Here’s what it was like for a Park City woman to be tested for COVID-19
Molly Miller was up early Wednesday getting ready to head out to get tested for the pandemic sweeping the globe when her Prospector home started shaking.
“I was kind of getting ready to get a COVID test when the earthquake hit,” Miller said. “I was quite taken aback.”
A few hours later, Miller had been tested for the coronavirus in Salt Lake City and was driving back up the canyon feeling like a “huge weight” had been lifted off her shoulders.
The previous week had given Miller rare insight into the systems that have been set up to try to combat the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, providing both highs and lows and leaving the Park City small-business owner with feelings of gratitude toward health care workers and a message for her fellow Parkites.
“It’s a really overwhelming time for the community, and I think the more that we can be together while separated, the better we can be,” she said. “You know, it’s a scary time. A little bit of compassion goes a long way.”
The story starts two weeks before the earthquake, a thousand miles away in San Diego. Miller was there for a social media and digital marketing conference, a trip she had debated skipping because of the growing outbreak.
It wasn’t until a week after she’d flown home that she began to exhibit mild flu-like symptoms, she said.
“I was feeling achy, sore throat, headache and then I ended up taking my temperature and had a minor fever as well,” Miller said. “I was like ‘Oh, no.’ I think I just had that sinking feeling in my gut and I realized I need to start staying inside my house.”
Miller lives with her small daughter and husband in Prospector, and after consulting with him, they both notified people they had been in close contact with, including work colleagues.
The next day, Miller began contacting health care professionals.
She first reached out to her primary care physician, she said, and was given an Intermountain Healthcare hotline number to call. The hotline was digitized, she said, and she was told to download an app. Once she’d done that, she was instructed to fill out a questionnaire and presented with an option for a telescreening, which she was told would cost $60. At this point, after about three hours on the phone or app, Miller decided to hit pause before going further.
“I was just like oh my gosh, it was one thing after another: I was trying to get my work done, trying to take care of my 4 1/2-year-old daughter, and just trying to figure out whether my symptoms really merited me doing the telehealth screening and going through all of the rigmarole,” she said. “What really hit home for me, someone with really urgent symptoms wasn’t going to have time for this. At that time, it just seemed like a really imperfect and clunky process for someone who was feeling really not great.”
Miller slept on it and decided to go forward with the telescreening the next day. She was asked about her symptoms, living situation and travel history during a “quick,” “dry” conversation with a health care professional who called her back a few minutes later to tell her she was “low-risk” and not qualified to take a test.
“I couldn’t help but feel a little bit frustrated and a little bit worried,” she said. “When they said I’m low risk, my immediate reaction was ‘No, I’m not.’ It felt like my instinct immediately was the exact antithesis of what I was being told.”
She said she tried to have compassion for the health care workers on the other side of the experience and acknowledged they were probably as frustrated as she was. Still, the process was far from perfect.
“Certainly when I was going through, like, the phone call and the digital pieces of it, it felt so cold,” Miller said.
Miller went through the telescreening process on Friday, March 13, and over the weekend monitored her symptoms and used over-the-counter flu medicine. She continued to have aches, a fever and a headache, she said.
She told some friends about her experience and they recommended she try the University of Utah hotline. She called on Monday.
“That could not have been a more compassionate experience — I will sing it from the rooftops,” Miller said.
The interactions over the phone were all with people and she ended up speaking to a doctor who was kind and made her feel she wasn’t being rushed through the system. They also never asked for payment or insurance information.
She was told to call back if her symptoms worsened, and she did so when she started to experience “a heavy and tight chest” on Tuesday. She was quickly put through to a telescreening and cleared to be tested for COVID-19. In the intervening few days, she said, San Diego had been determined to be a hotspot and community spread had begun in Summit County.
On Wednesday, Miller headed down to the drive-through testing site in the Sugar House neighborhood in Salt Lake City.
“It seemed pretty apocalyptic,” Miller recalled. “It seemed like I was in a movie. It seemed like ‘Contagion’ come to life.”
Miller held her ID up to her car window and after a health care worker checked the list, she took her place in line, three cars back.
Health care workers in large tents were shedding gowns and masks after one patient and dawning new protective equipment to ready for the next car.
“Of course, yes, they need to be taking these precautions; I’d be scared if they weren’t,” Miller said. “It made it really hit home when I saw all these preparations going on.”
Each car took about five minutes, Miller estimated.
“Kind of like a little car-wash-type scenario,” Miller said.
Listening to coverage of the morning’s earthquake on the radio and staring at health care workers who looked like movie extras, Miller remembers thinking, “Is this real life?”
“I was just totally flummoxed about my current state in the universe,” Miller said. “It was so surreal.”
A health care professional snapped her out of her reverie with a smile and big wave, the kind of human connection that Miller said brought her back to reality.
When it was her turn, Miller pulled forward into a privacy-providing tent and rolled her window down. She steeled herself against the throat swab she knew was coming, but first the health care professional unscrewed the red cap from a long tube and took out a nose swab wrapped in plastic.
She was warned it might be pretty uncomfortable but didn’t give it a second thought.
“So they reach in — and I can feel it and I’m like this isn’t bad, but then it keeps going in and it keeps going in and it keeps going in and I was like, ‘How is it possible that this swab is still going into my nose?’ Miller said with a laugh. “I felt like I could feel it in my brain and jaw at the same time. It’s the most disconcerting feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”
After the swab came out — it was in there about a year, Miller jokingly estimates — the health care providers did a throat swab and she was on her way.
She was told to expect results in about 48 hours.
Miller wasn’t sure which way she wanted the results to come out. On one hand, a positive test meant she’d be done with the ordeal in a way, having hopefully gained immunity to the virus, though scientists have not proven that to be the case.
But she said she’d feel guilty for having exposed her family to it and that she’d be devastated if she spread it to anyone who was immunocompromised.
“So, you know, maybe 50/50. I wouldn’t know what I would want,” Miller said Wednesday. “I wouldn’t want to be positive but I feel it could be a bit of a relief. I really don’t know. It’s just a confounding time.”
On Friday morning, Miller called the number she was given and, after about a minute wait, learned that the test had come back negative.
Taking a break from working on an improvised number game with her daughter, Miller said the outcome was a weight off her shoulders and a “huge feeling of relief.”
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