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These Things are Sent to Test Us 1

Sunday, October 11, 2020

When Heather got up this morning, she reported a dreadful headache.  As well, there was some congestion and some weakness.  Just a small cold?  The flu?  Or, would this be COVID?

And... if she felt well enough, and were to continue her normal routines, would she not panic her various contacts because of the possibility – however remote – that she has the pandemic virus?

When she announced that she thought she should not go to church today, I figured that we are close enough to the edge of the pandemic that she should get a COVID test.  True, most media reports say that there are eight-hour – and longer – waits, in line-ups, for a test – but maybe we should just attempt it, anyway.  If, for example, we were to go to a “drive-through” testing site, we could sit through the hours of waiting, in the car, in comparative warmth and comfort.  Heather could snooze under some blankets, and I could take along a book, or maybe cruise the Internet with my phone.

With her symptoms – COVID or otherwise – Heather might be infections with something, and, as her “other half,” even though I feel fine, I might be infectious, too!  I decided, therefore, that neither of us should go to church, and that we should instead go to a testing site right away, and both of us get a test.  That is, if any site is open.  I went online, and found that all Winnipeg testing sites are open daily, including the drive-through.  Soon – and, urged on by forceful texts from Rachael – we were on our way.

When we got there, the line-up didn’t look too long.  Indeed, the traffic control attendant said that our wait might only be an hour or less.  And it was!  Almost exactly one hour from arrival, we drove into the building and parked in a numbered stall.

Quite a bit of time was then spent, with a young woman carefully entering into a laptop all the detail that is printed on our Manitoba Health Card.  Then came the test.

In her old age, my mother had trouble with her sinuses and her nasal passage.  She would try to clear it by what her family called “snorking.”  No, this is not a typo for “snorkelling;” rather, it is an attempt to render in words the sound that she made: “snorrrkkkkk!!!!”

I seem to have inherited her problem.  My nasal passage is constantly itching, and I try to clear it – often unsuccessfully – by blowing my nose violently, or snorking.  Often the result is an enormous, window-shattering sneeze:  “HA-A-A-SSSHHH!!”

I warned the young, hazmat-covered man of this, as he came towards me with the thin, brush-tipped nasal “swab.”  He thanked me for the warning, and inserted the tiny thing... up... up... and up further, until it touched the area where my constant itching originates.  And he let it sit there for what seemed like an eternity!  The feeling was intense, as of a vibration, spreading in ever widening waves throughout my head.  A monster sneeze – a whole-body earthquake – was building up.  He removed the swab, but the buildup inside me got bigger and bigger.  He was about a metre away when it hit: “HAA-A-A-RSSSHHHHHHHH!”  “You weren’t kidding!” laughed my young tormentor, as he went around to the other side of the car and gave Heather her test.  That one was simple, and quiet.

Soon we were on our way.  But the buzzing and the itching in my head continued for about fifteen minutes, with tears welling in my eyes and streaming down my face.  Several tissues met a soggy fate before I finally began to function normally.

It is one thing to know – intellectually – that we might have to stay away from people for a while.  It’s quite another thing to read this requirement in the detailed instruction sheets that they give you.

Even if Heather just has a mild cold, and I am completely well, we must now effectively quarantine ourselves, until the results of the test come back.

And, when might that be?

“Aye, there’s the rub,” said Hamlet, as he contemplated death.

There have been dreadful delays in Canada, with respect to getting the laboratory results from those simple, uncomfortable, nasal swabs. 2  Would we have to go a week or even two weeks, unable to leave our home to be with friends, or to do the normal legal and clerical things that we have been doing, even during the pandemic?

What if Heather’s fatigue, froggy throat, and headache are gone by tomorrow?  Must she still back out of that Annual General Meeting that she’s supposed to chair, later in the week?  Mind you, since it is a meeting of the Board of Directors of a nursing home, what kind of example would that be to drag herself to the in-person component of the meeting, and chair it while waiting for COVID test results!??  Yes, she’ll definitely have to send her regrets.  As well, she’s managing the law office for its absent owner.  There may be a number of clients and administrative things that will have to be cancelled.  Oh dear.

For my part, I’m heading into a week with only one commitment – a pastoral care visit, which can probably be rescheduled.  So, this quasi-quarantine will affect Heather far more adversely than it is affecting me.  And all because our Province (and our nation) has been unable to confidently commend and make available a rapid COVID test!  I suppose it’s a version of “better safe than sorry,” but it is distressing.

Once we had returned home from the drive-through test, Heather took to her bed, and I began to notify some people about our self-isolation.  But, what should I tell our granddaughter, Alexa, with whom we had a tiny Thanksgiving Dinner last night?  Should she self-isolate, now, too?

The document that we were given is not totally clear – indeed there are lines in it that suggested that I, myself – asymptomatic, but merely living with someone who is displaying symptoms – might be able to continue living normally.  I needed more information.  Was there a phone number I could call?  Yes!!

I called the number.

