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DESTIN — At first, Melissa Olszewski thought it was just her allergies acting up. But when her runny nose and slight sore throat were joined by serious stomach issues last Tuesday, to the point that she had to leave work, she headed to the emergency room at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center.

The next day, she was tested for COVID-19 through the Okaloosa County Health Department. Finally, on Monday, five days later, she learned her test results were negative. A relief, certainly, but only after days of wondering what her future might hold.

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“The wait is hell, to be honest,” Olszewski, a 39-year-old Walmart cashier, said during a series of interviews last week as she waited for her test results.

The wait through the Okaloosa County Health Department can be lengthy. In most cases, with the exception of health care workers, first responders and people with pre-existing conditions that predispose them to COVID-19 — being 65 or older, or having diabetes or respiratory illness — the wait can be at least 72 hours.

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Tests done for first responders, health care workers and people with susceptibility to COVID-19 are handled through a network of state laboratories, according to Allison McDaniel, public information officer for the Okaloosa County Health Department. Once the required swabs are collected at the health department, they are sent to one of the state labs, with results coming back in 24 hours.

However, the clock doesn’t start until the swabs are collected, and it’s possible that even people with a clear need to have a quick test will have to wait for an appointment with the health department, McDaniel said, pushing the actual time between the need for a test and the test results beyond 24 hours.

A second priority for testing is people who may be exhibiting signs of COVID-19. When those people come to the health department, their swabs are sent to any one of a number of commercial testing labs, with results coming back in 72 hours, in addition to whatever wait there was prior to the health department collecting the required swabs.

A third priority for testing is people who simply want to be tested, but even then, they must be exhibiting some signs of the disease. As with second-priority testing, results come back from commercial labs in 72 hours after the health department collected swabs.

“It’s nerve-wracking,” Olszewski said of her own wait for results, “and I think that is draining, on its own, (wondering about) the what-ifs.”

“Everyday life is at a halt,“ Olszewski continued, describing her life-in-waiting. ”No work, no visitors, my kids are away at their dad’s. My life is not my life right now.“

Asked to self-quarantine following her test, Olszewski sent the three children still living at home with her — Eddie, 11; Zander, 7; and Klaus, 3 — to stay with their father, from whom she is separated, in Fort Walton Beach.

Respiratory issues made it difficult for Olszewski to talk, so interviews were done by Facebook Messenger.

“Hard to talk and catch my breath,” she wrote. “I have to pause often.”

Olszewski did, however, talk — at least a little bit — with her children while she was in self-quarantine.

“We have video chats,” she said late last week, while awaiting her test results.

Her sons weren’t particularly worried about whether they might have contracted COVID-19, but they did worry about her, Olszewski said.

“They worry a little, I’m sure,” she said, “but we don’t talk about me being sick. We talk about school, games, and things they are doing with Daddy.”

“It’s really hard for me, being away from them,” she said. “I’ve never been away from them like this.”

While she was waiting for her test results, Olszewski wasn’t able to spend Easter with her sons, for the first time in their lives.

“I have never been away from them on a holiday,” she said.

In addition to worrying about being away from her sons, and dealing with being by herself for much of the time, Olszewski was, of course, worried about how she might deal, medically speaking, with COVID-19 — if, in fact, she had it.

With virtually no more notion than medical professionals, who are struggling to deal with a disease for which there is no vaccine and no proven cure, Olszewski turned to whatever treatment ideas she could find.

”I’ve been researching and reading testimonials and basically they say to rest as much as possible and stay hydrated, kind of like with the flu,“ she said last week.

But Olszewski didn’t stop with just that approach.

“I have been treating at home with homeopathic remedies,“ she said. “I am currently doing a high dose of zinc and tonic water. Some doctors are saying that — and a high dose of Vitamin C, intravenously — is helping patients.”

Additionally, Olszewski used nasal sprays and throat sprays, along with a nebulizer.

“I am feeling OK,” she said in the midst of wondering what her COVID-19 test would show. “I am breathing a bit better, and coughing spells aren’t as frequent.”

In addition to worrying about herself during her wait for test results, Olszewski also had to worry about her boyfriend, who works full-time and is out of the house for a good part of the day, but who also lives with her.

“If I test positive, he will be out of work, too,” Olszewski fretted during a series of weekend text messages.

Balanced against that, though, is the sense of humor that Olszewski’s boyfriend brought to their struggle.

“Otherwise, I would go crazy,“ Olszewski said. ”He keeps my spirits up. He knows it’s hard for me being without my boys. He is a sarcastic goober just like me, and we laugh as much as possible to keep us both sane.“

Since learning that her COVID-19 test was negative, Olszewski is looking forward to a “redo” of the Easter she missed with her sons. “And, bonus, everything (Easter merchandise remaining in stores) is on markdown now,” she joked.

But even while looking forward to a belated holiday celebration, one thing that Olszewski still has to worry about is finding out exactly what kind of illness she does have, and what treatment she’ll require.

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“Whatever this is is still having me catch my breath often, and the pain in my gut is pretty nasty,” she said via Facebook on Monday.

Olszewski has insurance through her job, which she started a month ago, but it won’t be fully available for another couple of months. Thus far, she’s had to cover $200 in out-of-pocket expenses associated with her COVID-19 scare.

“I had to borrow some from a coworker,” she said.

In the meantime, she said, she’s waiting for word on the status of her federal stimulus check before she schedules a doctor’s appointment to find out what illness she might have. The stimulus checks, totaling $1,200 for most people, are part of a federal effort to counteract the economic problems caused by the virtual shutdown of the American economy as businesses have closed to help control the spread of COVID-19.

“No, I do not have appointment set up yet,” Olszewski wrote Tuesday morning. “It’s pending still.”