Negative

My first encounter with the Swiss health system.

Screen Shot 2020-05-17 at 3.16.24 PM
Number of new cases per day, per New York Times as of 17 May.

Switzerland is slowly reopening as the number of daily coronavirus cases declines.  Museums, shops, and restaurants opened last week, as well as primary schools; barbershops and gyms opened two weeks earlier.  Many restrictions still apply, though, and the goal is to remain cautious lest we trigger a large second wave of infections.

So on Wednesday when I started feeling mildly ill, with a slight difficulty breathing, I began to be concerned.  It took more effort to speak, and my voice deepened.  After two nights of difficult sleep while finding it hard to breathe, I decided to contact the university coronavirus testing center.  It’s only a few blocks from here and I’d noticed its sign a few weeks ago.  Read on to see how it all turned out.

An email to the center was quickly returned, followed by a phone call the next morning.  After asking some questions about my symptoms, and confirming that they did indeed sound like COVID-19 symptoms, the staff scheduled me for a visit slot that afternoon.  On arriving at the appointed time, there was no line outside and I stepped right in.  A pleasant graduate student handed me a fresh mask and some hand sanitizer, and a paper handout about her scientific study, then passed me to a clerk who took down my name and insurance info, then led me to an exam room.

vital signs
My vital signs were normal.

A nurse took my vitals and then stuck a swab further up my nose than I ever thought possible; it felt like it scraped the back of my skull while she held it there for about twenty seconds.  oof, I don’t want to do that again!  After a few minutes, a doctor came by to ask some questions and take some medical history. He explained that I would receive the results within a couple of days: if negative, by email;  if positive, by phone call. And if positive, they would immediately begin contact tracing.  He gave me a handout explaining how to self-isolate and indicated I should stay home for 24h past the end of symptoms, even if negative.

On my way out, the cheerful graduate student walked me through the consent form for their study.  I signed, happy to become a subject in a coronavirus study and to support graduate-student research… after all, my students frequently need to recruit human subjects for their studies.  I need to repay my scientific karma.

I was in and out within 30 minutes.  All very efficient.  (This is Switzerland, after all.)

About 24 hours later an email popped into my inbox, with a short pdf attachment.  Negativ!  Although I am certainly relieved not to be infected with coronavirus (assuming it was not a false-negative result), it leaves me wondering what is going on with my lungs.  Maybe it’s an allergy I never knew I had – to some unusual Swiss flora.     I may never know. negativ

But a few days of illness while wondering whether you have come down with COVID-19 certainly gives one pause, especially after reading harrowing descriptions of the experience from otherwise young, healthy people.  I was impressed with my visit to the test center, but have no interest in seeing the inside of the ICU.

Wash your hands, people.  Stay home when you can; cover your mouth and keep your distance when you can’t.  We’ll all get through this together.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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