Our COVID Test Experience

As I start this post I wanted to say that we are all absolutely okay. Well, as far as being in a second lockdown with a killer invisible enemy lurking around any corner can make you okay of course. This is a long post though so get comfy!

This journey for us started unexpectedly on Monday. We woke up in the usual chaotic rush. I’ve gotten into a habit of checking our entire household’s temperatures every morning and as usual, everything was great. Our house is always hot (blame Hubby) and so our natural body temperatures are around the 37°c mark.

We sent Freya off to school, then Hubby dropped the rest of us girlies to the other school as Elsa has started an early maths group. Like I said, the usual chaotic school run morning.

I then had the joy of going on the longest walk of my entire life!!! Okay, it was only 6 miles but it felt so good to be in the fresh air and taking advantage of the new lockdown rules of being allowed to meet with just one person. I chatted the ears off of my friend and we enjoyed a hot drink in the foggy air.

Anyway, I digress…

In the afternoon, we collected Elsa and Eva from school. Usually, they both bounce out excitedly, especially Eva who pretty much doesn’t have an off button. But this time, she was oddly tranquil. When we asked how her day was, her response was “I’m just tired”. Even one of our school run friends did his usual wind up with Eva and got no response, or at least not the usual banter.

It was very strange but it was also a P.E day too.

As I said, Eva is never quiet unless she’s poorly so when we arrived home I asked Hubby to take her temperature. It didn’t come as too much of a surprise that it was high, however, it definitely panicked us. It was 38.3°c!

Over the past nine months, my top priority has been to keep us all germ-free. In the first week back to school in September, the girls all came down with cold symptoms but thankfully no high temperatures or coughs.

Eva now had one of the dreaded symptoms and it felt like my life was spiralling out of control right in front of my eyes.

Hubby phoned NHS 111 for some advice. They told him that we needed to book a test for Eva and it would be a good idea to get our household tested too.

Thankfully, we were able to book a drive-through test pretty much instantly using the online booking system. We booked to attend the Gatwick drive-through testing site, which isn’t exactly local but it was the most convenient and closest available to us.

It felt extremely odd to be driving towards the airport. Usually, a place that would be full of happy memories and excitement as we get ready for an adventure. This adventure felt sad.

We’d decided not to have Elsa tested as her sensory complications would make the experience traumatic when it didn’t need to be at this point. We figured if one of us tested positive, we’d all have to isolate and wait anyway so we didn’t want to put her through unnecessary discomfort.

I’m always very honest with my daughters about medical things. Whether they will hurt or not and how long it might take. Freya in particular has to be prepared in advance, but the nature of this situation meant we didn’t have much time to prepare. In all honesty, I was panicking about the upcoming testing procedure as I’ve heard many unpleasant stories.

It was Eva who panicked the most. She hates being ill or having someone ill around her. I would go as far as saying it’s a phobia she struggles with that has probably stemmed from my migraines and watching me violently ill with those. Anyway, she cried before we left and cried on the way in the car. It was incredibly sad to witness.

Before I continue, I want to remind everyone that this was just our experience. I feel incredibly lucky for a wonderful NHS system in the UK and for every essential worker on the front line making sure this country is ticking over.

We arrived at Gatwick for our allocated time. It’s in a car park right at the far end of the airport. It was night time so the area was lit with bright floodlighting towers. Just like a drive-through, we parked up at the first covered area.

The windows had to be kept up and we attempted to communicate through a closed window, with a mask on both the staff and ourselves. We drive a Range Rover and the windows are darn thick so this was quite complicated to communicate efficiently.

The staff scanned our document, Hubby showed some ID, we were told we would have to do a self-test as we had under 12-year-olds being tested, they hung a pass of some sort over the wing mirror and we were told to turn off any recording devices. Freya said in the back “why do they need it turned off? Are they trying to hide something?” which is totally true, we have our dashcam for our own safety and the safety of others. But of course, Hubby did as he was told.

We were then told to follow the cones to the next station. The entire testing centre was laid out with cones and signs to keep your windows up. It was eerily quiet, I had packed a whole lunchbox, the iPads for entertainment and expected a queue that would take hours. I think that’s how the media has made me feel like thousands of people are being tested and it’s all a chaotic mess.

I saw two other cars the entire time we spent at the testing centre.

The second stop for us was to collect the test kits. The staff at this part was friendly. He asked us to undo our window by about an inch so he could speak to us, which went against all the signage but we did as we were told. He explained roughly how to do the test, showed us there was a leaflet inside the kit in case we forget and handed us the tests.

They came in a grey plastic envelope that had each got our name scribbled on in pen so we didn’t mix them up. He made it extremely clear not to muddle them up, not to seal the testing kit and to hand it all back over to the staff on exit.

Inside was the test that was inside a clear medical bag that could be sealed with a foil bit of tape. You’re probably really confused now arent you? My describing skills are terrible! The actual swab was inside a little press-to-seal pouch inside the medical bag… 

I asked the staff if we would be able to exit the car to access the children in the back. He explained that we could park right at the back of the next car park area and that would be fine to do the test from there. If we needed any assistance, we just needed to flash our lights.

It seemed quite straight forward apart from the fact we are not medically trained and the idea of poking a swab stick up my daughter’s nose and throat was quite terrifying. Anyway, Hubby followed the cones into the silent and dark car park ready for us to embark on this rather odd Monday night adventure.

