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Covering virus can be painful

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I am a reporter covering the COVID-19 pandemic, but it never occurred to me that I would be among those getting tested for the virus.

I recently interviewed a COVID-19 patient who had recovered from the infection; I thought our readers might want to learn about his experience with the virus.

Although he and I socially distanced and wore masks, a few days later I started coughing, had a headache and was otherwise just not feeling right. Just to be safe, I called the free UNC Health COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-850-2684.

I figured a nurse could help me decide if I needed to be worried. When I told her I had been around a recovered COVID-19 patient, that was it; she was adamant I get tested.

At 12:40 p.m., a doctor called and listened to me repeat the story I had told the nurse. By 1:30, my wife and I were on our way to the UNC Health test site in Flowers Plantation near Clayton. The building, if you’re curious, is near the Harris Teeter.

As we pulled into the parking lot, a nurse called me. My wife couldn’t come in with me, she said. I received a dose of hand sanitizer and a mask at the door.

From there, I followed a nurse who was in full coronavirus wear, including a gown and a clear, full-face mask. Another nurse joined us and began listening to my heart and lungs.

The next thing I knew, the nurse I had followed into the tiny exam room took out some cotton swabs and asked me to tilt my head back as I sat in an uncomfortable chair. She then proceeded to shove a cotton swab up my right nostril. As she inched further up my nose, I could feel the swab touch the back of my throat.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she said, no doubt aware of the discomfort the test causes.

She then took another cotton swab and repeated the drill, going up my left nostril before giving it a good twirl and pulling it back out.

“You did a great job,” she said.

After the nasal swab, the nurse who listened to my heart and lungs told me I might have the flu but that my heart and lungs sounded great.

I also received a prescription for an inhaler just in case I started wheezing or having difficulty breathing.

Then came the dreaded quarantine letter stating that I was to stay home for the next two weeks unless my test results came back negative.

I had a brief moment of panic, thinking I was trapped forever in our Clayton apartment, never to experience the joy of fresh air again. I felt imprisoned in my own home, even though I knew it was the safe and right thing to do. My wife and I needed milk, cat food and other items, and now we couldn’t even drive to the nearby Food Lion. God forbid we run out of toilet paper.

To keep my mind occupied, I continued reporting from home, doing phone interviews and sending emails.

One of the most aggravating things was that my wife and I couldn’t share utensils and she had to take Lysol and spray everything I touched. Even when I used the bathroom, she had to spray the porcelain throne.

Maybe those folks working in the UNC Health lab could sense from far away how stir crazy I was going trapped inside my one-bedroom apartment, because by Wednesday afternoon, I got a phone call saying my test results were negative.

I’ve never felt more relieved than when I found out that I didn’t have COVID-19.

But since my experience, I’ve become extra cautious, wearing a mask whenever possible, even though I’m chomping at the bit for the day when I can take the itchy thing off.

Tyler Stocks is a reporter for the Johnstonian News. Reach him at