COPING WITH COVID: If you think getting a COVID test is stressful, try administering one

A sign outside Marwalk Crescent directs people to the COVID-19 testing centre in Campbell River. Photo by Binny Paul.A sign outside Marwalk Crescent directs people to the COVID-19 testing centre in Campbell River. Photo by Binny Paul.
The drive-through centre allows only one vehicle at a time. Over here, Island Health staff informs the staff at the testing station that the next appointment has arrived. After verifying details, drivers are directed to proceed to the testing station. Photo by Binny Paul.The drive-through centre allows only one vehicle at a time. Over here, Island Health staff informs the staff at the testing station that the next appointment has arrived. After verifying details, drivers are directed to proceed to the testing station. Photo by Binny Paul.
The entrance to the drive-through COVID-19 testing facility at 1358 Marwalk Crescent. Photo by Binny Paul.The entrance to the drive-through COVID-19 testing facility at 1358 Marwalk Crescent. Photo by Binny Paul.
Island Health nurses pose for a photograph near the working station during their break. Photo by Binny Paul – Campbell River Mirror

Sixth in a series

Since November, an innocous address in Campbell River – 1358 Marwalk Crescent – has earned the reputation of raising an eyebrow.

The address houses the city’s only drive-through COVID-19 testing centre.

A Campbell River resident who took the test at Marwalk Crescent said that the minute they turned into 1358 Marwalk, they weren’t just worried about the disease, or someone sticking a swab up their nose.

They were more worried about being spotted by a neighbour or someone they know.

Now imagine being a nurse that administers the COVID-19 tests to people, day in and day out at the centre.

They see people come in with a wide range of anxieties – some of whom have a lot of questions, some are anxious about their jobs and income and some are afraid for their family members’ safety.

To add to it, the nurses also have to constantly check and make sure that their personal protective equipment (PPE) isn’t breached and that the tests are routinely administered in a step-by-step manner without missing a single step.

If it’s a nasal swab, they make sure that swab is inserted steadily to ensure there’s minimal discomfort.

If it’s a gargle test, they pour the saline into the person’s mouth and count out the 20 seconds for them, reminding them every five seconds to alternate between swishing and gargling.

This is what every 10 minutes is like at 1358 Marwalk Crescent for Island Health nurse Heather Shiells and her colleagues. The team has turned the centre into a fortress where the COVID-19 testing is carried out with procedural precision.

Shiells spoke to the Mirror at the testing centre during a noon break when there were no people lining up for tests. The centre has a welcoming environment, but privacy of people coming in to get a test is topmost priority, she said.

The drive-through testing centre at Marwalk is open seven days a week and is staffed with two nurses on-site throughout the day from 9 a.m. in the morning to 3:50 p.m.

Visitors are given clear instructions to follow as soon as they get to the centre. A well-marked pathway makes it easy for people to get in and out of the centre without confusion or blocking in the staff. There’s markings for vehicles to stop and be parked right in front of a testing station.

“When people come for testing, many of them have a lot of ‘what-ifs’ looming over their head,” said Sheills when she spoke to the Mirror during her noon break at Marwalk centre. But despite everything, they have to adhere to protocol strictly.

“We’re collecting bodily fluids and testing for COVID, we are probably likely to have some kind of exposure,” she said and added that’s why there’s so much energy diverted to giving attention to details while they’re at their work stations.

“We follow each and every step to ensure the safety of the people getting tested and the nurses administering the test.”

Even for a quick 10 minute drive-through test, some of these encounters can be emotionally stirring.

She recalls one such incident.

“We had a calm, composed lady drive in and after the test she burst into tears. She was worried and anxious about so many things if she ended up testing positive,” she said and added, “it was an emotional learning experience for both, the staff and the lady.”

Shiells has been testing Campbell Riverites since March when the pandemic began, first at a testing centre at the Campbell River Hospital and then later at the Marwalk centre when they moved there on Nov.30.

She has had a front seat view of the gradual changes that have outlined the testing process since it first began in March – right from the unpleasant nose swabs to the recently adopted less-invasive saline gargle tests.

In November, B.C. switched from the nasal swab COVID-19 test to gargle testing for everyone.

Getting an appointment has also become way quicker and easier since summer – a feat that Shields commends Island Health for.

“It has certainly lowered people’s anxiety levels,” she said of the bookings and test results.

The stigma of getting tested has also reduced significantly.

“Testing has now become a part of people’s routine,” she said of the change in attitudes.

Even healthcare workers and their families faced some sort of stigma back in the early days of the pandemic, she said. Her family, too, endured statements like “I can’t believe your mom is a COVID-19 testing nurse,” thrown at them.

On a personal front, “many of us had anxiety too as we didn’t know what to expect,” she said about the beginning of the pandemic. Suddenly it was goggles and full PPE and

But all that’s in the past. Looking back at the year that went by, Shiells said that she cannot “summarize her experience” easily. According to her, the pandemic has been “ever changing.”

But it has been a rewarding experience to be able to help people when they are feeling vulnerable, she said.

For the most part, people that they encounter at the testing centre have been patient, kind and appreciative of the work that the staff does.

As for the nurses, some days – like any other job – are more exhausting than the others. At work they support and check on each other.

Outside of work hours, they unwind by biking, baking, walking, doing crafts and spending time with their families.

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