I take off my eye mask for sleeping and look in the mirror. Oh-oh! Pink eye. In my right eye. Pink eye is a COVID-19 symptom. I know that because the signs at all of my appointments have it listed along with all of the other primary signs of the coronavirus such as, shortness of breath, cough, fever, etc. Hmmm…. this isn’t good. My husband has just left for his workplace and if I’m possibly infected, then so is he. I better text him first and foremost and then cancel my acupuncture appointment booked for later on. A million more thoughts and questions enter my mind at once. This is our first potential virus scare and it doesn’t feel good. I instantly regret going the few places that I did and seeing the odd person that I did. What if I unknowingly infected them and my husband? Now, that feeling, that very notion, is the absolute worst! It’s one thing to bring harm unto myself, but to be responsible for making others sick, let alone very sick?! Oh boy! Not. Good. At. All.
After reporting my potential COVID-19 case to his supervisor, my husband is sent to the staff RN who collects the necessary information and quickly sends him home as one would hope and expect of a diligent company during pandemic times. Unfortunately, it will be unpaid time off, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Knowing that he’s already on his way home, I get going on the online self-assessment form for the virus. When I get to the screen that mentions pink eye and I click yes, a big stop sign appears on the screen telling me that I need to go into self-isolation and book an appointment for testing. I immediately enter our address information wherein the system identifies the closest testing facilities, dates and times. Yikes! I can’t get in until Tuesday, August the 4th?! That can’t be right. Today’s only Friday. That means that I, rather we, have to wait four whole days to get the swabbing done and then wait who knows how many days for our results? Fortunately, I scroll through some other locations and find a testing site that can get us in the next day at noon. While the drive will be much farther, it is more than worth it! As soon as my husband arrives home, I tell him that there are 29 more spots available for a noontime test tomorrow and he promptly signs up as well. Phew! At least that part of things is settled. I silently wonder how they can safely handle testing 30 people at once and social distance, but I can’t dwell on it. I have other things to do.
I check on my eye and it appears to be… clearing up?!? Hey, pink eye doesn’t just clear up on its own based on my previous experience with it. As I go to a different mirror with more daylight, I can see that it isn’t nearly as red as it was upon waking and though itchy still, I begin to wonder if my initial analysis and determination was correct. Did I act too prematurely? What if I made the wrong call and all of this fuss is for naught? After confirming his own testing appointment, my husband gets up to carefully inspect my eye to see what’s happening. He comes to the quick conclusion that there appears to be nothing wrong with my eye, barely noticing a difference from one to the other. I feel embarrassed at my rush to judgement and explain that it is indeed much different from first thing in the morning. Knowing that his RN wanted an update as soon as possible, my husband emails her and explains that my eye has vastly improved and that it is likely NOT pink eye at all. He sends her a picture of both of my eyes as proof that it appears to be nothing, maybe seasonal allergies, but it’s too late now. We will both need to have a negative COVID-19 test result in order for him to return to work which completely makes sense. It is a bit frustrating however in that this whole situation might have been avoided if I had just waited a little longer before jumping to the conclusions about my eye. While I am somewhat upset with myself, I also know that I was right to be cautious. There is absolutely no way that I am going to take a chance of any kind when others’ lives are literally on the line. Nonetheless, I do wish that I had held off on my decision to text my husband right away.
A short while later, I decide to call the local health nurse on the phone to explain that I likely reacted too soon in ordering up a COVID test, but she confirms that I did the right thing. She, Gina, also reiterates what my husband’s nurse has already told him which is that even if I do have pink eye (a group ‘B’ symptom), there is a slim-to-none chance of actually having the virus since I display none of the other characteristic traits of the disease as methodically asked by both nurses. Gina goes on to say that since my eye condition has already gotten better, there is no need for me to self-isolate before, during and after the test as the online screening measure had indicated. “You stay home until your symptoms are better.” Her advice to me is to follow the usual protocols and stay away from large groups, mask up in public, avoid sharing food/utensils and social distance. Selfishly, I am relieved to hear her clarify the rules around having to self-isolate. Earlier that morning, it had crossed my mind that ten to fourteen days would mean two weeks of being home-bound (and potentially sick) just as our weather finally turned summer-like. Of course, since we are talking about a deadly virus, all bets are off, summer or not, and staying at home would be considered be a very small ‘price’ to pay for keeping others safe. The health nurse goes on to tell me many other helpful things to help satisfy any fears or doubts that my voice likely portrays. It is comforting to hear sound, practical information from a professional as she thoroughly answers my questions encouraging me to call back if I have any further concerns or signs of the virus. I am grateful for her kind words and her calm, matter-of-fact demeanor. I thank her for her frontline work and she thanks me for being a diligent citizen. I am touched.
