It started with a tickle in the back of my throat.
Unwilling to come to terms with the fact that I might actually be sick – there’s too much to do during the day to be sidelined right now – I spent two or three days convincing myself that it was something other than what it likely was.
I faced the fan when I was asleep.
I slept with my mouth open.
The burrito I had for dinner was spicier than I realized.
I came up with every possible unlikely scenario to explain the symptom even as it progressed to head congestion, and by the time the head congestion had become chest congestion, I knew that a visit to the doctors was inevitable.
Does this now mean that I’m going to have to get a Q-Tip shoved into my brain?
More on that in a minute.
Fortunately for me the healthcare company that I choose to do business with had converted an old family practice facility into a respiratory health clinic because of the COVID-19 pandemic and individual appointments and strict protocols would mean that I didn’t have COVID it was unlikely that I would get it when going to get my symptoms checked out.
I was to show up at my designated time and park in a numbered spot in the parking lot and wait to be approached with further instructions.
It sounded mysterious and shady but considering my weakened state – I can add lethargy to my list of symptoms at this point – it seemed a little bit “fun” and like a way to break up the monotony of sitting there in a waiting room breathing in God knows what.
“Excuse me, Sir – do you have an appointment?” asked Orlando, the security guard, as he approached my door from a distance.
Nodding in the affirmative as I adjusted my mask as instructed, took a step further back.
“Call this number, and they’ll tell you what to do next.”
This was turning into an illness mystery hunt, and I kind of liked it.
The pleasant lady on the phone asked me a bunch of questions and told me to proceed out of my vehicle – masked, at all times – towards the red “X” in front of the door of the building and to wait until somebody came to get me.
Orlando returned to his comfortable chair in the shade on this 97-degree day as I did as instructed.
And I waited.
And I grew a little bit restless.
Just when I was about ready to take out my phone and call and find out what was going on, she appeared – wearing a ventilated hood not unlike those from the movie Outbreak as she went over the instructions for when I entered the building.
Walk behind her.
Don’t touch anything.
Don’t take my mask off unless instructed to do so by a medical professional.
I’ve been following this pandemic religiously since the beginning of the year when it became apparent that what was happening in China was going to eventually end up happening here.
With that said, I never expected that I would be walking into a building specifically for people that may have the virus in question, behind somebody wearing a pack on their back that filters clean air into a hood so that they don’t get whatever I have.
Five or six questions later, and it’s apparent that this visit is going to require me getting the Q-Tip inserted into my nasal canal and up into my sinuses so that they can collect a sample to determine whether I have to quarantine myself for two weeks while my body fights the virus.
I can’t explain what it feels like when they insert that narrow plastic rod other than to say that it’s a lot like when you dive with force into deep water and go 8 or more feet below the surface – the pressure in your sinuses building as your body adjusts to the weight of the water above you.
But even then, it takes a second or so for that pressure to build – your body has to slice through the water as you gain depth, and there’s a moment for you to recognize that this sensation is new.
That is not the case with the nasal swab. There is no water to slice through – you’re at a doctor’s office – and it goes from completely normal to pressure-filled almost instantaneously.
I sneezed as a result – in defiance of the request not to do so without pulling my mask up (I literally couldn’t help it as it was involuntary) – and got somewhat of a look from the nice hooded lady that trying to determine whether or not I had the virus that has crippled the world over the last nine months.
None of that was hard.
The hard part, now that I have my results, was waiting – waiting to either see the test results appear online for me to read or to get the call telling me that I didn’t have COVID-19.
It took two days for those results to come back with the worst-case scenario running through my head every five seconds.
“I have asthma – what happens if it’s positive.”
“I’m not in the greatest shape – what does that mean.”
By the time that I actually got the negative test results back, I was already planning my funeral.
I’m lucky. All I ended up having was a sinus infection that a Z-Pack has all but knocked out in three or four days. I was able to teach from my living room while I waited for my results and would have been able to work from home if they had come back differently.
I lucked out.
But you better believe that from now on I’m not going to touch any part of my body until I’ve sanitized my hands, and I’m not even walking out my front door anymore without a mask on – the crippling anxiety that I may have given the virus to somebody while checking the mail or going for a walk was almost too much for me to handle.
And, if I’m totally honest, I just don’t want to feel that feeling in my sinuses ever again.
Consider me a surface swimmer for the foreseeable future.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.