Hubby parked the car right at the back completely out of the way. Then another staff member came storming towards us. He asked us to undo our window again, he didn’t have his mask on properly and coughed a few times during our conversations which was quite alarming. 

He demanded that we needed to park at the front. Hubby tried to explain that we would need to get out of the car to access the children. The staff member was still adamant we needed to be at the front and then if we needed to get out, we could move the car to the back as we couldn’t be in the way in case the centre got busy. It made no sense at all especially as the centre was near empty at this point and I couldn’t imagine hundreds of cars suddenly turning up. After a few back and fourths, he allowed us to park in a separate car park near some portable toilets.

The testing itself was not nice. Hubby led the way for us, I had to help but he was honestly better doing it himself. For anyone who hasn’t had it done before, you brush the swab against your tonsils first. We all gagged at that part except Freya who was shockingly incredible for the whole testing experience actually. Then you need to use the same swab and poke it right up inside your nose until you feel some resistance. This is slightly painful, sort of like a stinging pain for a few seconds. It’s odd and I hope we don’t have to experience that again.

Eva panicked. She cried. She tried her best and we somehow managed to get her test completed. I won’t lie, it was quite stressful. The mixture of trying to keep ourselves calm, trying to keep the kids calm and poking things in places they don’t naturally go!

We made sure to follow the instructions and we didn’t seal the main medical bag, we placed it all back inside the grey plastic envelope as requested and kept each of our tests separate. We then headed through the cones and towards the exit.

Here, the lady who greeted us was adamant we needed to keep our windows up and turn the engine off. We couldn’t hear a word she was saying and had to ask her to repeat quite a few times. This clearly made her frustrated because she wasn’t very pleasant towards us.

She then told us to seal the bags. Hubby asked her to confirm that was what was meant to happen as we had been told previously that we shouldn’t be sealing the bags. She also asked us to discard of the grey bags and then put the tests onto the dashboard. Again, we couldn’t hear her properly so it was a few “we can’t hear you, please say that again” to which she shouted aggressively at Hubby “do as you’re told”.

Of course to a grown adult, man or woman, no one wants to be spoken to like a child. At this point, the staff member was quite irate, so Hubby asked her if he could speak to somebody else. She stormed off like a toddler in a tantrum stomping her feet into the demountable office they had to get another member of staff.

As she came out she shouted at Hubby that he was an arsehole. I couldn’t help myself but chuckle inside my mask. It was the most inappropriate behaviour for anybody, let alone someone who was meant to be helping with a COVID test centre and collecting tests from people who think they may have this deadly disease.

By this point, there was a couple of security guards around our car and extra staff keeping watch. I dread to think what the staff member had said to her colleagues which of course is always one-sided.

The staff member who replaced her was much calmer. We tried to explain that we had just asked her to repeat herself because we couldn’t hear. This staff member asked us to undo the window slightly again so we could speak and she helped us hand over our test kits efficiently and sent us on our way.

We left feeling totally confused by what had happened, disappointed by the lack of professionalism and understanding, wondering why each staff member told us different things. It was all weird and I honestly can’t find the exact words to describe the experience in the appropriate way.

The next day, Eva’s temperature was still high. Of course, following a COVID test, you have to isolate so we all stayed home. I embarked on home learning with Freya and Elsa, whilst Eva reluctantly watched movies and played her iPad. She’s not a very good poorly person because she has so much energy and is always on the go.

I felt completely on edge, praying that Eva wouldn’t suddenly go downhill and that the rest of us wouldn’t have any symptoms appear too. I even packed an emergency overnight bag just in case we needed a hospital trip.

We had been told the results would take 24-48 hours. It was just before the 48 hours when Hubby and Freya received their negative results. Then a couple of hours later mine came back as negative too. It felt a relief to have those results but it was Eva’s that we desperately needed!

The next day, 61 hours after testing, Hubby decided to phone the NHS track and trace. They couldn’t tell him what the results were, but whether or not it had been submitted correctly. To our shock, it hadn’t been and I feel grateful that Hubby impatiently decided to phone them.

Basically, the testing centre has to tick a box to confirm the test and where the results can be sent to. This had been done for all three of our tests except Eva’s. Meaning that her result was there but it couldn’t be sent out to an email or phone number as it hadn’t been confirmed. We could have been waiting forever in isolation, well 14 days anyway, waiting for Eva’s results.

It was now nearly 10 am on Thursday, and ten minutes after Hubby’s phone call, Eva’s results came back as negative. It felt like such a relief to not only have the results back but to know that she didn’t have COVID. That it was just a seasonal thing.

At this point, it’s worth noting that she was absolutely better by Wednesday morning and bouncing off the walls.

We phoned up the schools to ask if the girls could return on Friday, to which they responded that we could bring them right now. Of course, I didn’t hesitate. They’ve missed enough school this year and so we reluctantly bundled them in their uniforms and dropped them into school.

It felt odd to be free. 62 hours of isolation. Not long in comparison to what others are going through. It wasn’t a smooth experience but I’m thankful to have been able to access a test so rapidly and have them back within a few days.

Life is like a ticking time bomb right now. I hate the feeling of being out of control of my own life but it’s forcing me to live more in the now and not the future. 

I hope this post has been interesting for you, I did say at the start it was going to be a long one. Please stay safe and follow guidelines, we are going to get through this!


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