A trip to the local COVID-19 drive through was not part of our plans last weekend. But on Saturday, our little one woke up all wrong. He was listless, no appetite, and most surprising of all, no motivation for his first ever at-home Beaver Scout camp, due to take place that day and night. By noon he was fast asleep on the cushions outside his dining table den.


Nothing unusual for little children, in the normal way of things. But the big problem for us was his temperature. It started the day raised, and it just kept climbing. The midday nap didn’t do anything to help, and neither did the Calpol. By 1:30 it was 38.5C, and we decided it was time to confront the big, germ-shaped coronavirus elephant in the room.


A high temperature is one of the three key symptoms listed on the NHS website, alongside a persistent cough, and loss of taste or smell. The instructions are very clear – if you have even a single symptom, they urge you to get tested as soon as possible. So that’s what we did.


We’re lucky to have a COVID-19 drive through testing facility practically on the doorstep here in Milton Keynes, so after a simple online booking process, we confirmed a test place within the hour.


It’s all set up in a commandeered car park, just south of the centre, and it was like entering an unreal, apocalyptic reality; which I guess is what we’re in. My conversation through the passenger window with the people at the entrance was the first and last in-person contact we had. From then on, all instructions were given with gestures, by phone, or on laminated flashcards held up by hooded, masked staff: no photos or filming; windows strictly closed at all times, unless told otherwise; absolutely no leaving your vehicle.


The first instruction was to call a mobile number. The friendly voice explained that I would need to follow the series of coned roadways, running past portacabins set up here and there, into a parking bay. She explained that the test kit that would be deposited through the passenger window, and finished by listing the contents of the test and how to use it.


Test collected, we moved as guided around to the larger parking area where around a dozen other cars were parked in a co-ordinated, staggered fashion. Imagine socially distanced cars, and you get the picture. Here a staff member with smiling eyes gave me more instructions over the phone, including to turn on my hazard lights when finished, and we set about the purpose of the trip.


Have you ever tried to swab the tonsils of a six year old? If you’ve done it successfully, you have a much more co-operative child than I do (just see this post about his blood test last year). He was furious about it, and performed some choking and gagging that would rival an I’m a Celebrity bushtucker trial. So after a few tries – very difficult, because you can’t let the swab touch any other part of the body, or the swab becomes invalid – I decided to move on to part two of the test, which is taken from inside one nostril. He still made his displeasure clear, but we were on safer ground here. All that was missing was Ant McPartlin with a motivational “You’re doin’ great.”


Swabs done. Time to seal and bag, and get clearance to hand it in. Again, the smiling-eyed lady spoke to me over the phone and told me to drive to another portacabin, put the test in a deposit bin through my window, then close the window at once and leave the site immediately. Done. And in less than 48 hours, at 1am, we received texts and emails to tell us that he was all clear.


It was probably one of the most surreal experiences I’ve had. In the middle of our familiar town, our home, is this tightly-regimented hub where the danger of what we’re dealing with here is tangible. The extreme caution and measures taken to minimise any contact at all with anyone who could be infected is extraordinary – and if you didn’t take the threat of coronavirus seriously before you go, you certainly will afterwards.


But in this surreal place, the people were universally lovely. The masks, hoods and in some cases sunglasses did not turn them into cold, faceless administrators of the process. Whenever we could see eyes, they were smiling; whenever we spoke to someone on the phone, their manner was relaxed, but always clear and firm. I felt throughout that the measures they were taking were as much to protect us, as to protect them.


The process was impersonal, clinical, strictly controlled, and highly efficient – exactly what you would want in a testing facility for a dangerous disease. But it was still run by people who cared enough to make it less frightening, which meant so much to me. It helped me to be calm, which meant the young patient was calm (once I’d left his tonsils alone, anyway).


And I hope that if you or your child develops a symptom, this account of what it’s like has made you feel even more comfortable with getting tested as soon as possible. Stay Safe – we’re not there yet in beating this, but we’re getting there.

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