First responders from Delta Ambulance and Waterville police and fire remove a man from his home in full PPE April 17. Any cardiac event triggers a full PPE response by all responders because of COVID-19 concerns. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Editor’s note: Morning Sentinel photographer Mike Seamans, who covered the ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone in west Africa in 2015, faced more stringent protocols upon his return to the United States then than he did when seeking a test for coronavirus today.

 

It started with pain in my neck and back. In normal times, this would not have raised any flags for me. Pain in my neck and back are part of the job. It’s where I carry my stress and my cameras.

This pain, however, was extreme. Moving my head the slightest bit was excruciating. Breathing hurt. My head hurt. I had a runny nose. I had a slight cough. I was sneezing.

The pain started to resemble pain from a cold or the flu and not from the usual wear and tear of the job. The pain was constant from the base of my skull to the middle of my back just below my shoulder blades.

During normal times I would work through it, use hot/cold treatment on my back, stretch and work through it. Not these days.

These days calculating the risk level includes the possibility of coronavirus.

As a photojournalist, my job takes me to many different places with a variety of people with whom I interact. I am much like the swab that is stuffed in your nose for the coronavirus test. I’m stuffed deep into the sinuses of the community.

I live on a steady work diet of new places and people from Portland to Guilford covering protests, rallies and a visiting president over the past four months. I’ve logged many shifts in the back of an ambulance with a local ambulance service to follow the pandemic curve in rural Maine.

On top of that, I live in a fifth floor apartment smack dab in the middle of the building. It’s 336 steps to the closest parking spot that travels through five flights of stairs and shares space with two floors of tenants, many of whom are traveling healthcare workers.

The other three floors are filled with office workers, a crossfit gym and a brewery. Work has brought me in contact with people at all levels of acceptance or denial of the coronavirus. Buildings like this are highly suspect and offer much more opportunity to share germs.

 

WHY GET TESTED?

As I sat on my couch in my apartment that I share with my girlfriend, we argued back and forth as to what would warrant a coronavirus test. We discussed levels of exposure to other people and possibly the virus.

I really struggled with making the appointment. Part of me was afraid to find out if I was positive for the virus. I was worried I carried it to many places and people unknowingly. It’s a fear that infiltrates my dreams at night.

I was also worried about the stigma with getting a test. The numbers are so low in central Maine at the moment it seemed unnecessary for me to get a test.

But then again, I thought, I’m out in the community every day in situations that could be deemed high-risk. I live in a large apartment building with high-risk tenants. I live in a community that is largely outside of the pandemic conversation.

Why isn’t everyone able to get a test? Why isn’t this process easier? Where do I go to get a test? What do I do if I’m positive? What do I do while I wait for results? If I’m in isolation, should my girlfriend also be in isolation? Who will get our groceries?

These questions were spinning around in my head as my symptoms were starting to resemble something other than the normal aches and pains I’ve come to know. These questions became part of my calculus to get tested. Maybe it’s better to not know, I thought.

It was a real struggle. A struggle that I couldn’t believe I was having. It seems like a no-brainer. If you don’t feel good and you have some symptoms and have had high exposure to the community, getting tested  should be an automatic response.

 

THE TEST

Once I decided to get a test I had to figure out how to get it.

According to the Maine CDC website, a person who thinks they need a test should contact their primary care provider. So I did. I called my doctor’s office and made an appointment.

On the phone the receptionist asked what the appointment was for, and I told her I had neck and back pain accompanied by a cough and runny nose. The receptionist made me an appointment for that afternoon. COVID-19 never entered the conversation on the phone. I was given instructions on how to come to the office and told to make sure I wear a mask.

I arrived at Thayer Hospital and entered the main entrance, where I was greeted by a nice person with a temporal thermometer. “No fever, go ahead,” I was told.

Morning Sentinel photographer Michael G. Seamans stands in the donning/doffing area at an area hospital while covering local ambulance service response in May during the pandemic. Last month, after experiencing symptoms that could indicate COVID-19, the roles reversed and it was the doctor donning the personal protective equipment to administer the test to Seamans. Photo provided by Michael G. Seamans

I was then stopped by another greeter who asked me if I had any symptoms consistent with COVID-19. I said, “Yes, that’s why I’m here for my appointment.” There was a pregnant pause and a smile from the greeter. She ultimately let me pass.

I walked through the hospital to the stairwell. I have eliminated the elevator from my day. Those tiny boxes with the booger buttons that everyone touches seem like a hazard that can be avoided.

I entered the doctor’s office, which was empty of people and had been stripped of all of the furniture. There were bright yellow lines on the floor intended to keep the patient a safe distance from the office workers, although we did nearly shake hands while paying my copay.

After paying I was immediately ushered into the exam room where I again had my temperature checked as well as my weight. No vitals were checked, most likely to mitigate touching the nurse and equipment I surmised.

I was initially seen by the nurse who asked, “Why are you here today?” I explained my pain in my back and the sniffling and coughing. Still no flags went up. “The doctor will be right in,” she said as she left me alone in the exam room.

In comes the doctor in scrubs and a surgical mask. “Hi, how are you today?” the doctor said.

“Well, my back is killing me and I have a cough and runny nose,” I said through my mask. I went on to explain my work history and level of exposure to the public.

The doctor told me my symptoms resembled a cold. I agreed, but said that under the current circumstances and level of interaction I have with the community, I would like a coronavirus test to be sure I’m not a carrier. Once again, she went through my symptoms and had to check with someone else to see if I could get the test.

As this was happening, I was in the room by myself wondering if I had crossed a line by asking for a test. Who would do such a thing? I started to feel I was overreacting. The doctor didn’t seem worried. My symptoms, which are listed on the CDC guidelines, did not trigger any response from the hospital. I had to ask to get tested even with my history and symptoms.

The doctor entered the exam room again and said they would administer the test, but would have to leave the room to put on the proper personal protective equipment required to administer the test. The doctor explained that the test would aerosolize whatever was in me and that’s why the PPE was donned for the test.

Upon returning to the exam room in full PPE, the doctor removed a long, thin swab from a tube. The swab was inserted in my left nostril, and I am pretty sure the back of my left eyeball. It remained in my nostril for about 5 seconds while the doctor rotated it inside my head. Then she slid it out and immediately returned the swab to its clear plastic tube. And just like that it was over.

“You should get the results back in 24-48 hours,” the doctor said. That was on June 30, the Tuesday before the July 4 holiday weekend and the first day of a weeklong vacation I had scheduled.

After the test was completed, I was given instructions to self-isolate at home until the results come back. At the end of the day Thursday, I still did not have results and had to settle into the idea of staying home and canceling a camping trip for the weekend.

I thought about how many people would self-isolate in the same situation. Does a delay in receiving results pose a threat to the greater community?

Finally on Monday, July 6, I received a negative test result. A sigh of relief and a feeling of having cheated the virus came over me.

I really was surprised that it came back negative. But it also gives me confidence in the safety measures implemented at this point. I’m certain I have come across a positive case at some point. But good hygiene, wearing a mask, social distancing as well as being conscious and aware of your surroundings works.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.