy to report that I am negative for COVID-19. I’ve never been so excited to have bronchitis in my life!
Information about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and Scary Mommy is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. With news being updated so frequently, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For this reason, we are encouraging readers to use online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible.