What The COVID-19 Test Is Really Like

By Claire Golden

After scheduling an upcoming medical procedure, the doctor informed me that I would have to get tested for COVID-19 prior to going. My heart sank. I’ve never enjoyed going to the doctor. Well, nobody does, but for me it used to be a phobia that would lead to tears and panic attacks. I’ve come a long way and it doesn’t scare me like it used to, but I was far from enthused about being tested for COVID. I understood why they had to do it. But the nervous butterflies started up. In fact, I was more scared for the COVID test than I was for my upcoming surgery. Anxiety is a silly thing sometimes!

There are a few types of tests to see if you have COVID. One involves spitting in a tube, another involves twirling a swab just inside your nose. However, the one I would be getting — and the one I was scared of — is the nasopharyngeal swab, where a long, skinny Q-tip-looking thing is inserted far back into your nostril to get the back of your sinus. When I looked up a diagram of this, I thought, “Nope,” and proceeded to hyperventilate.

Well, I am here to share my experience with you and to inform you that it is not a bad experience at all. I know I’m not the only one who worries about this sort of thing, so please allow me to ease your mind a bit by reassuring you that it looks much worse than it actually is.

The whole test took less than 30 seconds. My partner drove me to the drive-through testing site. When we got there, I showed my photo ID and rolled down the window. The nurse explained what was going to happen and asked me to lean my head back against the headrest and relax. I’ll admit, when someone asks me to relax, it doesn’t exactly make me feel relaxed, but it does help to stay calm. On the count of three, the nurse stuck the swab into my right nostril and just…kept…going. It is a really strange feeling, but it doesn’t hurt much. You know the feeling when you really have to sneeze, how your nose kind of burns? That’s exactly what this felt like — a tickling sensation in the back of my nose. When the swab was removed, I coughed a few times, blew my nose and felt back to normal.

The test probably only took 5-10 seconds, and the anticipation was about 100 times worse than the actual thing…which is always how things go, in my experience. I found that closing my eyes, bringing a stuffed animal, and squeezing my partner’s hand helped keep me calm during the process. I am quite squeamish about any medical procedures involving the face, so if I can get through this, anybody can!

If you go on the Internet you can find a variety of COVID test horror stories about how awful it was. Although I’m not discounting anybody’s experience, it’s important to remember that people often exaggerate to make the story more interesting. For the vast majority of people, the test will be smooth, quick and easy. I worried more than was necessary, so if you’re about to be tested for COVID yourself, I hope this can help ease your mind.

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