I got tested: Here’s what happened

The Covid-19 testing tent at Tumut Hospital.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, I tried getting tested for the virus after coming down with some kind of flu. Back then, there wasn’t a local hotline, just a national number, and after waiting three hours on the line, I was eventually disconnected. I also knew they weren’t testing anyone for Covid-19 unless they’d travelled or come into contact with a known case, and I didn’t qualify, so I sat tight and watched as restrictions and rules developed around social distancing and self isolating.

I recovered quickly, and no one around me ever got sick, so I assume it was just a cold.

This week, I experienced some similar symptoms and knowing that the government is strongly encouraging everyone with symptoms to be tested, I made the call again. My second experience could not have been more different. Overall, I’d describe it as a simple, friendly and briefly unpleasant experience.

Step One: Make a call

After isolating myself, I called the Murrumbidgee Local Health District Covid-19 hotline on 1800 831 099.

The lady who answered took my personal details (full name, date of birth, address, phone number) and explained that someone else would call me to assess my symptoms and schedule a test, if necessary. She asked right away if I had travelled internationally or come into contact with a known case or if I work in healthcare.

Step Two: Wait for a call

A lady named Emily tried calling me twice that afternoon, but I missed the calls, and she left her number. When I called back, Emily answered right away and asked about my symptoms (sniffles, tired, a little achy and a little feverish for a brief time, no headache, no cough, no sore throat). She scheduled me for a test the following day at noon and told me to fully isolate myself until I received the results, which would take another 24-72 hours after the test.

She made sure I knew where the testing clinic was set up (in a tent behind the Community Health building to the right of the hospital) and told me to arrive just before noon. 

Step Three: The test

Driving to the clinic was simple, and there’s a small driveway to the right of the main hospital building with a paper sign which said “Covid” on it, with an arrow pointing up the driveway. I drove past the Community Health building and parked in the small area at the back, a short distance from the blue testing tent. There were two people in face masks waiting in front of the tent, talking to a nurse wearing a face shield, mask, gown and gloves. 

There was a small metal stand on the footpath, between the parking lot and the tend, with hand sanitiser on it and a sheet of instructions. The instructions were simple:

• Sanitise your hands properly (there were pictures showing correct hand washing procedure)

• Open the drawer in the stand

• Take one mask

• Close the drawer

• Put the mask on

• Wait for instructions

With a mask on (which makes for uncomfortable breathing), I stood at a good distance from the others, who appeared to be part of the same family, and waited. A nurse told me I could wait in my car and she’d wave me over when it was time.

I’ve been swabbed for flu before, and every time they warn you that it’s unpleasant, but not painful. The swab very quickly goes a long way up your nose. I knew what to expect, but the nurses at the testing tent were still careful to explain it all again when they waved me over.

I was impressed by how relaxed and friendly the two nurses were as they took my brief medical history, asked about my symptoms and measured my vitals.  

The swab itself was – as expected – very quick and unpleasant. The feeling is hard to describe, because it’s not painful, but there’s a part of your brain that knows nothing should ever be felt that far up your nose. Like getting your neck adjusted at the chiropractor; it doesn’t hurt, but you feel like perhaps it should. I relaxed my mind, put my faith in the nurse’s practiced hands, and picked a spot on the ceiling to stare at, staying very still. 

In less than a second, it was over. As the nurse warned, the swab made my nose run a little and my eyes water.

On the way out, the nurse handed me some sheets of information about remaining in strict isolation while the swab is tested (not social distancing – isolation) and how to get my results. Negative results can be delivered more quickly by text message, and the nurses gave me information on how to register. Positive results will always be delivered via phone call.

She also advised that it’s better to take Panadol (or paracetamol) than Nurofen (or ibuprofen), since there was some early information that Covid-19 and Nurofen “don’t get along.”

Step Four: Registering for a text 

Because I’ve got places to be and things to do (no, not really, I’m staying home!), I registered for the quicker text message results.  I am still impressed with how streamlined the process is and how easy it is to understand. I registered my details with the system through a few messages back and forth and settled in for the wait.

Step Five: Results

The text message alerting me that my results were ready arrived 29 hours after testing. Thanks to the nurses, I knew that a text message meant a negative result, but I inputted the pass code they gave me when I signed up for SMS results and got the official news: NEGATIVE.

Anyone who’s travelled or come into contact with a confirmed case is still required to self-isolate for 14 days, and everyone else needs to self-isolate until their symptoms have gone. Since I was feeling well and didn’t fit the other criteria, I put on my jacket and went for a walk.