Nasal swab Covid-19
A health worker collects a swab sample from a man for a coronavirus test in New Delhi, India, on March 23, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

PCR test: most of us would be familiar with it by now. I have undergone at least four. If you have been travelling to Abu Dhabi or flying frequently, you’d have done many more. So the reluctance has worn off now. It’s like going for blood tests; you’re worried only till you get to the clinic. In these COVID-19 times, PCR tests have become the norm.

Yet, there are people who haven’t taken a single PCR test. How’s it possible? Simply because they didn’t fall ill. Didn’t have any COVID-19 symptoms. So why should they take the test? Unless, of course, if they were travelling.

I was under the impression that almost everyone would have taken the test at least once. After all, we’ve been living with the new coronavirus for more than a year. So chances of exposure are high. But some people have managed to steer clear of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Is it painful?

I realised that only when a friend asked me whether the test is painful. I was surprised by the question. So my response was: Haven’t you taken the test? He hasn’t. He didn’t need to.

That brings me to the question: Is the test painful? All of us have seen photos of scrunched up faces during nasal swab tests. That expression is more due to the irritation. Try and push a small feather up your nostril; you get the same expression. It tickles. It’s irritating. It’s got nothing to do with pain.

In the early days, a nasal swab test was a rarity. Only ENT doctors did it. That too only in cases of serious infections. It became a regular feature after the arrival of the coronavirus.

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Over the last 15 months, nurses too have become adept at it, having carried out innumerable swabs. Last year, after a swab test, my wife complained of a sinus infection, which she attributes to an overzealous nurse. That’s a rarity. My four swabs were mere irritations. And I barely felt the last one.

How do I do it? Simple. Close your eyes. Why? Because the sight of a long cotton swab will make you stiff. And you might even shake your head, which makes it worse.

So rest your head against the headrest, and close your eyes. Let the nurse tilt your head and take the sample. You would barely know it.

How I learned the trick

I learned this trick from my visits to the dentist. He’s got scary-looking instruments. They are all motorised, and the whirring sound would freak me out. And the nurse joins in with a water tube and suction tube. At any point in time during the dental procedure, they have at least three things stuck in my mouth. That worries me. So I close my eyes. And it has worked well.

I used the same strategy at the barbershop when they snip the fringes in front of my eyes. Or trim my moustache. I close my eyes. What you can’t see won’t hurt you. At least that’s what I thought.

So the next time you go for a PCR test, try this. It will work. I’m certain.

You are welcome.