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My Experience Being Tested For Covid-19 By National Guard

How Invasive Is It? • How Uncomfortable Will It Feel? • How Much Pain Will I Feel?
by Robert Stewart
 
If you watched “60 Minutes” last week on CBS, viewers may have been struck by the revelation that correspondent Leslie Stahl was stricken by the COVID-19 virus. While it is newsworthy when prominent people become sickened by the virus, it was the context in which she made the announcement that stood out.
     There is an unwritten code in the media industry that a correspondent or reporter should never become the story itself. While that code generally guides reporters in their duties, extraordinary circumstances sometimes require stepping over that boundary. The following story can be placed in that category.
     As a part-time employee of a long-term care facility for the elderly in the area, I have found that testing for COVID-19 is a hot-button topic from many perspectives including the individual employee, the facility, the state and certainly the residents whose safety is paramount to the facilities that are entrusted with their care.
     When long-term care facilities were identified by the state as the epicenter for COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations, employees in those facilities took notice and began to view their duties there as critical care rather than assistance and comfort.
     While nurses and doctors treating COVID-19 patients always had that perspective, it was a new feeling among workers in long-term care acilities. With the state focused on the situation at long-term care facilities, employees there could feel the increased stress that came with the spotlight. And, with the spotlight, the big question to emerge for individual employees focused on testing for COVID-19. Massachusetts has one of the highest testing rates in the country and is relying on testing data to ease restrictions on business closings and stay-at-home orders. Los Angeles is proposing to offer COVID-19 tests to all residents of that city. With the emphasis on testing employees for COVID-19 to eliminate or significantly reduce the risk of virus carriers, workers have had to accept the reality of testing.
     Despite that reality, testing remains something of a mystery for many people and for a small minority it is becoming a political statement about big data and big government. Images of testing for COVID-19 as seen on TV news reports can leave many people with a queasy feeling in their stomachs. The thought of having a long cotton inserted into your nose and angling towards your eye is unsettling.
     Questions abound about such a procedure. How invasive is it? How uncomfortable will it feel? How much pain will I feel? From the time I was notified that testing of employees would be undertaken, there were only a few days to think about it before the date of testing itself. And, those few days were filled with thoughts about the testing procedure accompanied by a high level of anxiety.
     Questions would arise in my mind about what would happen under different test results. If I test positive, there will be an extended period of time where COVID-19 will dominate life and dictate the circumstances about how to return to any semblance of normalcy. That means added disruption to a comfortable routine that has already been radically disrupted by the pandemic. If I test negative, I’m off the hook in the short term and my life can be somewhat normal. But, does it mean I can forget about COVID-19? Can I still become infected with COVID-19?
     With those questions in my mind, the existential moment of testing arrives. The operating process for getting tested is clearly outlined. I drive into the parking lot and receive a number and then park along with others and wait for my number to be called. While I am waiting, members of the National Guard’s mobile testing unit prepare themselves by putting on Hazmat uniforms and face shields. Already in an anxious state, my anxiety level rises as I watch the National Guard members prepare themselves.
     When my number is called, I force myself to get out of the car and line up outside the exam room. While I wait in line, my anxiety eases a little when I hear comments from those who leaving the testing room. Comments like, “It wasn’t so bad” and “It wasn’t as bad as I thought,” provide a more relaxed mindset just before entering the exam room.
     When I entered the exam room, there were three or four stations set up with each station having a chair and table and staffed by a couple of Guard members. The Guard members tried to ease my testing anxiety by calmly explaining what will happen in the next moments. They were courteous and professional but when it came time for the swab to be placed in my nose, I couldn’t help but squeeze the chair a little. The comments heard while waiting in line proved to be close to the truth. It was uncomfortable. I did feel something come up through my nose and probably passing through my sinus on the way to the base of my eye. But, it was slight and certainly manageable and didn’t require a scream of pain.
     It took four days to get the results and while the angst of the testing procedure was over, it was replaced by four more days of anxiously thinking about all the different scenarios that could be played out regardless of whether the test results were positive or negative. The test came back negative and for a few fleeting moments I could dream about having a beer and a burger at the Gibbett Hill Grill or the Bull Run Restaurant and forgetting the light-hearted jests of my wife who tried to ease my anxiety with humor. That brief moment of relief came to an abrupt halt when the reality of uncertainty pushed those thoughts out of mind.
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