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Swab story: an eye-watering review

Jacob Shteyman reviews his experience of the drive-through coronavirus test.

Art by Ash Duncan.

Coronavirus testing is set to become more and more ubiquitous for Sydneysiders as we look to vanquish the disease and get back to something resembling life as we knew it. To get an idea of what this would entail, I went down to my local drive-through testing station to sample the latest in nasopharyngeal swab technology: the RT-PCR detection kit procured by the NSW Department of Health.

The process of getting the test was streamlined and convenient. Cars were ushered into the facility along clearly demarcated in-flow and out-flow lanes, which led to a large covered parking lot where the testing tables were set up. After a short wait, I advanced to the front of the line, guided by a health official clad in protective mask, gloves and apron. I rolled down my window and was approached by the nurse who asked me questions and, as I answered, relayed my personal details to a mysterious, ethereal voice over the phone.

With the clerical work out of the way it was time for the main event. The testing man came over and, leaning into my driver’s side window, unsheathed the swab. “Tilt your head back and look straight ahead,” he said, handing me a tissue. “It’s a little intense.” I wasn’t expecting a pleasant experience, but this was quite a foreboding omen.

In one quick motion he plunged the swab tip into my nostril. It travelled down my nose, through my sinus, around the s-bend, up the olfactory nerve, into the cranial cavity and lodged itself into my frontal cortex. He gave it a quick scrape up and down, producing a grating sound like nails on a blackboard that made my eyes water, like a really unsatisfying chilli. Immediately, I felt the mucus start to drip down the back of my throat worse than a finance graduate at S.A.S.H.

The whole ordeal only lasted about 2 seconds. Before I knew it, it was back out again, leaving behind a stinging feeling in a place that up until then had never felt any sensation whatsoever. It was like the irritation you get before sneezing without the ability to do anything about it.

After the mist cleared from my eyes and I was able to take the wheel again, he told me to self-isolate until I get a phone call back with my test results – up to 72 hours he said – and sent me on my way. I drove out of the testing facility and made my way home, still stinging slightly from my nasopharyngoscopy.  

The test came back negative, but that sensation still plays on my mind. I was touched in a place I’ve never been touched before – a feeling I’ll never forget. Do I regret taking the test? Definitely not. Would I get it again? Not unless absolutely necessary. The RT-PCR Sars-Cov-19 detection kit: it’s one spicy swab.

Verdict: 6 antibodies out of 10.

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