We’ve all heard the stories about how horrible it is to take a COVID-19 test so of course I was terrified to have one done. From the stories where people say, “it felt like they touched my brain”, “so far up”, and many others.
After having to move to Mexico, although it was not protocol of the country but of my husband’s company, we had to get COVID-19 tests. We had 2 experiences, one in Colombia where the nurse came to the hotel to do the test and another in Mexico where we had to go to a hospital to have it done.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to have it done before the flight and it was just him. The second time, both of us had to have the test done 3 days after we landed.
I will explain how it went in both scenarios because there the situations were both very different. Just a quick fact titbit, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in a 2018 report the overall performance of health care is ranked as #22 in Colombia and #61 in Mexico.
And I’ll just add a few more countries that you may be more familiar with to get an idea US is #37, UK is #18, and Canada, #30.
Colombia – At home Nurse Service
1. Health Care in Colombia
Colombia’s medical service is quite good, as is its rating. There was always the option of scheduling a doctor’s visit at home. This service became more relevant during the pandemic in an attempt to curb people interacting in health institutions.
But not everyone is that technologically savvy or can afford this service. For those with medical plans, it is not an expensive service to foreigners (about $15USD when writing this) but to those earning local wages in a developing country, it’s an unneeded expense.
I actually preferred to use this service throughout my stay in Colombia rather than having to go to a health clinic and wait around sick people (even though I would have been one of them too at that point). This visit would’ve been about $7USD plus however much to get there.
2. Before the test
Anyway, after my very long introduction to the medical system, we can get into the actual test. Usually, they give you a time for when the doctor will come to your house but for some reason they didn’t this time, just sometime in the morning.
Also, they asked the regular questions like if you have a fever, cough, travelled or travelling.
Then around 11:30am, just about making the morning bracket, the nurse knocked on the door. I sprayed her shoes with alcohol as well as offered her hand sanitiser which is now routine.
The nurse walked in with a big garbage bag and wearing a mask. She put it the bag on the floor and then started taking things out of it. First was a full medical body suit covering her ankles to her hair. Then she put on boots of the same material. Lastly, a face shield.
She then asked where she could wash her hands and thankfully, before using the bar of soap next to the sink, she asked. I grabbed one of the hotel liquid soaps and poured some into her hand.
At the end of the day, these nurses are dealing with possible COVID-19 patients all day so it was important to keep this in mind. She put on gloves and got two 6-inch nasopharyngeal swabs (just really long cotton buds) ready.
She also had plain long vials ready without anything in them to put the finished cotton buds in.
3. Test time
And the preparation was over, it was test time. This test will be without emotion and feeling because fortunately it wasn’t me.
However, it did not mean that I was not nervous. My husband sat on a chair and she asked him to lean his head back and open his mouth.
She stuck one of the swabs in his mouth and touched it on the back of his tongue for a few seconds. The next she stuck up one nostril. And that was it! All over in under one minute.
She put the swabs in a vial and covered it. She took off her face shield. Then came the gloves and she ripped off the body suit and threw them in the big garbage bag she had and tied it up to properly dispose. And she left.
My husband, not usually one for reactions, said it was “mighty uncomfortable.” The process was very safe and protocol driven and doing it at “home” was impressive (well hotel since we were about to leave the country).
They said they would send an email when it was ready, ideally within 24-hours. Colombian timing could mean later but usually medical aspects were on time.
12-hours later, we got the email saying that the test was negative. The overall experience felt safe, quick process, and quick results.
Mexico – Hospital Test
1. Health Care in Mexico
Well, I’ve only just moved here so I haven’t had to make a trip to a health facility yet. Maybe I can update this in the future after having experienced myself, hopefully just basic doctor and dentist visits!
2. Before the test
This test was for us both and having to go to the hospital made for an unsafe feeling. There was a special entrance for COVID-19 testing which is also scary because people who think they have it would have followed this exact route and process.
We walked under tents to a little room that said “Registro y Caja Covid 19” or “Registry/Cashier”. Here they would take your details as well as ask if you had any symptoms which they hadn’t asked us before.
We didn’t had any symptoms, but the test was just a formality by the company of having flown to make sure we were not putting anyone who we’d have to interact with at risk.
The list of rules was clearly visible in the window. It took longer than expected to input our information, close to 10 minutes. After which she told us go to room 1.
There were 3 rooms and to me, it seemed like it depended on the level of likelihood that you had covid-19. A colleague of my husband, who did not have symptoms, also went into room 1. However, another elderly lady who was clearly sick and coughing was sent to Room 3.
On the way to room 1 and there was an automatic hand sanitizer machine but then there was a manual door. Testing for COVID-19 is at this location but yet still everyone has to touch the same door?
Of course, I didn’t have a napkin or anything either. Reminder to self, always keep napkins in my bag in case I need to hold anything and throw the napkin away.
