Let me start by saying this: Please don’t just drop into the drive-through test center at Porter Medical Center. If you are showing symptoms of COVID-19 — fever, a dry cough, shortness of breath — please call your primary care physician first. The test center is by appointment only.
My kids started coughing on Sunday. By Monday, 5-year-old Joni’s cough was deep and hacking and… terrifying. When she developed a fever that night, it was hard for her dad and I to stay calm. We gave her Tylenol, put her to bed and planned to call her pediatrician in the morning.
Around 8 a.m. we tried calling. It took a couple calls to get through. Like most medical offices, Porter Pediatrics has been inundated lately.
I finally reached someone at the answering service, who apologized for the wait, listened to me explain Joni’s symptoms and transferred us directly to Porter’s COVID-19 response team.
The nurse asked us some questions. She wanted to know if we had traveled abroad or in the U.S. (no); if anyone in our household works with COVID-19 patients (no); if any of us had been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 (no). She was calm and reassuring, even cracking a couple jokes to lighten the mood. She assured me that Joni was low risk, but based on her symptoms, she should be tested. The nurse booked us the next available appointment: 12:45 that afternoon.
I loaded both my daughters into the car and drove to the hospital. We followed the signs to the test center, which is a pair of tents set up in a far parking lot at Porter. A guy sitting inside a parked truck by the entrance waved us through right away. We were on time for our appointment; no other patients were there. We waited for a minute or two at a stop sign, watching from a distance as three medical staffers — decked out in full hazmat suits — prepared for our arrival.
We were directed to drive into one of the tents. Feeling like a character in a sci-fi movie, I pulled through, stopped the car and rolled down my window. The girls were silent in the backseat. I could tell they were nervous. Two doctors wearing helmets, masks, plastic coverings over their clothes and rubber gloves told us what to expect.
Joni would stay in her booster seat, we’d roll down the window, and then the doctors would each use a Qtip — one to test for the flu and RSV; the other to test for COVID-19 — to swab way up inside her nostril. It would hurt a bit, they told us, but it would be quick.
They don’t typically allow adults to get out of the car in the test tent, the doctors told me, but I was welcome to hop out and get in the backseat to hold Joni’s hand.
She did great. It was scary. It hurt. But the doctors were gentle and quick and we all breathed a sigh of relief a couple minutes later when they were finished.
We’d get the results of the flu/RSV test by the end of the day, they told us, and we’d get the COVID-19 results by the end of the next day. Oh, and one more thing: Regardless of the test results, they said, it is recommended that we stay in quarantine for the next 14 days.
As I drove out of the tent, I saw another car waiting to go in. The girls and I talked and laughed nervously about how weird it had been, how funny the doctors looked in their crazy suits, and how we definitely needed to go right home and eat ice cream.
I felt a wave of intense gratitude. How thankful I am that we live in a community that can provide prompt testing at a local hospital. How thankful I am for the kindness of those doctors. They made my daughters and I feel safe in a very scary situation.
We got home, opened a pint of Ben&Jerry’s, and got back to our new normal: Finding ways to have fun and juggle work within the four walls of our home.
A couple hours later, I got a call from the COVID-19 response team. Joni had tested positive for RSV, a virus commonly found in children that has very similar symptoms to COVID-19. Results weren’t in yet for the coronavirus, but it would be highly unlikely, the nurse told me, for her to have both.
I’ve never been so relieved.
Note: We received official test results from Porter on Saturday morning. Joni tested negative for COVID-19.