BY Margaret Miao

Long queues. Healthcare workers in personal protective equipment. An intimidating, long swab being forced up one’s nose.

These are common images of COVID-testing clinics portrayed in the news. To what extent do these portrayals of COVID-19 testing in the media reflect reality?

I got tested for COVID-19 two months ago, and I am here to share what the test is really like, and if the infamous nasal and throat swab is as painful as it sounds.

The Symptoms

In May, I went to Service NSW at Bankstown to get my license renewed. A few days later, I developed cold and flu symptoms. Usually, cold and flu symptoms wouldn’t cause much concern… except there is a pandemic at the moment. I did not have a fever or a dry cough, so I decided to ‘wait it out’ and believed that I had a common cold.

Two weeks later, my cold and flu symptoms did not get better. In fact, it got worse. I struggled to sleep at night because my nose was blocked, and I began to develop a sore throat. I could not brush off the paranoia that I had potentially contracted COVID-19 from my visit to Bankstown, which was considered a hotspot at the time.

Although none of my family displayed any cold and flu symptoms, I decided to get a COVID-19 test to ease my anxiety. My friend recommended me to go to a drive-thru testing clinic so I didn’t have to enter and walk through a hospital.

Getting Tested

On a Sunday afternoon, my mum drove me to the nearest drive-thru testing clinic, which was a short 10 minute drive from our house. The testing clinic was situated at an RSL car park, and was rather dark and eerie. On the ground floor, a nurse requested routine contact details (name, date of birth, Medicare card etc.), asked if I had any contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases, and recorded key coronavirus symptoms I was experiencing.

After the nurse filled out the form, she told us to follow the traffic cones and drive to the second floor to get the COVID-19 test. I remember I was full of adrenaline because I didn’t know what to expect. The long swab, which resembles a long Q-tip, is quite intimidating. On social media, I had read a variety of experiences ranging from ‘uncomfortable’ to ‘the most painful and traumatic experience I have ever experienced.’

I can assure you all that the COVID-19 test is not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. The nurses were really nice and reassured me that I would only experience minor discomfort. The throat and nasal swab caused my eyes to water and triggered a massive sneeze. I have a high pain tolerance, and found the test uncomfortable but not painful.

Following the test, the nurse gave me a pamphlet with further information. She instructed me to stay at home until I received my test result. There are two ways to receive the COVID-19 test result: an SMS text message (if negative) or a phone call (if positive). She said to expect a result within 72 hours, and to call the number on the pamphlet if I still had not received the result.

The testing clinic was not busy and there was only one car in front of us. The whole process of getting tested only took 10-12 minutes.

Pamphlet received with further instructions and information.

The wait… and the result.

I spent the next few days feeling restless and playing the Sims 4 to distract myself. Two days later, I finally got a phone call on Tuesday evening. I did a double take and panicked because the nurse told me I would only get a phone call if I tested positive.

After the nurse confirmed my contact information, she told me my result. I was so relieved to hear that I tested negative for COVID-19! I got tested at a time when community transmission had died down, and I suspect that the nurse called me because the clinic was not busy.

Final Thoughts

I feel lucky that I ended up having tonsillitis and not coronavirus. In hindsight, I should have gotten tested earlier even though my symptoms were relatively mild. It is better to be safe than sorry.

This ordeal has made me more grateful for universal health care in Australia, which allows testing to be free and accessible to everyone. The nurses were so kind and patient to me throughout this whole process, and it was another reminder that healthcare workers must be rewarded and more appreciated for their hard work during this pandemic.

The current second wave in Victoria and recent outbreaks in NSW has shown that now is not the time to be complacent. We must continue to work together to halt the spread of COVID-19 and prevent a repeat of lockdown and more deaths. Continue to practice social distancing and stay at home if you are sick. Testing is free and highly accessible, and you should definitely get tested if you experience any symptoms.

Resources and Information

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever and respiratory symptoms (coughing, sore throat, shortness of breath).

If you are sick and think you have symptoms of COVID-19, seek medical advice and get tested.

You can call the National Coronavirus Helpline for advice: 1800 020 080. It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Overview of information on COVID-19:

Locations of COVID-19 testing clinics:

Translated information and resources:

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