Why is no one talking about COVID-19 testing side effects?

Abbie Gatherum
6 min readOct 7, 2021

As the number of cases in my region soar, I can’t help but think about one topic that has received little to no light since the start of the pandemic: the side effects of being tested for COVID-19.

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the region I call home is being bombarded with an influx of cases, and with this comes exposure sites. As a result, nearly every day there are a dozen locations listed as somewhere that may result in you becoming a close or casual contact. Within a town of little over 3,000 people and only a handful of small businesses, the reality has begun to set in: COVID-19 is here, and it is bad.

Every day, the locals are being ridiculed in messages and texts from the Government as they list the exposure sites you need to get tested for.

But what worries me to no end, is that there is something that no one is talking about. The thing you can barely find information about when you Google it. The thing professionals are not talking about. The side effects of being tested for COVID-19.

I have been tested twice. Twice since the start of the pandemic, and I consider myself to be very lucky in that I have been able to keep relatively safe. But, while I have stayed safe from COVID-19 since early 2020, getting tested has caused me an inordinate amount of grief.

In 2020, I was tested in Alberta, Canada, just when the virus was beginning to ravage the world. I was ill- extremely so- and as more and more people were beginning to realise that this was no ordinary virus, I was forced to get tested and go into isolation.

And what an ordeal this was. I travelled over an hour to get to the nearest Doctor’s surgery, where I was handed a mask and asked to take off my shoes. The staff were friendly, but they were wary of me because of my symptoms, so they escorted me to a private room where the Doctor would soon see me and do the COVID-19 test. After waiting for what felt like an obscene amount of time, the Doctor came in and explained to me that he would be swabbing my nose. There was no discussion other than him asking me to take off my mask. I obliged, and what came next was the single most painful thing of my life.

The test.

For those that have experienced the ‘brain scraper’ effect, I can attest to this being the most painful thing I have ever experienced. I felt discomfort when the test went into my first nostril- of course- it is not natural. I shrugged this off, letting the Doctor swab the second nostril. The scream and pain that came after shocked the Doctor. Pain seared across my brain, almost causing me to blackout. Tears sprung to my eyes, blood squirted from my nostril, and pain, pain, pain.

Initially, I put this reaction down to the Doctor being inexperienced. COVID-19 was new, and so was getting tested for it. Perhaps the Doctor hadn’t done many of these? Perhaps he went too deep? Perhaps this was just the way of the test because it hadn’t yet been developed to a point where it was not excruciating?

When COVID-19 broke out in my small town back in Australia 19 months later, I dreaded getting tested again.

And then came the day I had been dreading since the start of the pandemic. I had been at two exposure sites and was listed as a Casual Contact. It was time to get tested again. Time to get my brain scraped.

I went into the test with an open mind, putting my last brain scraping down to the Doctor not being experienced enough and to the underdeveloped technology of the swap in the first days of the Pandemic. But this wasn’t the case.

I’d always wondered how some people could be so casual with getting regular tests. I’d always been confused at how they weren’t fearful of the pain. I’d always been amazed that they were able to soldier on, without complaint, after the most excruciating brain scrape imaginable.

What I didn’t realise was that no one was having the same experiences as me. And when I was tested again, causing me to blackout and not remember getting home due to the obscene amount of pain, I realised that this was a side effect of getting tested that no one was talking about.

The second test went like this: I rolled up to the testing facility after waiting for two hours in traffic. Although they had lost my registration in the five minutes between filling out the form and getting to the front of the line, I was ready for the test, and the staff were extremely friendly. The tester- a paramedic who lived over seven hours away and was working 12 hour days just to help get through the number of people requiring tests- made me feel comfortable and ready for what was about to happen.

I was relaxed. I was ready to get the test over and done with.

When he went into the first nostril, I flinched in pain. It hurt, but it wasn’t scraping my brain like the first time. Maybe that was just a one-time reaction? Maybe I would be fine?

Then he swabbed the second nostril. Instantly, I knew it felt wrong. I was gripping the chair, reeling back from the pain. I instantly lost sight in my right eye.

I have no memory of driving home. The pain was excruciating. I know I cried because my face was soaked when I finally walked through the door at home, barely able to see. My housemates attempted conversations, but I do not remember about what. All I knew was pain, pain, pain. The entire right side of my body was pounding, and the right side of my brain felt as though someone had been belting a hammer against it.

Nausea bubbled up, threatening to purge the lunch from my stomach because of the migraine. Ibuprofen didn’t touch it. Neither did water, or silence, or darkness. I laid in bed for over an hour, clutching a bag of frozen vegetables to my head in the hopes that it would ease the pounding pain.

While I appreciate the very few resources out there that try to explain the reasoning behind the pain- take this one for example, when I finally came to a few hours later, I was wildly angered at how few articles are really out there.

This pain was debilitating. It threw me in bed, unable to fend for myself and in such a state that I was unable to see or focus or feel anything but the throbbing in my brain and all down the right side of my body.

And what did these resources say? That “the anxiety of having the procedure” was what caused the pain. Or that I had a “narrow nose.” Or that “I might have something wrong with my nose canals.”

The thing is- while this may be true (I am certainly not a nose expert) I am angered more than anything that this is not a topic widely spoken about.

If you Google COVID-19 test side effects, you’ll see what I mean.

I am angered by the very few mentions that this test can cause you to be bedridden, have blood noses, migraines more severe than you have ever had, twitching eyes, sore noses, blindness, fainting- amongst so many other side effects. It angers me that this isn’t spoken about. It angers me that we blindly go into these tests without the knowledge that we may be holed up in bed with an ice pack on for a few hours or days just to get rid of the pain.

While the last two years has been a learning curve for the world, the medical industry being no exception, there needs to be a greater discussion around these test side effects so that citizens can be prepared. There needs to be more developed options for those that are reeling in pain every time we get tested. There needs to be an acknowledgement that one practice is not suitable for all.

It starts with the medical professionals of the world and ends with us- the ones who are suffering.

I now dread the next COVID-19 test. I dread the day I find out I am a close or casual contact. I dread the hours that will precede the test where I will either have a sore head and a bloody nose, or I will be stuck in bed trying to see and feel again.

And with the world moving forward, with borders opening up and COVID-19 becoming ingrained in our society, I dread the fact that tests might become a requirement for daily living.

This needs to be a discussion we are having if we are ever going to turn this strange and unprecedented world into our ‘new normal.’

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Abbie Gatherum

I’m Abbie, a Freelance Writer, Travel Blogger, and Globetrotter. Read my work to learn how to travel more | #Traveltips #Blogger | http://oneworldwanderer.net/