/OPINION: Our do-we-have-coronavirus day at the doctors

OPINION: Our do-we-have-coronavirus day at the doctors

2020-03-06 11:13

The doctor says that he has had a lot of Chinese patients come in, terrified that they might have the virus. It reminds him of swine flu where he saw about 100 people a day, and only three would test positive, writes Jenni Evans

So the day before yesterday the CEO sends out a responsible email about Covid-19, basically asking that anybody who may have been in the areas where there were positive cases of the virus, or may have been in contact with somebody who was in those areas, work from home until they get the all-clear from a doctor. 

There are some travel instructions too.

We went to a concert at the Cape Town City Hall in January – the week that news of the virus became big – to celebrate Chinese New Year, and enjoyed a magnificent concert by the Beijing Golden Sail Junior Orchestra which had travelled from China for the occasion.

Ahead of the show, I googled the distance between Wuhan and Beijing, and it’s pretty far.

(Later my phone recommended some Chinese eateries in the area).

The virus did cross my mind, but you don’t hastily leave a concert saying “I’m going because you all might make me sick”.

There was only one mention of the virus, toward the end of the show, which was attended mostly by people of Chinese origin, living in Cape Town.

I felt really sorry for everybody, because what do you do if your country is associated with a virus that is not completely understood yet.

My daughter and I have been unwell for the past few weeks, her more than me, and we just put it down to dodgy tap water and stress, and brought in some bottled water.

We’ve seen a doctor about that.

Anyway, HR recommended that we go for a check-up.

I rang the private medical centre’s rooms that I usually go to, explained that I was inquiring about Covid-19, and asked if I needed a doctor’s letter to go straight to the pathology laboratory, not knowing exactly how it all works, or if I should see a doctor first.

Is it like the urine test you take to rule out a UTI?

I was told to not come into the rooms to prevent possible contamination and to go straight to the path lab the next day, and I’m given numbers for two near me. 

I called the pathology laboratory closest to me first thing in the morning (luckily it coincided with my day off).

Nope, you need a doctor’s letter, so I called the doctor’s rooms back.

I was told the woman the night before had incorrectly informed me that I do not have to come in, and I must actually make an appointment to see the doctor.

I set up an appointment, telling them what it’s for.

I told this story in the office, and Health Editor Bevan Lakay immediately pointed out that isolation protocol should have kicked in immediately and that only the doctor should have made contact with us.

So there I am sitting in the rooms, not touching the magazines or anything in case I pick something up.

I use public transport, am regularly among large groups of people in my job, so I’m a compulsive hand washer and hand sanitiser, after a very bad colon infection that may or may not have come from somebody I shook hands with, or a surface I had touched.

I open doors with the end of my sleeve.

The doctor gives me a basic check-up – breathe in, breathe out etc. and goes through possible symptoms. We have a lovely conversation about music.

He says the actual swab for Covid-19, is done at the back of the throat, and is going to cost thousands and the medical aid won’t cover it, so I’m sent off for a white blood cell count test instead.

At the path lab, I ask if this test will detect Covid-19 and I’m told it won’t.

So I’m thinking, what’s the point of having this test?

I ask this question. Does it indicate that there is an infection? I’m not a doctor. The path lab says that actually there is a free swab test for Covid-19 but the doctor must sign off on it and I must go back to the doctor. 

I become a Karen as I ask that they should just pick up the phone to ask the doctor for permission so that I don’t have to go back into the waiting room.

I point out that they have a symbiotic relationship with the doctors’ rooms so a phone call request for clarity over which test I must have and who is going to pay for it is not unreasonable.

I’m embarrassed because I am being a Karen.

My daughter’s appointment is after school so I decide that by then they will have figured it out, and I will come back later with her and we will do it together.

We wait long enough in the waiting room to nap on each other’s shoulders. My daughter tells the doctor all of her recent symptoms – typical flu symptoms plus exhaustion and a very upset tummy. 

He gives us two forms and asks us to sit at the nurse’s station to fill them in. It is a basic check list – where have you travelled, have you been to Wuhan, or in contact with somebody from Wuhan, and a symptom check list.

Mostly about coughing, fever, respiratory problems.

We fill them in and wait for his next patient to leave, and go back in to his room after waiting in the corridor.

The doctor calls the Covid-19 hotline – “the number you have called is not available”.

I find this inappropriately funny.

He has patients waiting, so we are shunted back to the nurse’s station, and a nurse is tasked with trying the hotline again. There’s a guy waiting for an HIV test, somebody else for a urine test.

We know this because there is no privacy.

The doctor says that he has had a lot of Chinese patients come in, terrified that they might have the virus.

It reminds him of swine flu where he saw about 100 people a day, and only three would test positive.

On the first call the nurse gets through to the coronavirus hotline, but the person on the other end is so aloof that she asks “are you still there?, sorry I can’t even hear you breathing”.

That call ends unsatisfactorily so she tries again and a very helpful woman answers and determines that we do not meet the criteria for the swab.

There was no physical contact with anybody either which seems to seal the deal for them.

We do not see the doctor again.

My daughter and I went home after the nurse’s station thinking: “well, that was a waste of money and time”. 

She is not too worried. She already has a zombie apocalypse plan – she is going to put treadmills around the flat – so if Covid-19 does get big in South Africa, she’ll come up with something. 

She googles some stuff about pathogens because she’s like that – she likes to understand things.

She also googles stuff about how the immune system kills viruses and recognises them if they try and disguise themselves as something else.

We joke, and put on viruses-in-disguise voices, and watch TV. 

My daughter wakes up sick on Thursday. I think it’s the hot dog she bought from the tuck shop on Wednesday.

If it was Covid-19, which I think is highly unlikely, there will be a whole lot of people to track down after we waltzed in and out of the waiting room, had a nap inside it, and sat around the nurse’s station and the path lab.

– Jenni Evans is a journalist at News24

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