Some doctors in Switzerland are not testing everyone with COVID-19 symptoms, and when they do, it can come at a high cost—both to patients' wallets and their personal safety. A personal report.
Last week, I woke up with chest pains accompanied by dry cough and shortness of breath. My first thought was: Could this be the dreaded coronavirus?
With “corona” being basically the only topic on everyone’s lips over the past few weeks, what else would I think? Nevertheless, I tried to stay calm: I am under 30 years old and in good health, so my chances of becoming seriously ill should be low.
Should I go to the hospital? Well, no: Government guidelines warn that you can infect other people. Forget about calling the hotline: A friend of mine—also in the “not at risk” category—waited on the line for hours, only to be told to self-isolate. So I called my health insurer, where a kind lady gave me the name of a nearby emergency clinic that accepts walk-in appointments. She wished me a speedy recovery.
Upon arrival at the clinic, the receptionist asked for my symptoms. “Chest pain, cough and some shortness of breath,” I said. “Great,” she exclaimed, visibly annoyed, and gave me a mask to wear. “You can sit over there and wait for your turn,” she said, pointing to area where at least another five other mask wearers were sitting—a scene that did not exactly inspire feelings of safety.
The waiting room was, in fact, divided into two areas: people with masks on—the ones with coronavirus symptoms—and everyone else. I sat down, smiled at the lady in front of me who looked a bit afraid, and waited patiently for my turn.
The doctor called me after a twenty-minute wait, and by the time I reached his office, which was one floor higher, I was gasping for air. The doctor found that although my temperature was 37.5 degrees, my lungs were doing fine.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the capacity to test everyone, and even if you tested positive, what would we do about it?” he asked. “Your symptoms are mild. We will check your blood to exclude other diseases. For the rest, I urge you to practice self-isolation and take some Xanax to calm down.”
According to Steven Taylor, author of “The Psychology of Pandemics” and a clinical psychologist at the University of British Columbia, the younger generations are concerned about the economic impact that COVID-19 is having on their lives.
As for me, while I was encouraged to hear that my lungs were doing fine, I wanted to know if I was infected so that I could warn people I had recently been in contact with. Including the cameraman I traveled with to Ticino—currently the hardest hit canton in Switzerland—last week who suffers from asthma. However, the doctor insisted that there is not enough capacity to test the “not at risk” part of the population.
This is despite almost a quarter of coronavirus patients in Italy—currently the country hit hardest by the pandemic—being between the ages of 19 and 50, with an increase in young patients requiring hospitalization. There are similar figures coming out of the U.S., where 705 of the first 2,500 coronavirus patients are between the ages of 20 and 44. And even if younger people have better chances of surviving the virus, they may very well be asymptomatic carriers—which makes getting tested all the more critical.
The doctor finally agreed to test me. The visit resulted in a hefty CHF 490 bill, to be paid upfront: CHF 204 for the coronavirus test, the rest for the doctor’s visit and other tests. Unfortunately, I only had CHF 280 on me at the time. When I mentioned this to the receptionist, she threatened not to proceed with the test—and only relented when I promised to pay the rest the next day.
I am now patiently awaiting the results. In the meantime, I am working from home, sticking to a strict self-isolation regimen, drinking turmeric tea—and definitely not taking Xanax.