Well, this was to be the results blog. However, day three turned into day four, then day five…the test was Sunday morning, it’s now Friday and still nothing. They told me 2–3 days during my screening… Fortunately, I am still breathing ok, haven’t developed any alarming symptoms and continue to live normally in expectation of a negative result. In fact, I suppose a longer wait could mean my initial test was negative. As the lab tech I spoke with confirmed, the screening test (also called “presumptive” or “qualitative”) can render false negatives in up to 15% of cases, whereas positives are very reliable, So — a negative result prompts a reflex test (“confirmatory” or “quantitative”) to establish definitively whether SARS-CoV-2 (the virus pathogen responsible for the COVID-19 disease) is present.
So I called the lab. And I called. I couldn’t get through after repeated attempts. So I gave up and had a cup of tea. Then I called. Miraculously a young lady answered!
Now things started to get interesting.
At first she offered little in response to my asking about my sample’s status. This was the lab, and the lab doesn’t give out results (I thought, “isn’t that the whole purpose of a lab?” That made me smile a bit…). Didn’t I get a piece of paper with a number to call about results? (No, I didn’t) When she found out it had been five days her whole attitude changed and she became my advocate. A sample taken Sunday morning would have been turned around by midnight the same day by her lab (Augusta University Health). This was not acceptable. So she looked it up, and confirmed the record was in the system — with no result as yet (she repeated that she couldn’t tell me directly the result even if she did find one). My new advocate turned out to be Kimya Jones, M.S., HT (ASCP), Histology Lab Director. She assured me she would “take it up the chain” and let me know what she found.
Within the hour, true to her word, Kimya called me back and let me know that she had indeed taken it up the chain. When I asked how far, she told me “about as high as it can go”. That turned out to be Brandy Gunsolus, DCLS (Doctor of Clinical Laboratory Science), who apparently works directly under the medical college president and is in charge of dealing with such escalated issues. I should get a call from her soon, Kimya told me. And if I didn’t I should get back with Kimya. My advocate! She was concerned, and asked me how I am. I told her that fortunately I have had no additional symptoms arise and seem to be ok. She prayed that would remain the case.
I did find out some details on the lab’s setup in the course of pursuing my wayward result that those of you interested in labs and lab informatics may find interesting. Any time I asked about the LIS, I was met with almost audible eye-rolling as they explained it wasn’t really involved. I learned the lab’s instrument outputs were sent as file transfers (.csv) to the university hospital’s Pathnet system (Cerner). I also learned that the lab has processed 32,000 COVID test samples so far.
Given the high throughput, there has also been a commensurately high number of invalid samples — leaky, contaminated, etc. Without being told for sure, I gathered mine may be in that number. And if that is the case, I wonder when someone might have let me know. Had I been in the hospital on a respirator would it have somehow been prioritized?
So…for now, I await the call that resolves the mystery. Either the sample somehow never got tested, or it was invalid, or…something else. It’s even possible my sample went to UVA or Quest. You can be sure I will let you in on the news in my very next (unanticipated) FOURTH part of the series: A Day (or Three) In the Life of a COVID-19 Testing Event: The Conclusion.