Yes, I know I could’ve just used sanitiser, but this was a riskier situation than the comfort that everyday sanitiser could provide.
Opening the germ ridden door, we entered a room with several dividers each with a chair and a stand holding vials next to them and a fridge.
But it was entirely enclosed and with air condition. I’d think people doing COVID-19 tests would understand that this was not a safe environment for people to be tested.
Also, there was a woman in there being tested as we waited.
Of course, to do the test, everyone has to take off their mask. This woman didn’t have a mask on and started coughing away in this enclosed environment.
I was filled with fear because I knew that the air would be circulated and I would remove my mask for my test.
I could not at all understand the logic in the design of this testing station. Monterrey is usually a hot place that would need air condition but not in November 2020 when we had the test done though.
But I could not believe that this was the testing station for a virus that could spread so easily in a confined space. It was noted in October 2020 that Mexico had the highest death rate in of doctors from covid-19 and something like demonstrated why.
Not only are they putting anyone being tested at risk but their medical staff as well.
3. Test time
I sat on the chair as the nurse walked towards me. The nurse was wearing a medical body suit like the first, shoe coverings, a face shield, mask, and gloves…that she was wearing all day testing people possibly with covid-19.
Also, don’t forget this is the same nurse who was just coughed on by someone else who was tested for covid-19.
You can imagine the fear, anxiety, and absolute distress that my mind and body was going through. My heart pounded in my chest, and I just wanted to run out of that station. Not even bothered that I’d be leaving my husband behind.
I felt like I was being put more at risk through this process than putting my mind at ease if the test came back negative. Next thing I’d contracted it just sitting in this confined room.
I tried not to let over-thinking take over as I knew I just had to get it done and not think the worst of this situation.
Fortunately, she at least changed her gloves. That was my salvage to everything else I had just mentioned. She asked me to check my information on a sticker. This would identify my vial.
Continuing, she asked if it was my first time, to which I said yes, and she responded that if I need her to stop, just raise my hand. She gave me a tissue, I guess for it I need to cough or blow my nose.
Then I took off my mask! Isn’t this rule one NOT TO DO in COVID-19 training?! I had another way out; I could tell her “I’m not supposed to do” that and run away! (Please do not take off your masks in public).
Anyway let’s not dream, so I took off my mask and she asked me to open my mouth and stuck the swab inside. My gag reflex kicked in as she wiped around at the back on my tongue. *Gross alert* I guess it wasn’t far back enough to trigger the vomit reflex, I didn’t feel like I was going to but I made the joke to my husband after, “just glad I didn’t throw up on her.” The throat swab wasn’t too bad.
But then she got to the nostril. She asked me to tilt my head back and she started sticking the swab up my nose. My natural reaction was to keep moving my head back as she went up.
Like where is this thing going? She spun it around a few times and took it out. I raised my hand and told her wait before she did the other which was different to the Colombian test as only one nostril was swabbed.
To be clear, it did NOT hurt! It was just extremely uncomfortable causing my eyes to tear up. I felt like she’d actually left something in my nose that I needed to sneeze out.
The sneeze didn’t come and I was just delaying the second swab for no reason. So I told her go ahead and tried not to move my head back this time. Ugh, just such a weird experience.
Less than a minute later, it was over. She sprayed some solution on it and then put it into the vial. I blew my nose to see if it stopped the strange feeling and threw it away in an open bin with other people’s tissues. Another red flag!
Then it was my husband’s turn, she actually changed her gloves in between as well. By this point he was a pro so it took less than 30 seconds to have his done.
That was it, we walked out of the hospital. My nose felt like something was in it that I needed to blow out maybe for 3 minutes after the test. But after that it was normal again.
For the results, the nurse had given me a piece of paper with login instructions and details that we would use to check the results in 2 days.
Waiting 48-hours for the results was pretty worrying as well. I tried not to think about it because I would obsess over it and just make myself not feel well.
The morning of the 2nd day, I was constantly checking to see if the results were ready on the web portal with no luck.
Until I pressed enter on one of the tries and it opened. Ahhh! Results were ready! I opened and didn’t even understand what it was saying, there wasn’t a clear “positive” or “negative”.
So I read through slowly…it was still in Spanish! And finally I realised it said “no detectado” so there was no detection of covid-19! Phew safeee!
The most heart pounding experience of travelling during the pandemic turned out to be just fine. Oops forgot about my husband again, had to check his too.
Again, Venaugh? Anyway, his was all clear too so we were good to go and could be free to look for houses and everything else we needed for our move.
The whole experience was more terrifying than the test itself. The power of anticipation and anxiety. And worse yet, it’s our own minds that torture us!
I am trying to work on that. Overall, for the maximum 5 minutes of discomfort (other experiences may be different), it was worth knowing that we weren’t positive and didn’t put anyone else at risk.
Have you done a covid-19 test? What was your experience like?
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