‘Like a storm in my mind’: My experience getting the coronavirus test in HK

26-Mar-2020 Intellasia | InkStoneNews | 6:02 AM Print This Post

I now understand how a dog feels when it poops in the hallway instead of making it downstairs.

When I walked into a Hong Kong hospital on Thursday night, I was greeted with the shamed looks of a few others waiting to be tested for the rapidly spreading coronavirus. Like myself, they might have been fearing that they had unwittingly passed it to others.

I decided to get tested because of a few factors that, in hindsight, probably created stress-induced symptoms. (Spoiler alert: I tested negative.)

The two main reasons were a recent trip to Thailand and my acid-reflux disorder that, when it flares up, results in tightness of breath and a sore throat. Not ideal symptoms in the age of the coronavirus. I also learned of a few positive cases in businesses that I frequent.

These factors were like a storm in my head, making me extremely anxious, but not about myself. Most of my worries were about whether I was spreading the disease around because I was too stubborn to get checked out.

I went to the office for a few days after my trip. What if I was inadvertently getting everyone sick? What about my roommates? Or when I walked my dog? I am pretty diligent about wearing a mask, washing my hands and avoiding public spaces. But I do hike or run for exercise and have been cooking as a “new quarantine hobby.”

What if I was just spreading this nastiness around Hong Kong?

When I walked into the local clinic, I found a line outside. It turns out they only let in a certain amount of people, who had to go through temperature checks and a questionnaire before being allowed inside.

When I mentioned my travel history and potential contact with a patient, the clinic quietly went into high alert. I was taken to my own private room and the doctor analysed my symptoms over the phone. (Strangely, a nurse did walk in to search for some paperwork, but she was “geared up” in protective wear.)

The doctor decided I needed to get tested, and I can only describe what happened next as a “polite arrest.” The clinic was cleared out (I do feel guilty about that, but in my defense I had no idea that would happen), and an ambulance was called to take me to the hospital.

I never attempted it, but I wonder what would have happened if I tried to leave. I honestly think the police might have been called to subdue me. Once the doctor had made her decision, I had no choice over the next few hours.

At this point, some minor miscommunication led to a bit of an internal freak-out. One nurse told me that I would get an X-ray and, if it didn’t show any infection, I would be sent home. About 30 minutes later, a different nurse came by and said, “You need to be admitted.”

Oh no! What showed up on my X-ray? It turned out to be nothing, and I was going to be admitted no matter what the X-ray showed.

Once I was admitted, I never felt overly nervous. The medical staff was chirpy, which was helpful, and my room buddy got discharged at about midnight, which was encouraging.

At about 3am I was woken up and, in a haze, was told I had tested negative. I don’t think I fully registered the information. If I was positive, I am not sure how I would have handled it.

At about 5am I was discharged and the doctor gave me some information to evangelise my friends and colleagues. It was mostly about how people with no symptoms should call a government hotline before visiting clinics to avoid putting pressure on the medical infrastructure. Oops.

American readers are going to hate the next sentence: This whole process cost me about $65. (If I were poor, it could have been subsidised even further.)

I think that has been an important reason why Hong Kong has kept a lid on the coronavirus so far. Because testing is accessible and affordable, money is no excuse when it comes to getting checked out.

There is no way I would have been tested in the US, and while my case could be an argument against unnecessary testing, the city also found 48 positive cases that night most patients had recently traveled. Now the government can perform contact tracing on those people and try to prevent the contagion from spreading.

I am certain that an even larger chunk of people was tested and sent home. It may not be the most efficient tool, but as South Korea’s case has demonstrated, high volume is far more important than efficiency.

I want to end on two important points. First, I received a bit of perspective over the weekend when I was informed a family member is starting intensive chemotherapy. It’s almost impossible to imagine the stress that this man, and his mother and father, must be going through.

So while it is easy to be scared about your own personal health, just try to make room in your hearts for those who need to go through other serious medical treatments during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lastly, across the world, the bravery of medical staff has been truly remarkable. I saw it first-hand and could not be more impressed. They were professional moving me around, poking me, testing me but, more importantly, they were kind and in good spirits.

The nurses were making jokes, the doctor decided he wanted to talk to me about regular life for 5 to 10 minutes and the EMTs were chatting among one another.

I would guess, since they are most at risk during this pandemic, they would be worried and scared. But they have almost universally decided to put on a smile as they power through these trying times.

I find myself looking up to them in the same way a 12-year-old boy worships a professional athlete or their favourite actor.



Category: Hong Kong

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