After clicking through a series of options (“If you are calling about this, please press that”), I found what I wanted, and pressed the appropriate number.  There followed the dreaded automated message, “We are experiencing a high volume of calls, please wait on the line and your call will be answered in rotation.”  Well, that is the gist of what I heard.  It was longer, and friendlier, and it was expressed in both English and exquisitely-pronounced French.  I put my phone into “speaker” mode, and put it beside me, planning to do various things while I waited – to the sound of fairly pleasant music.  Soon the “please hold...” message repeated, again in its entirety – again in both English, and French.  Followed by that music.  After all of this had repeated a number of times, I became annoyed – not because I was forced to wait, but because the long message with so many words prevented me from concentrating on the stuff I was doing!  What if those words changed to be the voice of a living operator?

Eventually, I timed the sequence: it was thirty seconds of English and French words, followed by ninety seconds of music.  In effect, every two minutes, a long speech would begin.  I tried to block it out of my consciousness, while still listening for the human voice to come online.  At the same time, I chatted via text message with friends, and with family.  I read websites about COVID, and some general news items.  I edited a few entries in my diary.

After an hour, I began to wonder if in fact there was no one on duty; it is Canadian Thanksgiving, after all.  But, checking the website that posts the number which was now keeping me on hold, I read that they have trained nurses to take my call twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year!  Reading this, I dashed off an email to the website’s “contact us” address, lamenting its cheerful boast – its promise of all those nurses, constantly ready and waiting for my call.  I ended my email with “...I have now heard the ‘We are experiencing ...  please stay on the line’ message, in English and in French, a total of SIXTY-EIGHT TIMES” (I had worked it out – based on the fact that when I typed it, I had been waiting one hour and forty-two minutes).

As things turned out, it was well over four hours before a living human came on the line.  We chatted, and she competently answered my questions, without hurrying me off the call.  Our conversation may have lasted as much as twenty minutes.  I didn’t measure it, other than to note that, when we disconnected, the phone had racked up a total of four hours and thirty-one minutes on that 24/7 | 365 help-line!

But I now knew (a) that wait times are improving, and we may only(!?) have to self-isolate for four or five days before we get our results; (b) being asymptomatic, I could go about my life fairly normally, if I isolated from Heather during that wait (in a two-bedroom apartment? good luck with that!); and (c) our granddaughter – having been in our home just hours before Heather’s symptoms showed up – need not panic, but she should monitor herself for symptoms, and get tested if a COVID indicator emerges.  Other than following the general principles of mask-wearing and social-distancing, she is not required to self-isolate.

And so the day comes to an end.  Heather and I have decided to partially isolate from one another, with me sleeping in the apartment’s second bedroom at night.  At 12:40 AM, as I send one more text message and prepare to turn out the light, I can hear the sounds of deep slumber emanating from our main bedroom.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

We checked Heather’s status today, and it reports that she’s tested negative.  What a relief!

But, by 9:40 PM, my own results had not yet come in.  This is largely okay with me, because Heather was the one with the symptoms, so her ‘all clear’ is certainly what we wanted to hear.  It’s odd, though, that the two tests, taken only moments apart, were not completed at roughly the same time!  Did they separate them, and put “URGENT” on the one from Heather (because she had symptoms)?  Or (somewhat more unsettling), is mine giving results that they don't quite understand, such that they want to check for other things?  Do they see signs of the dreaded snorking condition, for example?

However, the website, where my test result will eventually appear, also says this: “If you have had no known exposure to COVID-19 and are asymptomatic, ... you do NOT need to self-isolate while you wait for your test results.”  And, if that is the case, now that Heather has tested negative, I have “no known exposure” to the virus, and can live fairly normally, while I wait.  That’s a pretty safe assumption, don’t you think?  (no need to reply)

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

My test result is still not available.  Friends suggest that there may be a deliberate policy to give a higher priority to tests for persons with symptoms – in this case, Heather – and a lower priority to asymptomatic people. 3  Nonetheless, even if there is only a 1% chance that I am COVID-positive, not knowing tends to hang over me like a tiny grey cloud.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Another day and my test result remains unavailable.  Well, I shall carry on, doing what I normally do, and waiting....

Saturday, October 17, 2020, at noon

There are still no test results posted, for me.  Tomorrow, it will be one full week since the test.  This strikes me as being entirely useless for infection control and contact tracing.

Both Heather and I have resumed living exactly as we were before getting tested.  Indeed, Heather ended up chairing that in-person nursing home board meeting, mentioned above.  She also went to the law office on a couple of days, and met with clients.  For my part, I had a quiet week, as expected, but I kept an appointment for a pastoral care interview, yesterday (with the informed consent of the people I was seeing).

Sunday, October 18, 2020

And now, a HUGE development... see next blog entry.

