As I stood on the single step of the mobile coronavirus testing lab outside the Meuhedet Health Fund center, I was greeted by a nurse in a hazmat suit. She took out a disposal swab and a test tube with a thumbnail of pink fluid and came toward me.
“Will it hurt?” I asked as she took a step closer and me a step further away.
I tilted my head back more and more trying to avoid the swab.
“I cannot do this if you keep backing away,” she told me – but somehow, I was convinced that putting anything in my nose or throat was going to make me wince. Finally, I just closed my eyes and said, “Go!”
In less than a second, we were done, and I felt nothing.
My doctor had sent me for a coronavirus test after I called him Sunday morning complaining that I had been plagued by a three-day migraine headache whose pain was so sharp I thought a knife was penetrating my head. Over Shabbat I had chills and fever, and by Saturday night the pain was so acute I could not sleep.
I mostly just wanted to work, so I called a doctor – something I do not do too often – for a telephone consultation. With all the coronavirus, I saw no reason to go to the health clinic for a headache. When I described to him the situation, he recommended I be screened for the novel coronavirus.
Despite my explaining to the kind doctor that I am a reporter who writes about coronavirus and that I was sure I did not have the appropriate symptoms, he insisted. So, I waited (for nine hours!) for my referral to go through and eventually I made an appointment to be tested the next morning.
When you are a potential corona patient, you are supposed to stay in isolation until your results are revealed. On Sunday, while I waited and waited for my doctor to put in the referral – it turned out he had made a mistake and not pushed “submit” so it was not showing up in the system – I called the fund every two hours trying to make an appointment so I could move forward.
During one conversation with a receptionist, I explained to her that I was stuck in my house for hours and wanted to get moving to reduce the time. She informed me that I could leave my house, even if the doctor thought I might have corona, until the time he put the referral through. At that time, I would need to be quarantined.
“You mean,” I asked, “that as long as I am not yet in your system, I can do whatever I want?” She confirmed.
Of course, I did not leave my house, because I understood how irresponsible this was – but was truly shocked by her answer.
WHEN THE referral finally arrived, I made an appointment to be tested the next morning near my office. Then, I started to get nervous.
Yes, I write about coronavirus nearly every day. I have visited the Magen David Adom headquarters and hospitals and talked to doctors about every aspect of this virus and its impact on our society. But suddenly, the thought of undergoing a coronavirus PCR molecular test was overwhelming.
I had heard from various patients that the swab hurts. I also have written about how results come in as little as 12 hours or as long as four to five days. What if I had to wait all week just to know if I was infected?
What about my run?
On Monday morning, I woke up early. I pondered if I could leave the house for a short run – passing no one at sunrise, in the open air, where even if I had the virus, I was likely not to transmit it. Would they track me?
I do not run with my phone, so I decided to go for it – but only for 30 minutes. I was extra careful not to be on the sidewalk with any passerby. I went the long way around the makolet just to make sure I did not come near any of their boxes of bread or fruit.
While I was convinced that I did not have the virus, I could not help but feel a little guilty throughout the entire run. I could have been one of those asymptomatic people who had not been in contact with any known COVID-19 patient but somehow picked it up from a doorknob or elevator button.
I was back before the children even woke up, sitting at my desk as if nothing happened.
My daughter needed to be at school orientation at 9 a.m. My test was scheduled for 9:45 a.m., but I figured I could always answer emails or call reporters while I waited for my turn. But when we got in the car, I got a little nervous again.
There is no problem driving in a private car with a member of my cluster or pod. But I started to sweat a little: Was the Shin Bet tracking my phone? Could they see I was driving slightly out of the way to my testing center, and would they think I broke quarantine? Would they inform the police?
I know it does not exactly work like this, but admittedly, I was a little nervous.
When I parked, I put on my mask and left the parking garage with my referral form, medical card and phone. The testing center was minutes away, but my eyes popped from person to person.
Did they know I was going to get a coronavirus test? Were they judging me for walking to the center? Could I have gotten any closer? Was I putting anyone at risk?
When I arrived at the station, there were only a few people before me, and I stood talking on the phone more than two meters from anyone who stood in line. When it was my turn, I stepped up to the station.
The whole thing took less than 10 minutes.
Then I walked back to my car, drove home and tried to pretend it never happened.
Because of a change in testing protocol, the Health Ministry has been testing fewer people in recent days, meaning rather than the labs being backlogged by 30,000 test results, they only had to wade their way through 10,000 to 15,000.
At around 9 p.m. on Monday night, I saw a call from an unknown 03 number. I picked it up.
A recorded voice asked me to type in my identity number and date of birth.
“Shlili” (negative), the recording pronounced.
I was free!
The writer is news editor and head of online content and strategy for The Jerusalem Post.