I didn’t feel sick Friday, but I got a COVID-19 test anyway.
It wasn’t comfortable, but after taking a (very) small fall off my bike Monday, it wasn’t the most painful experience of my week. And it was incredibly easy.
As I drove up, signs and arrows pointed to the testing site in the Shawnee Sports Complex parking lot in Dunbar. Cones separated lanes of traffic and West Virginia National Guardsmen sat under a tent waiting to direct cars.
I held up my ID so a Guardsman could copy my name, birthday and address onto the necessary paperwork. I gave my phone number, verified all the information and pulled forward, where I was directed to one of the three testing lanes.
When I pulled up, a man from Kanawha County Emergency Medical Services dressed in a full body gown, face shield and gloves asked my birthday, and I confirmed. He nodded and leaned down to my window to show me what they’d be using (a 6-inch swab) and how it would work.
He asked if I’d ever had a flu swab before (I had not) and warned me to prepare — mostly by double-checking my car was in park so I didn’t accidentally shoot forward and take out the fence in front of me, or worse, run over his foot.
I’m not usually a squirmy person. I don’t remember shots and vaccines, even as a kid, making me nervous. Blood doesn’t make me woozy or lightheaded. The one time I got stitches — a measly three after I cut my arm on a goalpost during a field hockey game in high school — I thought it was kind of cool to watch the doctor sew up my skin. But in the short time I had to look at the nasal swab, I was anxious; how far up was that thing supposed to go?
I took off my face mask and the man in the gown tilted my face back through my car window. He handed me a tissue for afterward, or in case I bled, which some people do if their noses are dry from seasonal allergies or the like.
“Ready?” He asked. I clutched the tissue.
He tried my left nostril first, moving the swab up my nasal cavity and gently prodding to make it go deeper. I didn’t believe there could be a deeper. The left was too tight, he said, and shifted my chin so he could reach the right nostril.
Again, the swab went up. You know that feeling you get when you have to sneeze but it never comes? When it got deep enough, it kind of felt like that, but much more intense. Like there was something there (a swab, obviously) that I needed to get out but couldn’t.
It brought back a vivid memory of being 6 years old, sitting at the dinner table and thinking it’d be funny to stick some Rice-A-Roni incredibly far up my nose to shoot out at my sister, who was sitting across from me. Kids are weird. Don’t judge young comedic stylings.
After 20 seconds, the man warned me it was time to twist the swab. They do this to ensure the swab picks up enough of a sample. While it was necessary, it was also probably the most unpleasant part of the test.
Anyone who knows me knows I have a hard time not talking during normal times. Get me a bit nervous or uncomfortable and throw out any hope you had for silence.
“So not the most comfortable thing in the world, huh?” I said as he finished twisting. “Man, talking feels weird with this thing,” I continued for some reason, “I probably shouldn’t talk.”
He laughed a bit and shook his head. “No, not comfortable.” At least he humored me.
And then it was done.
He put the swab, with which I was now intimate, into a small tube, sealed it and put it in a plastic bag with my paperwork. He told me to expect a call early next week with my results. I blew my nose with the tissue (no blood) and drove away. My head felt a little weird afterward, kind of like when you clear a stuffy nose for the first time and remember what it feels like to breathe freely.
I didn’t start my day expecting to get tested. I went to the site for a story, and through talking with people there, realized I hadn’t gotten tested yet but I probably should. I’ve been going places for work, like testing sites and offices to meet sources. I’ve been vocally pushing for the governor to bring back safe, socially distant in-person news conferences so reporters like me can ask more than one question a day.
I’ve been hanging out with friends, usually outside in small groups, and making trips to the grocery store. Though I’d mostly worked from home while the governor’s stay-at-home order was in effect, my boyfriend was still going to his small office every day. Without really realizing it, we’ve been in contact with a lot of people.
And I haven’t been a perfect citizen. I’ve gone into the gas station or store for a quick errand, not realizing I’d forgotten my face mask until I was at the counter paying. I’ve gone to shake people’s hands before remembering not to — including State Health Officer Cathy Slemp’s at one point (she was very understanding).
I’m not at high risk for COVID-19, but I love people who are — in West Virginia and other places. Each time I’ve made one of these mistakes, I think about my friend who is fighting breast cancer amid a global pandemic. I think about my dad, in California, who swears he’ll be fine and isn’t at risk, despite his age. I think about the people I’ve met in southern West Virginia and across this state who are working to better communities for all of us. The elderly who carry so much knowledge about places others hardly remember, and the children and grandchildren who rely on them.
There’s a good chance that I could be asymptomatic but still carry the virus and pass it on, potentially to loved ones who could be at high risk. Getting tested allows me to limit my threat to others, and the more we can all do that — through testing, wearing face masks, social distancing and being conscious of the danger we can pose to the community — the safer we’ll all be and the quicker we’ll be able to get back to a more normal life.
I want to grill out with my friends at our annual Meat Fest. I want to sing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in a crowded bar. I want to get back to weekly Sunday dinners with my friends and co-workers. We shouldn’t do those things right now, but we will be able to again. We all need to take steps to ensure as many people as possible can live through this virus and be there with us.
And that is why I got tested.