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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

How many ‘what ifs’ lead to a coronavirus test?

Last week I had a coronavirus test, it was my first but it’s unlikely to be my last.

The morning of my test I had a runny nose – hardly a smoking gun considering the freezing wind I had walked through to get to the office. But still, as I blew my nose for the fifth time at 9.05am, I looked across at a co-worker and thought, “what if I have the virus?” and, just as bad, “what if they think I have the virus?”.

It was never likely to be the case; I was nowhere near a hotspot and had no other symptoms, but as I tried to work, my brain distracted me with questions about the ‘rona.

Where could I have caught it?

I did have beers in the city on Saturday night.

Worst case scenario, someone had been to a hotspot, picked up the virus, returned to Canberra and attended the pub where I then contracted the virus.

It was a bit of a stretch.

I’m new to Canberra, having moved here from Victoria eight weeks ago, and while I’m grateful to be here in relative freedom and safety, the mess that is my home state plays on my mind constantly.

As a new member of my workplace, I was eager to showcase a good work ethic and be a team player; I wasn’t sure working from home so early into my tenure would sit well.

And it was just a runny nose.

But that day, the workplace of my mum and sister had a confirmed case and my step-mum and dad developed flu-like symptoms.

My entire immediate family got tested and I felt paranoid.

I had a similar thought process to a lot of people I’m sure: Do I get tested? Do I not? I wasn’t sure what the right thing was to do.

Finally, I thought, if some people in Victoria had been a bit more cautious, maybe the situation there wouldn’t be so bad, and I wouldn’t be cut off from my family – I’ll just get tested.

Apparently, half of Canberra also thought that.

I was in line at EPIC for four hours, during which time I listened to an expose from Donald Trump’s niece on audiobook, enjoyed the sunshine through the windscreen, and occasionally worried about the impending test. I mean, it is the big question: how much does it hurt?

The worst part was a couple of hours in when I needed to go to the toilet, but if there was one place to avoid the restrooms, it was probably the place every Canberran with a suspicion they had the virus had congregated.

Much to my surprise, others around me thought differently.

I’m not complaining about the wait, there was strong demand that day and the set-up was professional, organised and everyone was well mannered.  

For the first couple of hours I was able to stop the engine for long periods of time; as I edged closer, the pace picked up and we moved quickly enough to keep the car running.

I weaved my way around the EPIC carpark and arrived in a big shed.

I was instructed to park, turn the engine off, was given a mask and asked some standard coronavirus questions.

My answers made me feel a little silly – nope, no contact, no hotspot, just a runny nose which had stopped being an issue hours ago.

But the healthcare workers were kind and thanked me for waiting.

I felt reassured I had done the right thing.

I wanted to be a good citizen; I hadn’t planned on taking resources away from other people.

The actual test wasn’t that bad.

One friend told me it had made him scream and another described it as similar to a pap smear.

“It’s not pleasant, I didn’t enjoy it, they definitely took cells from my body, but it wasn’t painful,” she said.

Quite frankly, her description nails it.

When the test was done, they handed me two pages of information and I went home.

That’s when I discovered how completely unprepared for self-isolation I was.

I had two days of good food, which should’ve seen me through to my (almost certain to be negative) results, but after that things would be grim.

I tend to have bad luck with this sort of stuff so when the testing centre called to confirm my personal details, I thought ‘this is going to take a while’.

Since the start of the lockdown, I have been an essential worker and have physically gone into work most days.

This was my first experience of a complete lockdown and, with respect to those who have experienced this at a much larger scale, I did not like it.

I found it frustrating and weird.

As a journalist, I usually like to get out and about, to meet people and find out what’s going on, but I’m an introvert and I quite enjoy writing my stories in the comfort of my own home.

I quickly discovered that without the “out and about” part of my job, the writing stories part was really hard. 

The balance was disrupted, I was claustrophobic, and I have never been more unproductive.

The big achievement of my brief “iso” was YouTube Yoga.  

I started 30 days with Adriene – in terms of online Yoga teachers she eclipses the competition with 5.4 million followers.

On my fourth day of Yoga, there were still no ‘rona results.

During a routine telehealth appointment, my doctor encouraged me to be proactive and call the testing centre.

It shouldn’t take this long, she told me.

I usually don’t like to push; I think people are usually doing the best they can, and my interference doesn’t help.

Also, however sexist it might be, the icon of the pandemic is definitely “#Karen” and I have no plans to turn into one.

But I called and they had my result; I did wonder how long it had been sitting there.

I was negative and free to leave my house. 

The first couple of hours after the result I felt invincible, the hours after a negative test result are likely to be the safest we feel for a long time. 

I lapped up the feeling and indulged in some self-love.

Went outside and strolled around, then a haircut, then the supermarket and the next day back to work, back to the world.

My three and a bit days of iso felt a lot longer (so sorry, people in Victoria).

If I must do it again, I can.

It wasn’t difficult or painful and now the mystery is gone.

For information about COVID symptoms and testing, visit covid19.act.gov.au

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