18-day wait for COVID-19 test results tests patience, strength

It’s been exactly a month since I returned to Winnipeg from a 12-day trip to El Puerto de Santa Maria, a small village in southern Spain.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/04/2020 (1040 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s been exactly a month since I returned to Winnipeg from a 12-day trip to El Puerto de Santa Maria, a small village in southern Spain.

My best friend, Kim, and I booked the trip to visit my 25-year-old daughter, who had been living and working there for the past year. We spent most days touring the small fishing town, but we also caught a ride-share to the ornate Alcazar castle complex in Seville, drove to the gorgeous coastal village of Bolonia, and wrapped up our trip with a two-day stay in London.

Over the course of the trip — and especially aboard the jam-packed, underground rail network in London — Kim and I were diligent about using our small supply of sanitizing hand towelettes to wipe down luggage, airplane trays, and electronics screens.

At that time, the COVID-19 virus was making its way through the northern part of Italy, so we were cautious but not afraid. Whenever we could, we stopped to wash our hands with soap and water.

Nevertheless, a couple of weeks after I returned home, I started having body chills — a symptom of the novel coronavirus. While the World Health Organization had yet to declare it a pandemic, I was worried I had become infected.

Supplied Rebecca Dahl (from left) Leesa Dahl and Kim Lentowitsch in Cadiz, Spain.

Two-and-a-half weeks ago, Manitoba testing centres were just being established, with only three Winnipeg Regional Health Authority Access clinics offering the unpleasant, nostril-swab tests. There are now nine testing sites and seven drive-through locations in Manitoba.

In those early days, people waited hours outside those three centres to get tested. I chose the Access Transcona location on Regent Avenue, only intending to get the test if I didn’t have to wait too long. After all, other than some chills, I was feeling nothing unusual.

As it turned out, there was only one masked patient in the waiting area. After learning I had been in Spain less than two weeks earlier, a health-care worker ushered me right in.

Before the test was administered by a masked health-care worker, I was asked to agree to self-isolate for the next two weeks. This surprised me, since I had already worked a full two weeks since returning, and I was confident as a member of the Winnipeg Free Press production crew, I would be required to work at the office.

I hesitated, uncertain as to whether I could accomplish my daily tasks from home, but reluctantly agreed. After the three-minute-long test, I was told I would receive a call with my results within 48 hours.

I feel OK; no cough or fever or any shortness of breath. However, an unprecedented bout of exhaustion recently left me bedridden– and nervous — for a few days.

Thursday — my birthday — marks the 18th day without a word from the hardworking health-care workers who, when answering my frequent calls, offer up little more than a hollow apology for the delay.

“Be patient,” one said last week, after asking if I’ve been watching the news.

In a recent report, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, said the backlog is due to a shortage of a certain reagent that is needed to conduct the tests. It’s a worldwide shortage, he said, but Manitoba’s lab is now making its own.

Well that’s good news, especially in this house, where my just-returned daughter is also waiting for her COVID-19 test results.

On March 15, she handed over the keys to her Spanish apartment, packed up Alvaro, her Spanish cat, and booked a flight home. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was advising all Canadians to do the same, since the coronavirus was spreading fast in all countries.

Leesa's daughter Rebecca is also waiting for her COVID-19 test results. (Matt Rourke / The Associated Press files)

My family of five is together again. We’re making the most of our quarantines (taking turns cooking dinner, playing guitar and acclimatizing Alvaro to his new, cold country) and, like many deemed essential workers, I am thankful my husband (a teacher) and I can continue to work through this unimaginable time.

After 18 days in the dark, I’m growing weary.

I feel OK; no cough or fever or any shortness of breath. However, an unprecedented bout of exhaustion recently left me bedridden — and nervous — for a few days.

I’m trying to be patient. I understand our provincial health-care system is under tremendous pressure.

Meanwhile, a friend who was also tested for COVID-19 told me he received his second callback from a health-care worker, who was “just checking to see if he received his first call.”

“You’ve been waiting 16 days? That’s crazy.” – Health-care worker

Helpless weariness turned to anger, and I called the Health Links info phone line, hoping once more I could get an answer.

“You’ve been waiting 16 days? That’s crazy,” said the compassionate health-care worker who answered, after I waited 20 minutes on hold. “Let me put you on hold and see what I can do.”

I felt a glimmer of hope. For a few seconds, I thought maybe I would get an answer, some sort of confirmation that would help me return to some sense of normalcy, whatever that looks like these days.

When he picked up the line once more, he delivered the same familiar apology.

“Be patient,” he said. “You’ll get a call either way.”

And so, as the world unravels around us, I wait.

Just like so many others.


COVID-19 test negative for Free Press staffer

Supplied Rebecca Dahl (from left) Leesa Dahl and Kim Lentowitsch in Cadiz, Spain.


The evening my column about my 18-day wait for a COVID-19 test result appeared on the Winnipeg Free Press website, I received an email from Dr. Paul Sawchuk at Access Transcona. In it, he provided his cellphone number and asked that I call him at my earliest convenience.

“I was reading your article and I was thinking ‘that’s an insane amount of time to wait for results,’” he said Thursday morning. “And then I recognized your name.”

Sawchuk, a co-site medical lead at the Regent Avenue clinic, said he has been extremely busy calling hundreds of people with their test results since the coronavirus outbreak began in the province earlier this month. But he remembered calling me a couple of times and always getting a busy signal.

After repeating back to me the number he was calling, I recognized it as one that belonged to a former landline, long since cancelled but I assume still registered with Health Canada.

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