On March 26, I woke up with a bit of a cough and felt a bit wheezy in my chest. My condition got a little bit worse the following day. I started coughing a bit harder and that’s when I started to worry.
Like most people, I’ve been hyper-aware of what has been going on with the coronavirus outbreak in Japan, and I knew there was a possibility I had it. I didn’t have a fever, but the cough persisted and got a fair bit worse last Wednesday (April 1), to the point where I was struggling to breathe a little bit. I tried to call the government-run helpline, but could never get through. Finally, I came to the conclusion: “This has gone on long enough. I need to go to the doctor and get this taken care of.”
On Thursday morning, I went to see my local doctor. She checked me out and, even though my blood oxygen was fine, she was a bit concerned with the cough and my breathing. So, she wrote me a note and instructed me to go to a hospital to be checked for COVID-19.
I’d heard that getting a test was really hard and that people who had worse symptoms than I had not been able to get a test — so I was a bit surprised and kind of scared when the doctor insisted I go.
I was sent to the Self-Defense Forces Central Hospital in Setagaya Ward. Being a “military” hospital, it looked intimidating when I rocked up there to check in at a well-guarded gate. At this point, I was thinking that if my doctor sent me here, then my condition may have been more serious than I thought; the anxiety was starting to kick in a fair bit.
I had my temperature taken at the gate, in a tent that was set up kind of like a bus stop. The nurses were wearing masks, but not head-to-toe protective gear. I was escorted to a service elevator around the side of the hospital and taken to the ninth floor. Once we arrived at our stop, the door opened and I was greeted by what looked like a full corona Death Star — all the nurses and doctors were wearing N95 masks and hazmat suits with goggles. I was very anxious, but also fascinated by the whole scene; I’d been reading so much news about this and suddenly I felt like I was at the heart of the story.
A nurse took my blood oxygen and temperature, and then I filled out a long triage form that asked for things like my name and age, and what symptoms I was experiencing. I waited a little while and was taken to a consultation room, where two very nice English-speaking female doctors quizzed me about my symptoms. Up until now, there hadn’t been much English, though the nurses were all very calming and professional. Hearing things explained to me in my own language, however, helped ease my anxiety. Then they told me they wanted me to do the COVID-19 test, a blood test and get an X-ray.
I waited a bit longer and the doctor returned with the infamous PCR swab that goes up your nose. She took some blood from my arm before preparing me for the swab.
“This is the test you might have heard about,” she said, “it’s really painful.” She took the swab out of the wrapping and, before I could give it much thought, put it straight up my nose. It’s quite long so it goes really deep into your head. I could feel it making contact with the flaps at the very back of my throat. The doctor spent 10 seconds twisting it around in a circular motion, but it actually didn’t hurt at all, it was just unpleasant. She pulled it out pretty quickly and we were done.
I had the X-ray to check for signs of pneumonia and was then sent to a waiting room for around 30 minutes. The doctor came back with my blood test results, which were, in her words, “perfect,” and the X-ray didn’t show any signs of pneumonia. I was told I’d receive my COVID-19 test result that evening and was allowed to leave. I thanked the staff profusely and walked back home, where I was told to self-isolate for at least four days.
I was told if my test came back positive then I’d have to be hospitalized, so I was advised to prepare a bag just in case and plan for “being hospitalized.” I’ve never been hospitalized in my life, so that was quite scary.
I received my test result about 48 hours later. I thought it took that long because I tested negative, and that if the test were positive then I’d be more of a priority. It turns out I somehow just missed a call the day of the hospital visit. I was told to continue self-isolating for four days as a precaution (I’m still self-isolating a week later), and keep an eye on my symptoms. One thing’s for sure, my anxiety levels are a lot lower.
This is an extract of a conversation between Tokyo resident Joe Oliver and Japan Times staffer Oscar Boyd. Listen to the full conversation on the Japan Times’ Deep Dive podcast: https://bit.ly/2Xj3hQh
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