Monday 31 May 2021

Oh no, am I part of the Jem-Westgate cluster?

Dear Ministry of Health,

I thought I could get away with it.

The pandemic had been going on for more than a year, and I had managed not to get swabbed for a Covid-19 test. No sticks up my nose, thank you very much.

And then Jem happened.

All I wanted was some bananas and bacon bits.

That was why I was at the FairPrice Xtra hypermarket in the Jurong East mall that day.

So on May 18, when I read that you were “encouraging” those who visited Jem or Westgate shopping malls between May 10 to 14 to go for a free swab test, I knew. I just knew.

I reviewed my TraceTogether history. Yup, I checked in at Jem on May 12.

My nose can kiss its virginity goodbye.

On your website, you provided a list of options for the swab test, including “walk in to Raffles Medical at Shaw Centre Orchard”.

But on May 19, when I attempted to walk in to Raffles Medical at Shaw Centre Orchard, there was a queue extending dangerously into the multi-storey carpark.

I was willing to wait, but then I was told that only those who received an SMS from you could take the test that day. This was not mentioned on your website.

Since I did not get any SMS, I had to go back the next day. So I had gone all the way there for nothing.

Not cool, MOH. This was what I got for trying to be a good citizen?

I was so annoyed at you that I decided to skip the swab test altogether. I had no symptoms and was fully vaccinated anyway.

Since I am okay with needles, you may ask, why am I making a fuss over a swab test?

The difference is I have had injections all my life, but a long stick up my nose was terra incognita.

What if I sneeze in the middle of a swab? Would my brain be punctured?

So it is something I'm happy not to do if I don't have to.

A few days later, Jem and Westgate were forced to shut for two weeks as the cluster grew and grew. It was alarming enough that I reconsidered getting the stick up my nose.

So last Tuesday, after getting turned away at a couple of clinics near my home because I did not book beforehand, I finally ended up at Keat Hong Family Medicine Clinic where I was told I had to wait about 45 minutes for the test. No problem!

At least I was not queueing in a multi-storey carpark at the risk of getting knocked down by oncoming vehicles.

All this for some bananas and bacon bits. Damn you, alliterative grocery items.

After everything I went through, I wanted something to commemorate my hard-to-get first Covid-19 swab test.

So as I sat down for the swab, I set my phone to video mode and placed it discreetly on my lap to record the stick going up my nose.

I guess I was not discreet enough because the nurse said: “No filming.”

I thought I could get away with it.

As I fumbled with my phone, trying to switch it to photo mode, she said: “Please keep your phone in your pocket.”

Oh. She had to swab God knows how many people a day and did not need to deal with any more idiots like me as well.

Then I realised it might not have been the best idea in the world to antagonise someone who was about to insert a stick up my nose.

It was my first time. Please be gentle.

With my head tilted back, she went disconcertingly deep into both my nostrils. It tickled a bit but wasn't painful. I did not sneeze.

And thus my nose cherry was popped. I survived my first Covid-19 swab test and didn't even have a selfie to show for it.

The good news is I got my test result the next day – negative. I would not be adding to the Jem-Westgate cluster.

Ironically, that was also the same day I received an SMS from you “encouraging” me to go for a free swab test.

Where was this SMS when I needed it, MOH? You were a week late.

The information on your website has since been updated several times – no more walk-ins, it seems.

I just wish you had planned this whole testing thing better from the start.

To make up for it, the least you can do is allow selfies during the swab test.

You know, for the Gram.

Thank you.

- Published in The New Paper, 31 May 2021