I waited 11 days for my COVID-19 test results. When they came back negative, I was even more worried

Leander Schaerlaeckens
·6 min read

It started with a sore throat.

For a day or two. Then it turned into a cough that quickly got so dry it became both fuel and fire. It was the kind of cough that makes you cough because you’re coughing and you can’t stop. And the more you cough, the more you cough. Coughs that feel like they start in your toes.

Something else was off. I was out of breath at weird times. I’m in pretty good shape, or I was anyway, before being confined to the house for a month. But I’d lay down to read to my 3-year-old son and suddenly gasp for air. My energy would crash unexpectedly.

And the thing was, my wife had her own strange symptoms a few weeks before. She had a whacking headache, one unlike any she’d gotten before. She had a low fever for a few days. Her own sore throat. Digestive symptoms that were weird for her.

It was all very odd.

The cough just wouldn’t go away. After two weeks, a Teladoc didn’t think it was COVID-19 and diagnosed a bacterial lung infection instead. He prescribed antibiotics and a cough suppressant. Neither helped — at all. Another week or so later, a nurse-practitioner told me, to my surprise, that I had enough symptoms to get tested for the coronavirus. A drive-through testing site had just opened up a few minutes from our house. They could see me in an hour.

Waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test is an ordeal. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test is an ordeal. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The testing place was in the parking lot of a minor league ballpark we’d been to a handful of times, which was its own kind of eerie. Eerier still were the big long rows of cones, the state troopers without any protective equipment and the white party tents with the signs urging the testees, as it were, not to open their windows, lest the testers be exposed.

In the first tent, I showed my driver’s license, my script and my insurance card to the first person in a white lab coat through the car window. Once registered, I was waved through to the second tent, where I lowered my window for a second lab coat to prod both of my nasal cavities with what looked like the world’s longest Q-tip. This was then jabbed into what must surely have been the very back of my brain. The thing they don’t tell you is how far it goes down. I had no idea those tunnels opening up to my face burrowed down that deep.

The whole thing took no more than 15 minutes. The actual test itself was the matter of a few uncomfortable seconds.

And then, we waited.

The paperwork they gave me urged us to self-isolate completely. At that point, we’d had no contact with anyone outside of the three of us for 17 days anyway. For a while, we’d still gone on hikes, but we’d already given those up by then. Too many people on the trails, seemingly oblivious to social distancing and bemused that anyone else should bother.

The paper also said we’d hear back within seven days.

The sixth day came and went. As did the seventh. The eighth. The ninth. The 10th. Our NP called every morning and was told it would likely be the next day.

My cousin is a doctor-in-training in Belgium, assisting on the frontlines of the battle with the coronavirus at a hospital in Antwerp. He was baffled our testing system was so delayed. Theirs took six hours, at the most. “I don’t really understand what the point is of testing if you have to wait 6-9 days,” he messaged me. I had no good answer.

Drive-through coronavirus testing sites have sprung up in the United States. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Drive-through coronavirus testing sites have sprung up in the United States. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The wait was anxious. We kept coming up with projects to fill the time, to occupy our minds. We ordered a new sandbox, and then a complicated swing set. We did more yardwork in a week than in the past year. Both of us worked from home, cleaned the house and ran after our toddler, who has just given up his afternoon nap, all day long.

The interminable wait for the result was a kind of Schrodinger’s cat in its box — until the box is opened, you don’t know if it’s dead or alive. Except in this case, in which the cat represents the threat of the disease, you wind up rooting for its quick death. Because by that point, my symptoms were gone. And if I’d had it, I was over it. My wife would almost certainly have had it too. And our son would have been exposed and fought it off. You wind up rooting for the virus, because if you know that if you had it, you’ve already conquered it.

If that was the case, we could return to something that looks a little more like normalcy. Do groceries through something other than a computer screen. Get takeout. See the in-laws we’re close to. Go on walks again. Hike. Frolic in fields of heather as butterflies land on our noses and rainbows arc right over us in the otherwise clear-blue sky.

But if it was negative, we’d be back to being at risk and careful as ever.

Die, Kitty, die.

On the 11th day came the result: negative. Schrodinger’s cat was alive. It could be worse: The brother of a student of mine waited 13 days, only to be told that the vial had been spilled and the test never actually completed.

Still, we were back to wearing gloves and masks whenever we ventured out to grab a grocery delivery or took out the trash. To wiping down everything that showed up on our doorstep — bless those delivery men and women for all eternity. To washing produce. To worrying. To feeling our foreheads every few hours. To questioning every throat tickle or cough or ache.

Then again, some researchers peg the tests’ sensitivity as low as 70 percent, suggesting there’s a chance of almost one-in-three that I had it anyway. That all of us did.

Maybe the cat is dead after all.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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