Flowing Laterally

               ‘Don’t worry, it’s very easy’. This is always a terrible thing to hear. It generally means, ‘Don’t ask me how to do it’. In this case the ‘it’ in question is the Lateral Flow Test (LFT) which as part of my work at a care home, I am required to do twice a week for the Coronavirus.

I am also required to take another weekly test, the PCR, which according to Google, stands for polymerase chain reaction, a term somebody brighter than me will have to explain. The results of the LFT are said to take thirty minutes but in my experience, are obvious after about two minutes which is very handy. The problem is, they are said to be unreliable and also require the user to honestly declare the true result into the Government website. This is why we need the PCR backup which is sent away to a lab, the result appears by text message in the middle of the night. I am not sure why the results can’t be sent during daylight hours thus avoiding waking everyone, perhaps this is a question I could ask at a forthcoming Downing Street press conference.

Upon opening my box containing 25 Lateral Flow Tests, I encountered 16 pages of instructions written in a font so small, that a microscope is needed to decode it but ‘don’t worry, its very easy’ they said.

  • Step One – Specimen Collection

There is something awful about the word specimen in a medical context and collecting my own specimen is not something I look forward to. There is a medical swab to unwrap and I am instructed to ‘wipe the pharyngeal tonsils’ with ‘moderate force at least three times’. This sounds like a line from a horror script. I am guessing that ‘pharyngeal tonsils’ just means ‘tonsils’. Then the same swab should be ‘rolled five times along the mucus inside the nostril’. How lovely. This process inevitably leads to gagging and sneezing so should probably not be done in polite company.

  • Step Two – Result Extraction

The swab should be placed into something called an extraction tube which is basically a small plastic bottle. The next step is to ‘press the extraction solution bottle to drip 6 drops of extraction solution into the extraction tube’. On a side note, perhaps a thesaurus could have been located to avoid having an extraction solution bottle, extraction solution and also extraction tubes. Six drops strikes me as a strange number and when I try and get the correct number of drops, I always end up with more of a small squirt. I am yet to discover how many drops equals a squirt.

Anyway, only two drops from the tube are needed for the test cartridge and the manual tells me to ‘start the timer’ which makes it sound very exciting, like we are breaking a world record. There are three possible results. A line appears at C, means negative. A line appears at T means the test is invalid and a line at both C & T means positive. Why the letters C and T are used remains a mystery.

  • Step Three – Reporting

With the phrase ‘don’t worry, it’s very easy’ still ringing in my head, I am asked by the government website to create an account. It needs to know my gender, ethnic group, ethnic background, date of birth, address, email and phone number. After answering all these tedious queries, I am now ready to enter my result which I was hoping would be much quicker but no such luck. More questions come:

                              Who are you reporting a result for?

Who was the test for?

What is their unique code?

Which of these best describes you?

When did you take the test?

What is the test strip ID number? (which I need to enter twice)

Do you know your NHS Number?

As more and more questions arrive, I wonder if a set of breathing exercises could be suggested to ease the stress. Eventually the big moment comes and I am finally allowed to enter the results. The sense of relief is overwhelming, that is until both my emails and phone ping simultaneously with an automated message telling me:

Even for people who are a little forgetful, it seems unnecessary for the government to send out messages telling me things I only told them moments earlier.

And with that my LFT is finally done, until I need to do it all again in three days time, complete with obligatory sneezing.

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