What to expect when taking your toddler to a Covid testing station

This piece was written for my MA portfolio for the University of Lincoln. It was written in August 2020 but published in January 2021 to allow time for it to be graded. The testing stations may have altered in this time.

By columnist Ailsa Adams, mother to two boys with a baby girl on the way.

Wilfred, who is three, started displaying all the symptoms of croup, a viral infection that causes a bark like cough, often accompanied by cold like symptoms in the middle of the night. The powerful sound woke me instantly as I rushed to make sure he was breathing ok in a blind panic.  My eldest has had it so much, we were croup veterans and regular patients at the doctors so I knew the score, but my mind instantly panicked it could be coronavirus.

I spoke to our doctor first thing the next morning who advised we had him tested for coronavirus, as they couldn’t see him to confirm a diagnosis either way. If symptoms worsened, I was to phone back later in the week. Frustrated, I put the phone down and tested his temperature militantly every hour to put my mind at ease it most likely would result in a negative test.

After booking the test online at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/testing-and-tracing/get-a-test-to-check-if-you-have-coronavirus/ for the same day, we read through the instructions and decided it was best to all go, as you can’t exit the car, instead the adult has to climb into the back of the car to do the test. At six months pregnant, I feared this would have all the grace of an elephant, potentially resulting in me getting stuck half way with visions of Wilfred trying to kick me back through, so my husband graciously offered to sit in the back.

We all stayed in the car and had the instructions explained through the closed window in a mask. Be prepared to ask them to repeat themselves a lot, I opted to mix it up between “pardon”, “I can’t hear you” and a general gesture to my ears. They tried their best to add hand actions and more exaggerated eye movements. After a few moments they said they could go through how to perform the test with us, or we could read the instructions ourselves. Naturally, we picked the latter as a full-blown explanation might have been more akin to a sad game of charades.

The dull grey, flat and smaller than expected test pack, was then dropped to me through a small crack in the window. If someone with bigger hands is performing the test, I would advise taking your own disposable gloves as the ones provided were very small and ripped instantly, leading to a lot of hand gel being used to overcompensate the gigantic tear in them.

The enormous swab had to go right in the back of Wilfred’s throat and also right up his nose but only took a few seconds. Wilfred struggled and gagged with the throat swab going so far in, so a bucket in case it causes a coughing fit and sickness is advisable.  They recommend taking some water for afterwards, but I also recommend taking their favourite cuddly toy for moral support if they get distressed.

We then had to snap the long swab stick, which was quite tough as it’s made of plastic so a few bends in either direction and brute force did the trick. It then went in the test tube and into the sealed bag. Once we had finished, we drove back to the exit where the QR code was scanned on the form and sample bag. Once it was all sorted, a lady with a big box came to the window and I dropped it in to the box through a tiny crack in the window. The children were disappointed they only had NHS coats on as opposed to white hazmat suits, but personally I was relieved as it felt less apocalyptic.

As per the instruction booklet, we then had to return home and remain there until the results came through. The negative test results were texted to my mobile phone the following morning at 6am with a turnaround of roughly 19 hours, so thankfully we didn’t have to wait long to resume our normal routine with great joy.

The test caused momentary discomfort for Wilfred, but he was quickly over it. Taking a few home comforts might help soften the blow of the scary big swab going so far down their throat.