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from Margaret O., Monday, October 12, 2020 9:36 PM CDT (CA)

Oh my!  So near and yet so far away! 4  I do hope that Heather does not have Covid, and that the test results come back soon.  But last week my granddaughter Margaret’s partner Brandon had cold symptoms so went for the test.  He waited five days for the results, which were negative, but he missed five days of work.  I think they are doing the best that they can, but are short-staffed in the labs so processing is slow.
I also have a sensitive nose and snork regularly!
My thoughts and prayers are with you both and I hope this turns out well, but it is a worry.  Geoffrey was here for dinner last night – just the two of us.  On Saturday Nancy and Gail had their girls and partners for a backyard dinner during which we all self-distanced, but it was fun to see everyone.  This pandemic seems to be getting out of control!

from Rob T., Tuesday, October 13, 2020 6:04 AM CDT (CA)

Good morning, Tony!
As you pointed out in footnote 2, haste makes waste. Not only do ‘we’ need rapid-results test kits, but they need to be accurate.  Even with the current ‘slow’ ones, what is the failure rate?  If the sample swab has been in its protective little test tube thingie for 30, 40, 50, 60 hours, how does that affect the failure rate, or the ‘viability’ of the sample?  Few people contemplate such questions but they are very important and bring to mind that the question, “did it come back positive or negative?” is perhaps a bit too simple.
If there is a backlog of samples, and if the shift of technicians are supposed to end their shift and go home, but that would mean that some of the samples would go from ‘probably viable’ to ‘possibly viable’ (like a best before date on the milk in the fridge, perhaps) then should they be asked / required to work 12 hours (maybe more) instead of 8?  And if so, does that postpone the start time of their next shift?
If someone is out of TP or low on paper towels, well in 2019 you’d simply go and get more.  But these things and many others, are not so easily re-supplied in 2020.  It must be all the more difficult to ‘just go get more’ testing technicians.
Many factors (sigh)

(I posted a link to this story on FaceBook.  The following comprises a selection of the comments that were posted under that link:)

Don B. (friend, in Winnipeg, MB)

Please update when you get your results Tony, we’re praying for you in Jesus’ Name for negative results

There were several brief posts like this, offering prayer for me and for Heather.

Gary R. (friend, in Winnipeg, MB)

I’m sure this whole thing has you knowing how many people you have ready to pray for you, including me.

I was deeply moved by this – for I knew it to be true: we are surrounded by prayer, for which I thank God.

Heather M. (friend, in Winnipeg, MB)

Having been through this myself a few weeks ago, I must say that your description of the nasal swab was spot on.  (And my father snorks, too.)  Prayers for quick, negative results and good health for all concerned!

Sandra B. (friend, in Winnipeg)

Having also been through this now, I’m so sorry for you both that you’re enduring this!  When I was tested, it was at the drive-through site (my only reluctance re. getting tested was waiting around a testing centre full of people who had reason to believe they might have Covid, after all!).  We waited (my dad and I) for a good 2:20 in that line and I was told that my results should be posted to the website in about 36 hours or possibly less, and to call the number if it was longer than that.  At 48 hours, I tried calling.  I waited on hold for over an hour, then gave up.  At 72 hours, I called again and waited on hold for 3:10 before someone came on – only to tell me that my results weren’t available yet.  I tried reasoning with the whole “but surely if my results were positive, someone would have called within 24 hours, no?” but the lady couldn’t seem to comprehend that line of rationale, so I gave it up and waited for my results to be posted (which they finally were the next day).  I didn’t have any of the primary symptoms but I did have a few of the secondary ones.  I didn’t go into this thinking I had Covid, but when you have to wait that long, you start to wonder... imaginations can be evil.  Here’s hoping and praying for negative results for you both!  My sympathies on all the things you’ll both have to miss this week, meanwhile.

Dennis R. (friend, in Winnipeg)

I hope that Heather is feeling better soon – and that you both shortly get the “all-clear” on the COVID-19 test!  I appreciated your warm, and funny, account of the whole testing process and attendant anxieties: I’m sure it could help a lot of people, who are about to ‘submit to the swab,’ to steel themselves for the ‘adventure’.  (P.S.  First, camping in the wilderness in sub-zero temperatures; 5 now, this.  Your life is too much fun, Canon H.-J. ;))

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1  This title might look like a quote from the Bible, but “These things are sent to try us…” is primarily a traditional English saying.  Still, it certainly does not contradict Biblical teaching.  See, for example, 1 Peter 1:6-7: “This is cause for great joy, even though for a little while you may have had to suffer trials of many kinds. Even gold passes through the assayer’s fire, and much more precious than perishable gold is faith which stands the test. These trials come so that your faith may prove itself worthy of all praise, glory, and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (Revised English Bible translation)
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2  Can you imagine the chaos that would result, if technicians were to hurry, and get flustered, and make mistakes, mixing up samples and reports?  They absolutely must be careful, deliberate, and cautious with every single vial and its report.  Which takes time.  The only options are: (a) hire more labs and laboratory staff; or (b) fast-track the invention – and then purchase of – millions of instant-result testing kits.  Both of which options would also take some considerable time.
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3  But see the note from Sandra B, who had symptoms, and waited four days to get her results.
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4  Margaret lives in our apartment building, on our floor, two doors down from us.  So near and so far away (because of quarantine) indeed!
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5  Dennis is referring, to the story of my recent chilly camping trip.  Click here to see it.
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