It’s Been 5 Days Since They Tested My Family for Coronavirus
What testing is like, plus an update with my results
Friday it got hard to breathe.
My 5-year-old daughter and I hadn’t left the house in three days. We called in sick to school — Last week, school was still a thing children went to.— even though I figured we probably just had colds. Tuesday I started to feel feverish. I checked her temperature — 100.4 — and gave us both acetaminophen without even bothering to check my own temp. That’s parenting for ya.
We decided to self-quarantine, but I wondered if we were overreacting. Sure, we’d just been in Seattle, staying with a friend who had “fever and the worst respiratory sickness I can remember,” but he did a great job of staying in his bedroom. I barely even saw him.
But Friday I started wheezing. I couldn’t speak a complete sentence without gasping for breath. The feeling brought me back to my teen years: asthma and chronic bronchitis, steroids and allergy tests and emergency inhalers.
I remembered the chest X-ray, when they checked me for lung cancer and emphysema, how I collapsed on the floor of the hospital because my teenage self thought a “negative” result meant I really had cancer. (Shouldn’t positive be the good one?)
As I struggled to breathe, I recalled how my pediatrician made my parents leave the room so 15-year-old me would finally admit I was a smoker.
“No, I’ve never smoked before. Gross.”
“Just tell me the truth,” my pediatrician begged. “No non-smoker’s lungs look like that.”
I was telling the truth.
Now I’m wondering, am I high-risk and I hadn’t even realized it? I thought I grew out of my teenage respiratory troubles, but what if I didn’t? What if I am gonna die?
It was starting to seem pretty likely I had the new coronavirus. I tried to mind-over-matter myself into deep breaths, but I couldn’t, and I knew my anxiety was just making it worse.
I messaged a couple friends, and they helped me believe that, no, I wasn’t a whiny, paranoid baby if I called my local COVID-19 respiratory nurse hotline.
The nurse on the phone heard me gasping and wheezing. She told me to come in immediately, but I couldn’t, because my husband had the car.
“My husband has an— gasp — Albuterol inhaler. I used to — gasp — have one as a kid. Can I — gasp — use that?”
“You want me to advise you to use someone else’s prescription?”
“Sorry. What I mean — gasp — is would Albuterol be the sort of thing — gasp — someone might prescribe?
“Yes… probably. But you really need to come in.”
I used his inhaler, and it helped a lot. Then I somehow managed to sleep.
Saturday morning, my daughter and I were waiting outside the clinic doors before it opened. Two other adults were already waiting, wearing masks. My daughter and I both used the provided hand sanitizer — my first time using any hand sanitizer since this all started, as it’s not something we have at home or ever attempted to buy — then I reached for a mask for each of us. Hers was smaller and had Mickey Mouse and Goofy on it.
The other patients had to tell me how to put my mask on. I didn’t know which side was supposed to touch my face, or that the top was bendable to fit around my nose. Once we got our masks on, they told us to use more hand sanitizer, so we did. I know this makes no sense, but I felt like they were professional sick people, while we were total amateurs.
We didn’t have to wait long to see a doctor. Just long enough to watch another patient wear her mask over only her mouth, not her nose, as she stood too close to everyone and complained loudly about her fever. (Amateur.)
This was Saturday morning, and the doctor decided that, yes, we should take COVID-19 tests, since we’d been around someone sick in Seattle. I got the feeling they wouldn’t have tested us on our symptoms alone. My breathing was much improved from the night before, and my daughter only coughed when the doctor was out of the room.
It’s quite possible we caught our germs closer to home (we live two hours away from Seattle), but the story here is still that there’s no community spread. Of course, that’s based on a really small number of tests. And if my daughter and I test positive, they’ll blame our infection on Seattle as well, when that may or may not be the case.
So, the tests: Nobody tells you how much they hurt. A very long swab somehow disappears deep into your nose. It goes to a place nothing should ever go. And only after it reaches just the right/wrong spot does the counting to 10 begin. And during the counting is the twirling of the swab.
Both of my nostrils got this treatment, as the doctor did an equally painful flu test too. Before she began, she told me, “Someone else might be getting swabbed in a minute, so please remember that and be brave.” Being brave was so hard right then. It felt just like getting a tattoo. Every part of me was screaming, “Run!” but somehow I summoned the ability to act chill.
Meanwhile, my brave 5-year-old is ready for her first tattoo. (Kidding.) She even counted to 10 herself while she got tested.
“We’ll call you in about 72 hours with your results,” the doctor told us. “Don’t go to the grocery store or the pharmacy. Just stay home, at least until you hear from us.”
We drove home to continue our total isolation. My husband picked up my new Albuterol prescription at the local pharmacy, then he canceled all his work gigs and started his own self-quarantine.
I took another puff from the Albuterol inhaler. I stopped thinking I was going to die, and was able to concentrate again on what we needed to do in order to keep others safe. Our flu results were available that day: negative. Grown-up me knows what teenage me didn’t: Negative is a good thing. But in this case, since we had a fever, did a negative flu test result mean we’d have positive COVID-19 test results?
Waiting for those first 72 hours to pass was difficult, to say the least. At night, as I heard my daughter coughing herself to sleep in bed, all the stress of the day came streaming out of my eyes. Will I spend every night of this social isolation, this new normal, in tears? Or will we all just get used to it, desensitized?
I’ve just got to wait 72 hours, till Tuesday morning, I told myself over and over. Then at least I’ll have some answers. But Tuesday came and went without our results.
Because I wrote a popular essay about being sick, everyone knew. Lots of people checked up on me because they genuinely care about my family. But others checked up out of fear for themselves. (And that’s fine. Almost everybody’s got legitimate fears right now, whether it’s their grandparents dying or the negative long-term effects of social distancing.)
It felt like when I was pregnant, past 40 weeks, and people I hadn’t spoken to in months suddenly needed to message me multiple times a day for updates. It’s like I’m past my coronavirus test due date. No, nothing yet. I swear I’ll tell y’all when there’s news. My anxiety is even bigger knowing how many people are waiting to hear about my results.
I’m writing this on Wednesday night. This morning marked 4 days since our tests. Today’s local COVID-19 test results were announced online in the early afternoon, but I didn’t receive a call. I phoned my doctor to make sure our tests weren’t overlooked. “I’m sorry. Sometimes it takes a long time.”
President Donald Trump was tested for the novel coronavirus Saturday, the very same day we were. He got his results that day.
I’m not suggesting my daughter and I should be anyone’s highest priority (also not suggesting Trump should be), but I do wonder what use the results will even be by the time we get them. If we have it, it seems likely my daughter spread it at her school for two days before her fever prompted us to stay home. But that was all over a week ago. If she did get anyone sick, they’ve spread it much further already.
As of today, my county’s tested 242 people. But the results are only in for 107 of those tests (103 negative, 4 positive for COVID-19).
Maybe this whole essay reads like a complaint. Certainly, I’m not mad at any health professionals — they’re freaking superstars, stepping up right now to work overtime, risking their own health, to literally save the world. I’m so thankful for every medical worker, every person working on testing and on vaccines, every janitor, every grocery store clerk.
I am thankful for so much right now, including our Medicaid benefits, which meant I could seek out the care I needed, rather than worrying about the cost. (I’d be even more thankful if we had universal healthcare, Medicare-for-all.)
But when I wake up tomorrow — undoubtedly from my daughter jumping off the couch while scream-singing “Into the Unknown” —it will be 5 days since we took our coronavirus tests. And 5 days is just too long to wait.