Haruki Murakami,  Life during COVID-19

Waiting for my COVID-19 test results: Notes from my quarantine journal

On the St. Joseph River / Cindy La Ferle

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“’For a while’ is a phrase whose length can’t be measured. At least by the person who’s waiting.” ~Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

July 20, 2020

Looking back at my earlier quarantine journal entries, I see that “patience” has been one of the overriding themes. The COVID-19 pandemic, after all, has an unpredictable path of its own. Some public health experts predict that our nation could be muddling through it until the late fall of 2021 — unless we can pull together and show the virus who’s boss.  

Meanwhile, we must ride it out. We must wear our masks, practice good hygiene, and model common sense and courtesy for our kids as well as adults who (for whatever reason) are struggling to follow the program. 

Meanwhile, some of us will get sick, anyway.

Returning to Royal Oak on Saturday after a week at our second home in St. Joseph, I felt unusually fatigued. Despite the 90-degree heat, I got the chills even with the air-conditioning turned off.  My sinuses were congested; my throat hurt. Ordinarily, I’d have chalked it off as the start of a common cold. 

But the dreaded coronavirus can be a trickster with a wide range of symptoms, sometimes mimicking a host of other bugs and infections. (This should make things twice as challenging for parents and school nurses when the kids are back in school and flu season kicks in.) 

At the same time, COVID-19 seemed to be inching closer to home; it wasn’t just a news story happening to other people elsewhere. Lately I’ve been hearing about more cases impacting the lives of close friends and family.   

During our time in St. Joe, Doug and I were invited to a BYOB outdoor social-distancing visit with four of our favorite neighbors. We’d also shopped briefly at a couple of stores — including the local drugstore — always wearing masks and washing our hands afterward. But I noticed, while running my errands that week, that a few customers inside those stores were defying orders and not wearing masks.  

So, when I woke up feeling crappy again on Sunday morning, I decided to get tested for COVID-19. The urgent care clinic I chose in Royal Oak also offered the “rapid-result” antibodies test — in addition to the standard nasal-swab COVID-19 test — which had been on my to-do list early on. Doug agreed to go with me and get tested, too.

Getting tested, waiting it out

The receptionist on the phone at the clinic instructed us to stay in our car and form a line behind other cars in the parking lot. Nobody could tell us how long the process would take, but we were assured it would be “at least an hour, depending.” After hearing about folks in Texas who have to wait in line eight or nine hours for a COVID test, I didn’t think “at least an hour” would be so bad.

More than an hour and a half passed, the sky turned black, and a thunderstorm rolled in. Unable to conduct the testing outside in the rain, a nurse hurried out to our car and asked us to enter the clinic. We were sent to separate rooms to fill out the paperwork and wait for the tests. 

All said and done, it took close to three hours for each of us to get both tests — the nasal-swab COVID-19 test and the rapid-result antibodies test. 

The antibodies test was a quick and painless finger poke. Doug and I learned within 20 minutes that we were “negative” on the antibodies score. That was good news, the doctor told us, yet I’d secretly hoped we’d had the damned virus earlier and might be protected from future infection. In that case, I would have donated plasma to help others, too. 

Until I get the results back from my nasal-swab test, I won’t know if I now have the coronavirus or just a common cold. It will take at least eight to ten days for those results to come in, which only adds to the stress of the ordeal. “The labs are backed up everywhere,” I was told.  

The problem with this system, around the country, is that everyone who’s waiting for test results — with or without symptoms — could be going about their business and possibly infecting others who are more vulnerable. Scarier yet, some who test positive for the virus remain asymptomatic, but still drag the infection with them everywhere they go. 

Meanwhile, I have to wait. I will take my cold meds, keep my distance from others, wear a mask in public, and hope for the best. ~Cindy La Ferle

You can read earlier posts from my quarantine journal here. All previous pieces will appear in order, last to first.

Throughout my career, I've worked as a book production editor, travel magazine editor, features writer, and weekly newspaper columnist. My award-winning lifestyles features and essays have appeared in many national magazines and anthologies, including Newsweek, Reader's Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Writer's Digest, Victoria, Better Homes & Gardens, Bella Grace, and more. My weekly Sunday "Life Lines" column ran for 14 years in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, MI) and won a First Place (Local Columns) award from the Michigan Press Association. My essay collection, Writing Home, includes 93 previously published columns and essays focusing on parenthood and family life.

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