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Sore Throats and Nose Swabs

Sore Throats and Nose Swabs

This morning I got a Covid test. I had a sore throat and, although my risk is low (I live in Queensland, Australia), I figured it was better to be safe than sorry.

As I followed the yellow Covid Clinic signs to the intake desk, I thought about how strange our lives have become. A year ago, I was in Italy and the world had never heard of Covid-19.  Now it is our constant companion, sidling up next to you wherever you are on the globe, it’s presence always felt on the news, in our homes, in our relationships.

I watched the nurse give an elderly man advice about interstate travel. He is sitting  behind a Perspex shield and they both wear masks.

The woman in front of me is in dark blue scrubs, designating her as a healthcare worker. How many times has she been swabbed this year, I wonder. Does the thought of a possible infection disrupt her sleep or has she been able to create psychological distance from it all? I remember talking to friends in the healthcare sector earlier this year. An underlying anxiety and fear was threaded through their practical words. They saw what was possible and were preparing for the worst. So far, we have mostly avoided that outcome here. But other countries haven’t been as lucky.

I follow the healthcare worker’s example and don a mask before speaking to the nurse. He notes my symptoms then directs me around the corner to admin where my personal details are entered into the system. The woman is friendly in a professional, matter-of-fact way and she tells me my mask is upside down. I briefly remove it and notice my lipstick has stained the fabric. Will I leave this place with pink smeared across my face? She advises me to bend the wire more securely across the bridge of my nose.

Doctors and other staff are nearby, looking my way. Are they assessing my likelihood as a vector or admiring my outfit. I suspect it’s the former.

Then I’m in the tent. It’s partitioned with blue surgical curtains and each make-shift room is a couple of metres square. Three walls, one side open. I stand on the spot and wait my turn. I think of friends in countries where these tents are commonplace. From Columbia and the United States (US) to the United Kingdom and Europe, the numbers seem out-of-control. I’m lucky to be here on this island where I was born. But I feel the fear caused by this thing called Covid and I worry for us all. I know in my gut this pandemic is not over, not by a long way. We just need to keep our nerve and keep going, adjusting and hoping for the best.

I try not to think about those who have died, been diagnosed or in recovery. I remind myself not to think of those who have technically recovered but still experience serious medium and long-term health impacts like chronic respiratory difficulties, organ damage and so on. Why isn’t that reported more? Surely people would realise then that recovery doesn’t necessarily mean you go back to the way you were?

I bring myself back to the present as warm air from my nose leaks out of the mask and clouds my glasses with steam.

The man in the next makeshift cubicle gets his swab done then walks past. The doctor moves away to process the sample and then is standing in front of me. Mask down, he swabs my throat and both nostrils. It felt like he was touching my brain but the discomfort was brief and, let’s face it, far less invasive than the PAP smears women need regularly.

I get a letter explaining I must go home and isolate until I get my results. This could take up to three days. I have plenty of food in the house so I’ll be fine.

I arrive home and later see a frustrated Instagram post from a highly-spiritual and influential man in the US. He’s fed up with the anti-mask rhetoric and the selfish refusal of many of his countrymen and women to restrict their activities to stop the spread and protect others. The denialists make themselves known in the comments and I wonder how so many can deny the reality of 230K+ deaths in their own country. I shake my head and think, people are strange.

I’m not overly worried that my test will come back positive. I mean, it’s possible but the chances I have contracted Covid are low. Still, I’ll be at home until I receive the all-clear.

But, I am worried about the rest of the world and the people in it. I’m worried about the polarising of opinions and the way denialists have convinced themselves they don’t need masks and God or nature will protect them. I know a lot of souls who have passed over this year could convincingly argue against that point of view.

I catch myself thinking it would be easier to convince people they are in danger if the threat was more visible – bombs dropping from the sky like war-time or ugly welts on your body. But this threat isn’t visible until you feel it or it affects someone you love. Then it is too late.

People in our southern state of Victoria will emerge from their lockdown tonight after many months of isolation. They have stalwartly pulled together for the greater good of their community. The outlook for Australia is quite positive. Meanwhile, across Europe, countries are returning to lockdown as numbers rapidly rise. I watch the numbers increase and my heart breaks a little more.

Luck, tenacity and community spirit have helped Australia so far. I hope that continues to be enough. For those of you in other countries, stay strong, keep going and I hope you’ll be on the other side this next lockdown very soon.

Post script: The test was negative.