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Administering a COVID-19 swab test

"The most common COVID-19 test is a “nasopharyngeal swab, which involves extracting a viral sample from the nasopharynx — the space between the upper part of the throat and the very back of the nose — and analyzing those results in a lab”. Nobody likes to have their nasopharynx probed. “Sticking a long, thin swab several inches deep into this chamber of secretions is surprisingly disagreeable, momentarily painful, or downright excruciating”. The experience of getting a Covid-19 test has been described as having your brain “tickled,” or, alternatively, “stabbed” (though it never actually touches your brain). Some says it’s more like “laughing soda out of your nose — that warm, fizzy feeling” or as if “you were swimming and you get chlorine all the way back there.” It’s a difficult area to swab. Sticking anything far enough up the nose is likely to trigger sneezing, coughing, and tears. In this photo, my patient was fearful at the start. When I inserted the swab into his nose, he fell backward, his legs started kicking, his left hand waved for me to stop, as if he is in an electric chair. I realised that fear can bring about such reaction, hence I have to separate the pain from fear. I started preparing my patients mentally before inserting the swab into their noses so that they are not caught off guard such as providing an overview of the technique before the test begins, talking them through the insertion process, and counting down the seconds during the swab. What a relief for me and for my patients that a Covid-19 test, no matter how uncomfortable, only lasts a few seconds."--Contributed by Dr William Tan, as part of the "Documenting COVID-19 in Singapore" collection community call.

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All rights reserved. Dr William Tan, 2020


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