Ingeborg van Teeseling

“Don’t Touch Anything and Wear This Mask”: Reflections on My Surreal Coronavirus Test

I recently witnessed the visceral testing process for COVID-19. While waiting for my results, I started researching how far we’re off a vaccine.

 

The call came while we were having dinner. “Sorry about this, Mum,” my daughter said from Holland, “but my dad has tested positive for the coronavirus. You’ve met him while you were here, and you are not feeling very well. So, it might be a good idea to get tested.”

Rightio, just what I was hoping to do with my life; give it over to freaked-out medical people and the system. But what do you do?

I was, in fact, short of breath, had been puking my heart out, and, come to think of it, that cough, was that something more than just the flu? I know I should have been more suspect. I have just arrived from overseas, not feeling well … but I had been blaming my general malaise on spending time with two small children and a very sick elderly lady.

The combination of kindergarten and hospital germs, I had thought, that must be it. Go outside, start walking again, fresh air, sunshine, eat fish: the cure for just about everything.

But there I was, early the next morning, on the phone to my GP. And a few hours later, I was sitting in my car in front of the medical practice. “Do not leave your car until we tell you,” they said. “Leave the window shut, don’t talk to anybody.”

After about half an hour, a nurse came, dressed in a Hazmat suit: plastic helmet-type contraption, plus a mask, gloves, a full-length gown. She told me to follow her to the parking lot at the back of the shop, where the preliminaries started. The paperwork, the questions. Then I was led into a little office (“don’t touch the doorknob,” “go sit in that chair with the plastic on it,” “don’t touch anything else and wear this mask”), where more interrogation followed, and physical checks. Then there was the swab. A long cotton bud to the back of my nose (which made my eyes water) and to the back of my throat, which made me throw up. Lovely, possible virus-infected puke all over the floor. Sorry! Then I had to sign the form, after which the pen was thrown in the bin.

 

After about half an hour, a nurse came, dressed in a Hazmat suit: plastic helmet-type contraption, plus a mask, gloves, a full-length gown. She told me to follow her to the parking lot at the back of the shop, where the preliminaries started.

 

So, now, I sit at home and wait. Two to five days, they said, because I am not Tom Hanks or Peter Dutton, whose results are much more important to humanity. The thing is that I am actually really calm. Much calmer than my husband, who has been living with me since I’ve been back but apparently doesn’t have to be tested. He is mainly freaking out about the general vagary of the rules.

You can’t go outside, but can you go into your backyard? Nobody seems to know. You are supposed to use a different bathroom, but what if you’ve only got one? Again, no answers. And the booklet you get says that you have to wear a mask indoors and are not supposed to spend time in the same room as others. But we have been living mask-less and together for more than a week since my return, so what is the use of starting now?

Once more, with feeling: no clue.

But still, if you break the rules, the maximum penalty is $11,000 dollars and six months in prison. Which is serious shit, I think. But I am counting my blessings: I don’t feel very sick and if I’ve got it, then I won’t get it again, they think.

Besides, the WHO has recently calculated that people my age have a 1.3% chance of dying from this virus. That is less than what can happen to me outside, in the real world, where there are cars that can run over me and currents in the ocean that can pull me under.

The thing is that I’ve got a whole lot of time now and a computer at my disposal. In a way, that is nothing new. I am a writer. Self-isolation is my normal state of being. But now I’ve got lots of questions and too much opportunity to investigate. To begin with, I went off the rails a bit, ending up in the rabbit hole of death and ruination.

Then I decided to give myself a break and do something positive. Medications! How far are we with those?

So, as a mental health exercise for me and a public health message for you, here we go: first, there is something called Actemra, a drug against rheumatoid arthritis. In China, it has been used on critical patients with apparently good results. The Chinese have approved it now, but they are the only ones.

The makers of the drug, Roche, are in talks with the American FDA to see if trials can be set up. No word about the Australians. Then we’ve got Kaletra and Aluvia, both HIV medications. My friends with HIV tell me that these are old HIV drugs, used in Australia five to eight years ago. I am wondering what it means that these drugs might be effective against COVID-19.

 

Although, with governments now finally putting real money into real science, you never know how fast humanity can come up with answers. It would be good for me too.

 

Is it possible that people with HIV are less susceptive to the virus? Malaria drugs like Hydroxychloroquine, which are being tested in France at the moment. Something called Remdesivir is also being tested, a drug that was used to combat Ebola and other similar viruses, like MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).

It looks promising too, and the testing for it has already started, in China, but the United States as well. All the patients in the trial have serious symptoms; one of them is an American who caught the virus onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, you remember, the one that was forced to dock in Japan a few weeks ago.

These medications, of course, are only used to treat, not to prevent. That vaccine might be a while yet.

Although, with governments now finally putting real money into real science, you never know how fast humanity can come up with answers. It would be good for me too.

I’m getting bored already.

 

Ingeborg van Teeseling

After migrating to Australia from Holland ten years ago and being warned by the Immigration Department against doing her job as a journalist, Ingeborg van Teeseling became a historian instead. She is writing a book and runs Lifebooks, telling people's life stories.

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