A health service goes out to attend to the many people queuing at the Vicálvaro-Artilleros Health Center in the Vicálvaro district, in Madrid on September 28.Marta Fernández Jara / Europa Press

Symptoms started Monday afternoon. At first, it was just a slight itchy throat. Then difficulty swallowing. Then a headache. I took a paracetamol, attributed it to fatigue and hoped that the next day the symptoms would have disappeared. They did not.

That morning my head and body ached, but I did not have a fever. I was tired. I thought it would be a cold, or the flu, one of the many that my immune system is good at hunt every fall and winters and they leave me out of the game for a few days. Even so, as chief editor of Science of EL PAÍS, I read enough these months to know that these very nonspecific symptoms could also be coronavirus. I confined myself, contacted friends with whom I had spent the previous weekend, and started calling my health center. I say “started” because I did it for hours; sometimes they hung up, other times I jumped to another number, other times I listened to music, another time I even heard a voice in English asking me for patience. Meanwhile, I also tried to make an appointment through the Salud Madrid app. My doctor would be absent, they said for the next seven days, the app said, and they gave me the appointment for October 10, something totally useless had a cold, flu or coronavirus. In this app you cannot make an appointment with another doctor, or write an email to the center, or ask to be called. Come to the conclusion that there is no way, if you are suspected of coronavirus in the Community of Madrid, to contact your health center, which is what we are supposed to do if the symptoms are not serious and we do not want to saturate the Emergencies. I wonder how many people with mild symptoms leave it here and get on with their lives. In the end I ended up resorting to a trick: making an appointment with my nurse, and there yes, I was able to leave my cell phone to ask to be called the next day, Wednesday.

The symptoms, meanwhile, were changing. The cough began, the diarrhea appeared, the headache did not disappear even with paracetamol, the fatigue intensified, but the fever never arrived (one of the most mentioned symptoms in all studies), or perhaps paracetamol masked it. Fortunately, I have a lot of information at my disposal and a doctor sister is always on the phone. I never stopped thinking it was a simple flu, never stopped worrying that it wasn’t.

A nurse from my health center called me on Wednesday, took note of the symptoms and scheduled the PCR for the next day, Thursday, at 9 in the morning. I had the bad luck that that day, at that time, it was pouring rain. A score of people queued in the rain to the left of the entrance to the health center waiting for the PCR. On the right were those waiting for analytics. We weren’t worried about keeping a safe distance, as we were getting soaked. We waited for about 20 minutes and, meanwhile, several elderly people approached the health center because they were not feeling well and they could not get anyone to pick up the phone to give them an appointment. They could not go inside to sit without that appointment, and they remained outside the health center, while an overwhelmed nurse tried to organize the PCRs, the tests and the appointment requests, in the middle of the chaos. They gave me a paper that started “You have been in contact with a positive …” and I considered it useless to explain that no.

I was struck by the calm inside the health center compared to the chaos at the entrance. A barricade of overturned chairs and benches blocked the way, and a nurse would go over the history and tell you where to wait for the call to do the PCR. We went two by two and they quickly and efficiently did the test (swabs through the nose and mouth) which, you know, is extremely unpleasant, but quick. Four or five days for results, they told me. They also told me that they do hundreds of tests a day, just at this center. No phone rang the whole time I was there, where do the calls that no one answers go?

The symptoms were subsiding, which convinced me that it was a simple cold and had exaggerated. I regretted taking the test; how much time wasted, precious and necessary reagents spoiled, my partner and I confined, and all, for a simple sore throat… Some friends made fun of the excessive precautions we had taken, and I agreed with them. Still, I kept an eye out for any other symptoms; I know that sometimes the virus attacks with virulence after a few days when it is simply taking the measure of your immune system.

We were ready to spend the weekend at home when on Saturday I remembered that a friend had told us that she could see the results of her PCR thanks to a page that she did not know and that no one had told me about: My health. It is a website of the Community of Madrid where you can access your medical history, as long as you have a certificate, electronic DNI or PIN code. I have it, I agreed, and in addition to remembering that I also got influenza A at the time (damn immune system) there it was: a PDF with the result of my PCR, dated the day it was done, two days ago. There were no doubts: positive result.

There are many things that are going through your head at that moment: Why doesn’t anyone call me? Why does no one make sure, since my symptoms are very mild, that I am at home and that I do not skip the lockdown, or that I do not have a job that forces me to leave the house? Why don’t you drop me? Why isn’t anyone asking me for my contacts? What do I do if I get worse? Who do I call? I tried to use the Radar Covid app, but, of course, it doesn’t work in Madrid. I remembered all my (fortunately few) movements during the previous week and informed my contacts myself. You feel a mixture of bewilderment, helplessness and yes, a certain fear of getting worse but, above all, a lot of guilt for the possibility of having put your loved ones in danger. Today, Monday, a nurse from the health center called me to give me a result that I already knew. She was surprised: she did not know the website of the Community of Madrid. She has not asked me about my contacts, and has simply reminded me that I must be confined for 10 days, according to the new protocol of the Ministry. I’m still waiting for a call from some tracker; I hope someone asks me if I live as a couple or not, that someone worries because I tell who I have seen before about my symptoms, when it was already contagious and I didn’t know it. I hope that the app that should work so as not to leave this tracking to the individual will begins to work in Madrid. I know I hope in vain. I feel helpless for the one who should have looked after my health and, above all, for the health of those who have surrounded me and surround me.

If you live in Madrid, and you also feel helpless, my advice is not to leave your home (if you can afford it), do not trust if you only have mild symptoms, write down your contacts and prepare to self-manage your illness.

Information about the coronavirus

Here you can follow the last hour on the evolution of the pandemic

This is how the coronavirus curve evolves in Spain and in each autonomy

Download the tracking application for Spain

Search engine: The new normal by municipalities

Guide to action against the disease

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