Unmasking the Virus: A Retail Diary of the Plague Years (Volume 7)

July 10, 2020

Yesterday my wife drove to a clinic across town, where an overworked nurse shoved a four-inch pipe cleaner inside each of her nostrils and swirled it around until she obtained the necessary fluids for a COVID-19 test. My wife described the experience as, “Like getting a Pap smear for your face.”

She’s had a lingering cough for a week, accompanied by chest pains, fatigue, congestion, shortness of breath, and muscle aches. These are a few of the symptons for COVID-19.

My wife is overworked, which probably accounts for the fatigue and muscle aches, and she has asthma and allergies, which might explain the other symptoms. We just don’t know. She probably doesn’t have COVID-19, but since we work in an exposed environment every day, we couldn’t take the chance.

About a quarter of my coworkers have shown symptoms of the virus. Some have stayed home until the symptoms passed, others were tested. So far no one has come up positive, but the numbers keep rising in Texas and it feels like it’s just a matter of time. We’re all playing a germy Russian roulette.

Our work has been understanding. We were both told to stay home until the test results came back. We have to use our vacation days, but at least we still get paid. My boss made a point of telling me to put our health first and not worry about the store. Our overworked coworkers who will be even more overworked in our absence have all been supportive. We’re grateful.

We have good health insurance through our job, but even with that coverage, we will have to pay more than $200 out of pocket. (See the update at the bottom of the blog for more information.) We can afford it, but it was kind of shocking to get a bill that high for a vital health test during a pandemic. I’ve heard reports of tests costing much more in the Austin area, and the amount varies widely from state to state. No wonder the virus is hitting impoverished communities so much harder. If you’re out of work and can’t pay rent, what are the chances you have $250 for a test that you’re not sure if you need?

We’re trying not to take it too seriously. We keep reminding ourselves it’s very unlikely she’s infected. This is just precautionary. We make jokes about it. Whenever my wife coughs, I scream, “You’re killing me!” To which she yells back, “And there’s more where that came from!” Last night, I left a dirty dish in the kitchen sink and she held it up like a dead body. “This is how you treat a dying woman!”

The test results should come back in five to ten days. “I’m sure they’ll be negative,” I say. “Right,” my wife responds. “And then it’s back to work! If at first you don’t succeed…”

(EDIT: So it turns out that the test might actually cost us more than $200. My wife went to Austin Emergency, a medical facility that does not require appointments, because she wanted to do the test as quickly as possible so we wouldn’t put an undue burden on our coworkers by staying in quarantine longer than necessary. It was a drive-thru test. She stayed in the car the whole time and did not see a doctor. She asked the nurse if the test would be covered by her insurance, and she said it shouldn’t be a problem, a vague answer if ever there was one. It turns out Austin Emergency is an out-of-network facility, something the hospital staff certainly knows by now, which means our insurance only covers a fraction of the cost. It seems likely the bill is going to be over $1,000. Talking to some of our friends on social media, we discovered this has been happening to other people, as well. We’re currently contacting the local newspaper to see if they want to do a story.)

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