Earlier this month, I was suffering from a high fever. Having suffered for a week, as I realised it was not a seasonal fever that I'm susceptible to once or twice each year, I consulted a doctor. The doctor prescribed a series of tests, including a Covid-19 test.
So I looked online for nearby Covid-19 test facilities and found an NGO-operated specimen collection booth. The day's quota was all booked, but a few hours later, the portal opened the registration page for the next day. I filled the online form and paid the fee via a mobile financial service.
I was happy, amid my week of suffering, about the simplicity of the registration process.
The next day, I took a rickshaw to the collection booth located at a dental college. I was very weak, so one of my family members was accompanying me.
As I was passing by another Covid-19 sample collection booth in the area, I saw a moderately long queue of suspected patients and was worried about how I would stand in a queue for a long time.
But I hadn't seen all of it yet.
As I reached my designated sample collection facility, I asked people for directions to the booth. Upon walking up to it behind a big building, I found at least three crowds around makeshift counters.
Someone told me to collect a form that I was supposed to fill up. I said, "I have already done it online. Please show me where I should show the digital token."
Turns out, everyone needed to fill that form, no matter if one had registered online or not.
I was embarrassed and was concerned that my photo would appear on social media and maybe in the newspapers if I fall on the ground. Just a day earlier, the photo of an elderly man being administered oxygen went viral as he collapsed on the hospital floor while his wife was standing right beside him.
As I was looking for a pen, a working-class man offered me one and requested to fill his wife's form. So I filled up two detailed forms standing under the scorching sun, as there were no sitting facilities. I started to feel unwell.
Once the form was filled, there was another queue to stand in to submit it. My brother was doing it for me as I was unable to do so. Now, the officials wanted to see the token number of my online registration.
Finally, we reached the queue for sample collection.
My brother stood at the queue on behalf of me while I was sitting on the doorstep of the guardroom-turned counter. There were no chairs in the vicinity to sit on. People completing the formalities for a test were all standing all around in the sun.
The queue was not moving and I realised it was not physically possible on my part to wait there anymore.
As I approached my brother to ask him to call a CNG auto rickshaw or something, I almost blacked out and fell on my knees. I somehow came back to the doorstep where I had been sitting and grabbed the edge of the wall to avoid falling aground. My brother rushed to find a vehicle.
Everyone around was staring at me with sympathy and worry in their eyes. I knew everybody, including my brother, needed to keep their distance from me. I was embarrassed and was concerned that my photo would appear on social media and maybe in the newspapers if I fall on the ground. Just a day earlier, the photo of an elderly man being administered oxygen went viral as he collapsed on the hospital floor while his wife was standing right beside him.
In the meantime, unaware of my ordeal, two people separately came and asked me to move from the doorstep to let them enter the room. I tried to apologise for creating the nuisance, but not sure If I could do it properly.
Finally, my brother was back with a CNG auto-rickshaw, and we were on the way back home. The gush of air made me feel better.
There are currently several variants of the deadly virus in the country. Not every patient's symptoms are the same. I did not lose taste or smell, and I did not have breathing issues. But unlike most Covid-19 patients, I was suffering from high fever while they only had a fever around 101° F.
For older patients and those with high fever and ensuing physical weakness, I felt it would be quite difficult for them to have themselves tested in such an environment that prevailed at the collection booth.
I was curious how others faced it. So I asked a colleague of mine, Kamrun Naher, how she found it in the BSMMU, where she got tested, twice.
Kamrun Naher said she was okay with the little hassle of filling up the form and moving between at least three counters, but she saw older people suffer in the absence of a sitting arrangement.
Another colleague, Masum Billah, got tested in a district hospital outside the capital. He had to wait in crowded indoors for an hour for a doctor's prescription and another hour to pay the fee and specimen collection.
He was worried that the crowding probably made some of the people contract the virus.
I eventually had to use the home service of a private hospital. Even that was not that easy. I tried again and again to reach two nearby hospitals, but their phones kept giving engaged tones. This was not unexpected given the rise of Covid-19 cases.
And even when someone from the hospital received my call, it took some effort and several calls to connect to the guy who collected samples for them. But at least, you could do it sitting at the comfort of your home. My specimen was taken at last, and the next day, a text message from the hospital said I tested positive.
The home service is expensive, and not everyone can afford it. So we need to have a critical look at the service provided at the public facilities.
Overall, the government in association with the private and non-government entities, is handling the herculean task of testing such a large population for Covid-19 well. It deserves some appreciation for being able to provide the test result within a decent time. Still, I felt it lacked one thing: empathy for a patient who might not be physically fit to move from one counter to another and wait in long queues.
I reckon it is rather good that the sample collection is done mostly in the open because closed places with crowds are way too dangerous in spreading the virus.
However, there should be sitting arrangements and canopies in the testing facilities, and the online registration process needs to be made effective. It is bizarre, to say the least, that every online service in the country, including the passport service, requires the recipient to fill up physical forms and submit it again, which was already done online.
A patient with online registration should be able to get tested showing the token number only. For those who do not have online access, there should be help available in the facility to help them out with the paperwork.