They poked my soul with a long cotton swab

  • Published
  • By Story by Spc. Joshua Syberg
  • Indiana National Guard

As a journalist, I find that one of the most important parts of writing a compelling story is having the right perspective. Without it, the written word can come off as naive, ignorant or disingenuous.
A unique experience relevant to the story helps build that perspective.
So, they poked my soul with a long cotton swab, but more about that later.
Thursday, members of state leadership worked side by side with combat medics from the 215th Area Support Medical Company, headquartered in Franklin, Indiana, and Indiana State Police to provide free coronavirus testing for police officers and Guardsmen.
“The National Guard and the Indiana State Police have been absolutely invaluable when it comes to the response to COVID-19,” said Dr. Kristina Box, Indiana State Health Commissioner. “There were many times in our meetings when Brig. Gen. (Dale) Lyles (Indiana’s sdjutant general) and his team would speak up and say, ‘We can help you with that. We can help deliver food to people who aren’t getting food because schools are closed, we can help you with those drive through testing sites’ and so many different areas.”
According to, Indiana has tested a total of 496,835 individuals. After today, I can count myself among the poked. I can also help grow the number of people tested, even if it is just by one, and hopefully quell the fears surrounding the nasal swab.
“Most of my nursing experience was at Riley either in intensive care or the emergency department and our philosophy was, ‘This isn’t my patient. This is our patient,’” said Terry Stigdon, a registered nurse and director of the Indiana Department of Child Services. “Today we see a collaboration between National Guard and state police to get folks tested so we have a better picture of what’s going on in Indiana.”
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the Indiana National Guard assisted various organizations throughout the state in community kitchens, food banks, hospice care, assisted living facilities, as well as drive-through and walk-in testing sites.
“I think we are all here because of a sense of duty,” said Sgt. 1st Class Billy Conner, a combat medic with the 215th ASMC. “Events like this hardly ever happen. Just being deployed here in the United States doing something as important as this gives everyone a sense of feeling good about what they are doing. That’s why we joined the National Guard.”
Conner and his team of combat medics volunteered for this mission and countless missions before in coronavirus relief efforts. However, bringing grizzled, burly police officers to tears for a day after testing them with a 6-inch swab can be a thankless job.
After seeing this constant display of involuntary tears, I understandably had my worries.
However, I needed perspective and Maj. Charles Sorrells, the assistant chief of staff of human resources and administration for ISP, was going to help me with that.
“Indiana was one of seven or eight states that is leading the country in testing,” Sorrells said. “Events like this, with approximately 45-50 percent of most people that are positive are asymptomatic carriers, the number of asymptomatic carriers we can identify and then do effective contact tracing back is going to help eliminate this.”
Thus, the time had come to do my part for my community and make sure I was not a carrier.
Registration was efficient and professional. I even opted to have my results sent as a text to my phone. After registration unsealed my test, printed and adhered my information to a vial and gave me the all clear, I was led into a room of my fellow Guardsmen, doctor Box and nurse Stigdon. All of which were dressed head to toe in protective equipment and face shields to keep me and themselves safe.
After sitting down, I was relieved to hear that the new swabs were flexible. Making the test easier to administer.
The swab enters through the nose to the back of the throat to get the best specimen possible. The burly tears I saw before were due to the lachrymal reflex, causing your eyes to tear if done correctly. The best way I can describe this reflex is if you get a nose hair pulled. More accurately, if a lot of nose hairs are pulled.
The distance the swab enters your nose does seem like they are trying to swab your soul. However, the distance is not painful, just unnatural.
As a person who has seasonal allergies it felt like the world’s worst nose tickle. My eyes wanted to water, my nose wanted to itch and I wanted to sneeze on nurse Stigdon.
After the 20 seconds it took to administer the test and involuntarily weeping in front of my peers, this once intimidating event was over.
Twenty seconds.
You could save family, friends and even strangers’ lives with overcoming fear for just 20 seconds.
So my advice to you, get out there and get tested. It’s good for your soul.