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  • Chris Ellis

Swabs, Gazebos and Barcodes

Updated: May 7

Pulling into the coach station car park to what looked like the strangest BBQ you could ever attend. It was my time; not a drink in sight, no burgers cooking just Marines in masks, throwing plastic bags into cars.


Who would have thought, back at the start of the year that you wouldn’t be able to cough in public without people taking a step back in fear? As I sit here writing this, I trawl back through the chaos of memories flooding my mind from the last two months. What happened? What was the turning point? How did we end up here? All questions we could ask ourselves every day but now hold no real relevance.


I am no stranger to being poked and prodded by Doctors and Nurses. I have been exposed to a fair amount of radiation over the years, with countless X-rays and MRI scans. Suffice to say that life is not like it is in comic books, and I am still waiting for a transformation into a superhero! I have been clamped to a bed and operated on while being wide awake, taking selfies and chatting away with the Anaesthetist about tastes in music.

Thousands of people have been in my situation and had the same surgery; as routine as these types of procedure are, you cannot shy away from how frightening this experience is and how vulnerable it makes you. However, the feelings and emotions felt during those times seem to have fallen short of the fear I was experiencing, sat in my car, open mouthed, rubbing a swab on my tonsils.


Holding a piece of paper to the window with my name and a QR code on, a Royal Marine Commando giving instructions to me from the other side of the glass I joined the queue of cars. Checkpoint two, and the passenger window goes down a little. Clear direction from the Marine telling me where to go and if I needed anything was very reassuring. Throwing a clear plastic bag onto the passenger seat, I was sent on my way. Parking up, I opened the bag, pulling out the “how to” manual. The test itself is very straightforward and easy to do, although having to put a swab up your nose that has just been in the back of your throat is a little strange.


Swab suitably covered after exploring the deep reaches of my face, time to package this little thing up. Insert swab into vile, snap excess off swab, seal, barcode, bag. Simple enough? Well, when you bend the plastic stick 180 degrees and no ‘snap’. For anyone that is going to have a test, I would strongly suggest a side to side ‘wiggle’ technique to snapping the excess off, rather than adopt the “bend and panic” stance I took with this. Holding this vile while frantically looking around me for scissors that I know I don’t have. Upon engaging my brain, I managed to figure out the wiggle technique and sealed up my vile.


Barcodes at the ready, one on the vile, one on the bag and another on the registration card. I was set. Driving to the next checkpoint, the next task is to drop your test into storage box held outside your window. Consider that the Marine has undergone the most intense training to be one of the greatest military forces in the world and I had just struggled to snap a plastic stick. Being my inherently clumsy self, I managed to miss the container and instead now had a Marine pressing the container against my car with my test sandwiched between the window and the box. There is no scenario in the Marine training that prepares you for dealing with me. Thankfully the situation was swiftly dealt with and I could leave before I caused any more problems!


When the text came through less than 48 hours later to tell me I had a negative result, I couldn’t have been happier. There are thousands of people that are not so lucky. I hope and wish for a speedy recovery for them all.


I want to thank all of those Royal Marines that stand day after day in test centres across the country. These tests are vital for key workers to continue to do their jobs and help those that need it most. These tests also serve a more melancholy toned path to positive tests. The risk to keyworkers is ever present and at times lethal.


If you are a keyworker and are displaying symptoms then please take the time to book a test. We all need each and every keyworker to look after themselves as much as they look after others!


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