It’s fascinating how one little decision can have lots of repercussions and create so many “what if?” questions. Last week, my husband and I went for two of the 50,000 free serological (antibody) tests that Bergamo’s local government is offering to its citizens between 15th June and 15th July. So far it has been reported that around half of people tested have been positive for coronavirus antibodies. Our two-person household reflected that statistic with me being positive for antibodies and my husband testing negative.
To be honest, I wasn’t in the slightest bit surprised to find out I have had it. From mid-March to the end of April, I had respiratory problems. Being prone to allergies and only having registered a very slight temperature once (while checking several times a day), a doctor told me over the phone that I didn’t warrant a test. He told me that I should stay isolated, check my temperature at least twice a day and alert them if my symptoms changed or worsened. I was also pretty wiped out and lacking energy but I put this down to being incredibly busy with work, putting in lots of extra hours while getting used to the demands of teaching remotely.
Just before my symptoms started, my partner and I decided to self-isolate as a precaution. For about a fortnight we slept in separate rooms and stayed 2 metres apart from each other. Ironically, with me working remotely and him still out and about for work, this was mostly to protect me. Many friends laughed about this and we too wondered if we were being over-cautious and paranoid. Though we’ll never know for sure, this in-house social distancing may well have been the reason he didn’t contract coronavirus.
By mid-April, all the allergy-like symptoms were still there – sneezing, runny nose, blotchy and itchy eyes – along with some breathing difficulties; the latter not being a regular allergy symptom for me. I would get out of breath just speaking to people on the phone and I couldn’t exercise. I went to the pharmacy who advised me to ring my GP. Neither my doctor nor his substitute were contactable so I rang the out-of-hours service. They called me in straight away (only on the condition that I wore gloves and a mask). There, a doctor dressed head to toe in PPE told me to double up on my antihistamines and prescribed me a Ventolin inhaler. This was the first time I’d needed an inhaler in about 15 years! Sure enough, a few weeks later I was able to take the inhaler less and less, cut back on the antihistamines and feel normal again.
I did wonder at the time if it could have been Covid-19 but I went with the doctors’ diagnosis of “allergic asthma.” I didn’t think about it too much more until this past weekend, the final weekend of June, when I found out that I had Covid-19 antibodies. This made me incredibly curious! It’s quite possible that those symptoms in March and April were caused by the coronavirus. It’s also possible that I was positive but asymptomatic at an earlier or later point. I’ll never know this for sure. If those symptoms were Covid-related, it means that I caught it during the two-week period where Lombardy had shut schools but not yet closed bars/cafés/restaurants or ordered people to stay home. I just hope I contained it in isolation and didn’t pass it on to anybody else.
The implications of a positive antibody test were not entirely clear. For sure, anybody testing positive for antibodies must do a nasal swab to see if they still have the coronavirus. However, it was not clear at all if I needed to self-isolate in the days between the antibody test results and the Covid nasal swab results. Two different people on the Covid helpline did not know and my GP did not answer his phone as his office was already closed for the weekend. The site on which we booked the test did not give any guidance on this until two days after my result when I received an email advising me to self-isolate . Eventually I got through to a doctor on the out-of-hours service who told me to stay home until I had my nasal swab results. It seemed strange to me given that I had no symptoms and the only thing that had changed was the blood test I chose to do. Had I not chosen to do the antibody test, surely nobody would expect me to self-isolate. Just to be sure, I reluctantly had a quiet few days at home until I got the results.
Booking the tests and getting the results was easy. For the antibody test, I registered on Bergamo’s oggicomestai.it website where I was able to pick a date the following week. I had to fill in a quick questionnaire and then update two questions every day – “Do you have any symptoms?” and “Are you out and about for work or other reasons?” It was a simple blood test – in and out in under 10 minutes. Less than 24 hours later, on Friday, I logged in to see my results and, a few hours’ later, received a text prompting me to book my nasal swab on the site. I chose first thing on Monday morning. Having heard that the nasal swab was uncomfortable, I sat a little nervously in front of one of the three polling booths in a school gym. The same swab was put in one nostril and then the other which didn’t hurt. It just felt a little odd and made my eyes water. It was not worth being nervous about! Again, it was over and done with in no time.
Today, much to my relief, I logged on and discovered that I have tested negative for Covid-19. I am once again a free woman, delighted to get back to enjoying life safely out and about again!