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'My heart broke as I saw kids put on face masks at stadium test'

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Sheena McGinley at her home in South Dublin

Sheena McGinley at her home in South Dublin

Sheena McGinley at her home in South Dublin

It started last Tuesday. Chills, low-grade temperature, scratchy throat, dry cough. It's probably just a cold... but no runny nose. Unusual.

Wednesday night brought shortness of breath, chest pressure, plus the inability to end a sentence without gasping.

It couldn't be it, could it? Being a mum-of-two, working from home, with a wildly mundane routine consisting of school pick-ups and trips to the supermarket, where could I have possibly picked it up from?

Concerned about passing anything on, I rang the HSE on Thursday morning. Despite the symptoms fitting the criteria, I hadn't been to an "affected region" or "in contact with a confirmed case", and was therefore told to ring the doctor.

However, by that time, Leo Varadkar had made his dawn address outside the White House, and getting through to my GP was nigh impossible.

The breathing difficulties were such that, when I did manage to, I was told to ring 999.

Obviously, there was reluctance. 999 is for emergencies, 'life and death' situations. Then the dutiful GP pointed out that breathing difficulties would probably fall under that remit.

I rang, sheepishly apologising to the operator, amidst a flurry of wheezing. When the ambulance service arrived, they asked me to put on a mask. Then the banter began.

After checking the vitals, they listened to my chest. "Have you any pain?" I replied: "Yes, on my right."

They confirmed there was a "crackle" in my lung and added: "We can bring you to hospital if you want, but I don't think it's necessary."

They suggested a "G&T in the garden away from the kids" before saying: "If you get any worse, call us again."

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The testing centre at Tallaght Stadium. Photo: Mick O'Neill

The testing centre at Tallaght Stadium. Photo: Mick O'Neill

The testing centre at Tallaght Stadium. Photo: Mick O'Neill

Swab

I'm not here to criticise front-line services - each and every one of them is a hero - rather, neither party should've been in that position.

Thankfully, the HSE is now collaborating with GPs who - after a phone consultation with a patient - will send an e-referral for a test swab.

After a particularly arduous weekend, feeling like there was a small elephant sitting on my chest, I got onto my GP again.

Finally, after numerous attempts, a test was organised.

At 4.15pm on Monday, I received a call asking if I could be at Tallaght Stadium by 5pm.

The kids were herded into the car, snacks were dispensed, and the husband careened up the M50.

Turning into the car park was surreal. It was vacant, apart from a few cars lined up in front of an ambulance, and four people in hazmats. I showed them my reference number through the windscreen.

Myself and my husband were handed face masks, before receiving two more for the kids.

This was the moment that broke me. There was the three-year-old and the seven-year-old, sitting in their car seats, asking why they needed to put "these things on", while grappling with the strings.

I would've done anything to not have put them through that, but what was the alternative?

Details taken, I was then asked to get out of the car. Following one of the hazmats into the football ground, I was led into what appeared to be a changing room, filled with six people - all suitably suited.

Throat

The official apologised for what was coming, but it was fine. After swabbing the throat, it was inserted into my nostril.

The same questions, regarding age and pre-existing conditions, were asked. Lastly, I was handed a ziplock bag labelled 'PERSONAL PPE PACK', containing extra face masks, a six-page handout regarding what to do between now and receiving the test results ("between 24 and 36 hours") and a black bin bag (double bagging of refuse is advised).

Additionally, I was told to stay in a room by myself, with a mask on, and not to hug my family or touch their faces - near to impossible with two young kids in a tiny terrace.

However, that's what I've done, as tricky as it is.

Should any of you (no doubt many will) find yourselves in the position of being called to a stadium near you, there are three things I wish I'd known.

Firstly, that it may not be a 'drive through' situation, so if you're not comfortable rocking around in your PJs, perhaps get changed beforehand.

Secondly, if you have kids in the back, forewarn them about the masks.

Thirdly, McDonalds drive through in Carrickmines is still operational for a treat on the way home, but only between 8am and 12am. You're welcome.