By Yvonne Malloy
l finally got a COVID-19 test and it was a mo-fo! Employee Health made an appointment for me based on the level of exposure, my health history, and the presence of symptoms. This was my third exposure but the first that was deemed high-risk. Even so, I couldn’t get a test unless I started to get symptoms (a consequence of not having enough test kits). The appointment was at a drive-up testing station that was open from 0800-1700.
At 0700 on the morning of the test, a massive deluge with thunder and pink lightning descended. Now I had to get my test before everything flooded. I arrived early. I called the posted phone number and a friendly nurse came out to test me. Thank goodness for the overhang because it was still pouring. She was in full PPE. While I remained in my car, she had me tilt my head back as she attempted to advance a rigid 6″ swab up my right nostril. It burned and was very uncomfortable.
Note that I’ve advanced many a suction catheter up patients’ noses and down the backs of their throats because they were unable to clear their secretions. I always tell them it is going to be very uncomfortable, and I have them swallow repeatedly – a trick to create a minor distraction to ease the discomfort and a method to help advance the catheter. Respiratory Therapy schools should have students practice on each other so that they know what this feels like. It’s important to have empathy for what patients are going through.
My nurse was unable to advance the swab past the nasal conchae, so she abandoned that attempt and went for my left nostril. It went in and burned like before but this time I burst into laughter at the knowledge that karma was bitch-slapping me. I was picturing all those scrunched up faces of the patients I had performed this test on in the past. The laughter enabled the swab to pass beyond the conchae and into my pharynx, from whence the sample needed to come. Humor won the day!
The test is now done in-house so I’ll have my results within 48 hours, instead of last week’s 10-day wait. I had to get this test because I nebulized two treatments for a patient who had what turned out to be a false-negative test. Meaning, a test determined that they didn’t have COVID, so I wasn’t wearing PPE; normal behavior for treating a patient who is not in isolation. At the time we were given one mask for the entire shift, so I felt that I was preserving the integrity of the mask by not wearing it when not necessary; also typical behavior for that point in the crisis. This patient wasn’t getting better so they tested her again, and this time the test came back positive. Because healthcare workers make up 18% of confirmed positive tests, the hospital has since issued the protocol that hospital workers must wear a mask at all times.
Hours later, I can still feel my left conchae. It feels like it’s sitting in the back of my brain right now instead of the posterior of my nose. It’s a mild pain, but I never feel this part of my body ordinarily so it feels wrong. Update: My test result came back negative in less than 24 hrs.
Yvonne Malloy is a respiratory therapist from the Bay Area stationed at a hospital in Ohio.