Commentary: Taking the COVID-19 test – Can we make it a little easier?

Commentary: Taking the COVID-19 test – Can we make it a little easier?
File photo/CHEK
Signs showing the drive-through COVID-19 testing site in Victoria.

“So what brings you here?” said the woman in the visor.

“A nagging cough,” I said.

“And a wife.”

“We hear a lot of that from husbands,” she said. “Plenty of wives send their spouses here.”

I am here, wearing a mask, sitting in my car at a drive-through testing centre at the health centre at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital and I am having a COVID-19 test.

According to a poll on CHEK News the other night, about five per cent of respondents said they’d had the test, while the other 95 hadn’t, so I thought I’d take the majority of you through the experience.

It did, indeed, start with a nagging cough. I woke up coughing one night and then went downstairs, read for a while, watched some Netflix and YouTube and read some old emails and then went back to bed. And started coughing again. So I got out of bed again, went downstairs and tried to sleep in a chair, and then went to bed. And started coughing again. Cough. Repeat. Cough. Repeat.

“I’m sorry if I woke you,” I said to my wife the next morning.

“I didn’t hear a thing,” she said. “What happened?”

So I told her and she said I had to go have a test. I protested, but she pointed out we were meeting our kids and grandkids on vacation next week so it was the right thing to do. “You’d feel awful if you exposed them to the virus.”

So I drove to the health centre and saw on a sign that you have to book appointments. There was a young security guard at the entrance. He told me I had to call 811.

Now, you’d think I would know this being a) an adult and b) in media, but I didn’t because I’m like most people and don’t pay attention until I have to.

I called 811. A recorded message told me if I was really sick I should call 911.

After some time and a lot of Muzak, a nice woman asked my name, my health number and my date of birth. I told her I had a nagging cough. OK, she said, call this number.

So I called the next number and after a long wait, a nice woman asked my name, my health number and my date of birth. I told her I had a nagging cough, but it really didn’t feel that serious. “Well, it is one of the symptoms of COVID,” she said, “We have people call us if they get a headache.”

She then told me she was going to transfer me to a booking line. She told me I was 29th in line. After awhile another nice lady came on the line, asked me for my name, health number and date of birth, and we booked for 1 p.m. the next day.

So here I was, a day later, passing the same young security guard at the drive-through. I had on my mask, which he said was a good thing. I got it line. There were three cars ahead of me.

Eventually, I drove under a tent, where three women in full-face visors waited for me. I was asked for my name, my health number, and my date of birth. I now know all three by heart. Previous to that moment, I could only remember two.

One of the women checked I was on her computer, but couldn’t find me, but eventually, they did. I had to lower my mask and expose my nose, and a long swab was inserted.

“This may be a tad uncomfortable,” said the nurse, “but it won’t last long.”

The swab went up my nostril. Then farther up. Then farther. Then it hit what felt like a nerve. And then she swizzled it.

Now, I have to concede I have a low pain threshold. If I was a prisoner of war and someone pinched my left nipple, I’d confess in about 15 seconds.

This swizzling seemed to last 30 seconds (aka an eternity). Discomfort rather than pain, but I was still ready to tell the enemy everything.

And then it was done. My eyes were watering a little, but I was quite manly under the circumstances, given that I’m not very manly. Well, not manly at all.

I was told that I might feel dizzy, and if so, I should park rather than drive.

Cool, I said.

“If you have COVID you’ll hear from us in 24 to 48 hours,” said the nurse. “If you don’t,  you won’t hear from us.”

What?” I said. “So I just won’t hear? I’ll be in COVID limbo?”

That wasn’t totally true. I could sign up to get a text alert, which I did. She gave me a piece of paper with the details. This entailed typing in a very long URL into my computer, with about a bazillion letters, and I copied them off the piece of paper – and up came the webpage for BCDC which, it turns out, is an ACDC tribute band based in British Columbia. They have done more than 1,000 shows over the past decades which is pretty impressive, though I wasn’t convinced they were going to let me know if I had COVID-19 or not.

I rechecked the URL and it transpired the first part of the site is bccdc and not bcdc. I bet I’m not alone in being somewhat Thunderstruck. See what I did there?

So I waited at home. I forgot to mention that you have to self isolate until you’re cleared, so I stayed indoors a lot and mowed the grass and eventually (almost three days) my phone pinged and I got a text from the BC Centre for Disease Control which said the COVID-19 “test results for Ian H. are negative.”

The actual testing took no more than a couple of minutes and was efficient and effective if a tad uncomfortable.

I guess I understand why some of the administrative details take longer but speaking to three different people before I could book a test seems to be somewhat excessive. If I were in charge of the world, I’d try and streamline the process.

And the URL for getting your results texted to you needs to be a whole lot shorter. This is it

At least I think that’s it. Or it’s a link to a tribute band for Trooper.

Ian Haysom’s coronavirus diary will appear here regularly.

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