This day last week, at 4:10pm, I received a call from the National Ambulance Service asking if I could be in Tallaght Stadium at 5pm for testing. Seven days on, I still don’t know if I have COVID-19. Undoubtedly, the below account of the last week will be familiar to many.
Last Wednesday, an article I wrote outlining the COVID-19 testing hub process from a personal perspective was published in this newspaper. Everyone I’d been in close confines with was contacted prior to publication, lest someone be startled by the sight of “one of the school mums” perched tentatively on her windowsill, face mask lolling around her neck. Needless to say, since the piece was printed, I’ve been inundated with queries trussed up as well wishes.
The only question trumping “What does it feel like?!” is “When are you getting your results?!” It’s akin to asking a pregnant person seven days past their due date “Any movements yet?! Very strange, what’s going on?!” While seemingly well-intentioned, it only serves to frustrate – especially when you’ve spent most of the prior week housebound, homeschooling and sick.
Why are the results talking so long? Well, I appear to have fallen between two stools. To recap; the shortness of breath started March 11th. After some days of restricted breathing and a high temperature, my GP’s clinic told me to ring 999 on March 13th. As mentioned in last Wednesday’s article, I was reluctant to do so; there was discomfort and distress, but it wasn’t quite life or death. Still, doctor’s orders…
The emergency operator, confident immediate attention wasn’t required, arranged a callback for testing. “It may take a while”. The weekend was a blur of discomfort, coughing and fear. Monday morning, after five days of breathing difficulties, my GP was contacted again. While voicing concern over potential duplicate referrals, she said testing was important and sent an e-ref on the new computerised system. Once completed over the phone, she added: “A patient got a call back from the testing centre in St. Michael’s already this morning, so it should be quick.”
When I got a call that Monday evening, asking if I’d be in a position to attend the testing centre in Tallaght Stadium and not St. Michaels, the presumption was because I wasn’t high risk. Swabbing complete, I was informed the results would be ready within 24-36 hours.
Last Thursday afternoon (March 19th), now eight days in to this purgatory, and the symptoms were still the same. The prescription for steroids and inhalers my GP had faxed to the pharmacy the previous Monday weren’t alleviating the breathing situation. Increasingly distressed, I rang the clinic again.
“Have you received the results yet? You really should have received them by now. That’s very poor…”
“I was just going to say the exact same thing to you, Doctor…”
Concerned by my continuously laboured breathing and above-average temperature, my GP spent some time trying to source my results via the phone. It kept ringing out. “We need those results; if it was negative we could bring you in to the clinic and put you on a nebuliser to alleviate your breathing.”
At a loss, the following advice was dispensed: purchase a Pulse Oximeter to check your blood oxygen levels. If it goes below 91, you need to present to A&E or ring 999…
So, here we were once more. Not life, not death, just somewhere in between. All while the kids are climbing the walls, I can’t ask anyone to help for fear I’m infected, grappling for breath, and countless “So, any test results yet, I need to let my granddad/mother/employers know” WhatsApps understandably flood in.
Then, I got a phone call last Friday, March 20th, from the National Ambulance Service – offering another test. “No, I was tested Monday, I’m awaiting results, I’ve a reference number?” The operator said my GP should have the results by now. I rang the GP, who said they wouldn’t get the results of Monday’s test as it was a result of being initially referred by the National Ambulance Service on Friday, March 13th. “You need to ring 999 again.” I rang 999: “If you’re looking for COVID-19 results ring your GP, I have six calls queuing, do you have an emergency?!”
Rang the Department of Public Health East: automated answering machine saying contact HSE hotline 1850 24 1850. Rang the HSE hotline again: another automated recording before ringing out. I direct messaged @HSELive on Twitter, who said they’d “be in touch”…
That’s when I stopped, realising none of it matters. Technically, I’m not high risk. My kids and husband seem fine. I’ve been self-isolating for almost a fortnight. The tsunami of WhatsApps could wait. Hugging my kids properly would have to wait. We’re all in denial about how easy it is to contract this thing, “standing in the shadow of what’s to come.” There could come a time when contact tracing is futile.
Now, almost 14 days in, increasingly fatigued and fighting for breath, I’m still following Doctor’s advice. I ordered a Pulse Oximeter. And a portable nebulizer. Then, I deleted WhatsApp.
Originally published in The Irish Independent