Never having been tested for COVID before, I begin to feel nervous about the test itself as well as the testing process. I begin to think: Will it be safe there? Will I have to get the throat swab versus the nose one (I gag very easily)? What if we get more exposed by going into the facility? How long will the results take? What if we/I test positive? Will the coronavirus hit us hard? What if we do have it and we’ve unknowingly spread it to others that we’ve had contact with over the past fourteen days? I become overwhelmed and decide to stop the conjecture. It is scaring me and I have no control over what is about to happen. Either one or both of us have it, though likely and hopefully not, and that’s that. We will have to cross the proverbial infected bridge if/when we come to it. Today, I have to focus on the tasks that I had planned and try to go about business as usual. Try. That’s all I can do. Once again, the virus looms in the background just as it always has since hitting the scene a few short months ago. This time however, its voice is a little bit louder, the possibility a little bit more real. Too real, likely or not.
When we arrive at the Testing Centre the next day, we are early and anxious to get it all over with, much like a dreaded trip to the dentist. We watch as many others come and go through the parking lot, entering and exiting the side doors of the large building. We are pleased to see that most folks are donning masks as are we. After waiting in our vehicle until our scheduled time, we approach the first healthcare worker stationed outside. He checks for masks and offers hand sanitizer. Once we step inside, it becomes evident that our fellow human beings, our essential care workers, have stepped up to the COVID-19 challenge and not only met it, but aced it in spades. Like a well-oiled machine, we go from checkpoint to checkpoint identifying ourselves, confirming appointment times, grabbing our testing forms and we end up following the next available LPN to her testing station. All are dressed in gowns, visors, masks and gloves and all are pleasant as well as eager to help us. Upon sitting, our nurse asks us the usual information, cheerfully answers our questions and tracks down a nose swab test for me. While she doesn’t know it, I’m super thankful for the alternate swab for both her sake and mine. I’m NOT a fun patient when it comes to having things shoved down my throat and I tell her that. She chuckles confirming that most of her testees that day have had a strong gag reflex, including my husband who can normally handle swabs and the like sans difficulty. The nose swab stings a little bit, but I explain that I would happily do it again over the prospect of the other test. She bottles up our samples and sends us on our way. We thank her for doing this job day in and day out. Her eyes sparkle–I sense that she is smiling beneath her mask. Before we leave the building, we are given sanitizer, told to discard our masks in case we’ve picked up something inadvertently and we exit the doors with a final pump of hand sanitizer. I hit the sunshine outside and I feel instantly relieved and proud. Relieved to have the testing completed and proud of all of the healthcare workers who have given, and are giving, of themselves tirelessly (well, they put up a good front anyway) not only prior to the pandemic, but especially so since its furious arrival.
Now that my eye is back to normal (oops!, but glad), we remain cautiously optimistic that our results will come out negative. More importantly, we are beyond optimistic that if/when/should we ever need treatment for the virus or anything else, we will get the best care possible from people who go above and beyond despite how they are sometimes treated and/or perceived by the general public and our government who is notorious for grossly undervaluing and underfunding their efforts. If I haven’t said so before, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our health professionals, including the unsung custodial staff and numerous others, who are most definitely fighting the good fight so that we, as a society, have a fighting chance against this God-awful disease. They really are everyday heroes without a doubt and they are more than deserving of whatever thanks or recognition that we can give them. I personally couldn’t do what they do, but I am most appreciative that they have chosen to care for those of us who need it, pandemic and all. These selfless individuals are literally risking their own lives and the lives of their loved ones to help and save others. If that is not the definition of heroic, then I’m not sure what is…
Update: Both of our COVID-19 tests were promptly received and came out negative. We are grateful, but we are also well aware that we will likely end up having to get tested again and again before all has calmed with the coronavirus. Notice that I used the word ‘calmed’ versus the word ‘done’. Meanwhile, God willing that we ALL stay safe and healthy as we ALL continue to practice virus protocols diligently to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our fellow people.