Waiting on test results causes its own stress

  • Phil Scanlan on his patio. Scanlan self-isolated after suffering symptoms like those caused by COVID-19, the disease that results from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, also called the novel coronavirus. SUBMITTED PHOTO
    Phil Scanlan on his patio. Scanlan self-isolated after suffering symptoms like those caused by COVID-19, the disease that results from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, also called the novel coronavirus. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Phil Scanlan pays attention to his health.

Although Scanlan has stage 4 colon cancer, the disease is in remission, and he leads a more active lifestyle at 76 than most healthy people half his age.

When he realized he had seven of the symptoms of COVID-19 – dry cough, difficulty breathing, body aches, sinus headache, fatigue, chills or fever, and shortness of breath – he made the decision to get tested for the novel coronavirus and then self-quarantined.

Scanlan’s wife, Judy, who is also 76, has a condominium she maintains and has been staying there. The couple curtailed their hour-long walks on the beach and Phil stopped his 30-minute daily bike rides. Since Judy has shown no symptoms, she has not been tested. The couple has had no physical contact in more than two weeks.

“For three weeks, I have been confined to the house, and due to COVID-19 (symptoms) – fatigue, pain – and house quarantine, I have gotten little exercise,” he said.

During the period between when he started feeling symptoms and when he received his test result, Scanlan lived in 100% isolation, having his groceries delivered and prescriptions filled by mail.

Scanlan waited 11 days for his test results, which were, thankfully, negative. He calls the period “frustrating.”

“I was frustrated with not knowing,” he said. “Anxious, as I discovered there were seven symptoms of COVID-19 and I had them all. Frustrated I had no information on how to deal with each of the symptoms and the combination of them all. I was disappointed I was not eating well, being isolated. I was disappointed I was confined inside all day, every day. I was also reluctant to share my unknown status with my four kids.”

Scanlan said he tried to stay positive while waiting for his results.

“I was going to be optimistic whatever the test result,” he said. “If I had COVID-19, I would survive and then be immune to it. If not, I would survive and avoid the risk of COVID-19 hospitalization.”

He has since shared his negative test results with his children, and while he said he did not discuss any plans for his care if his test had come back positive, he has thought about it.

“My family believes I am strong enough to beat the COVID-19 virus,” he said. “However, after reading that only (a low percentage of COVID-19 patients who) go on ventilators survive, I probably would have elected to decline a ventilator.”

According to the UK-based Care National Audit and Research Center, 66% of COVID-19 patients who received advanced respiratory support, defined as invasive ventilation, BPAP or CPAP via endotracheal tube, or tracheotomy, or extracorporeal respiratory support, died.

While waiting for test results can be frustrating, Dr. Jonathan Williams of Amelia Express Care on South Eighth Street in Fernandina Beach said the testing process is simple and will soon have a much shorter wait for results. Williams said the first step in getting tested at Amelia Express Care is having an online doctor’s visit. A link for the visit can be found at the clinic’s website at ameliaexpresscare.com. If patients have difficulty navigating the online process, they can call the clinic and be walked through it.

A patient will be evaluated during the online visit and, if appropriate, be instructed to come to the office for a test. Williams said a member of the clinic’s staff wearing full personal protective equipment would meet a patient at their car and perform a PCR nasal swab test. PCR stands for Polymerase Chain Reaction, the kind of test performed on the used swab. 

The tests are sent to LabCorp, and the results are returned to the clinic and sent to the Florida Department of Health, usually within four to 10 days, according to Williams.

Patients pay for the telehealth visit, either through self-pay or insurance, but LabCorp will bill an insurance company for the cost of the test.

Williams said the clinic is implementing two new tests – the Abbott test, which uses a swab, and CoronaCheck, which is a blood test done through a finger prick. Both tests can provide results much faster, in as little as 15 minutes, Williams said, and have an average 93% accuracy rate. The average flu test has an average accuracy rate of about 80%.

Williams said the clinic hopes to have the new, faster testing in place within five to 10 days and believes insurance companies will be required to pay for them. “Faster results will help alleviate fears of patients and will help us protect the community,” he said.

Scanlan said he does not have complete faith that his test was not a “false negative.” He said after receiving the negative test results, his doctor diagnosed him with a flu or bacterial infection and prescribed antibiotics. He has since developed new symptoms that have made him doubt the original test results, he said.

“I also have developed a few additional symptoms from this,” he said. “I have regular constipation, dark orange urine, which is a sign of liver malfunction, and great difficulty sleeping.”

His doctor advised against retesting.

“My doctor suggested I did not need to know if I was (coronavirus) positive or not,” Scanlan said. “I just needed to stay home and recover from whatever I have. Going to a county health office for a repeat test would be an unnecessary risk to my life and to others. I agreed with his advice and will not pursue a repeat test.”