‘I couldn’t see my doctor’: Being ill in Norway with suspected Covid-19

What do you do in Norway if you think you have the Covid-19 virus? Writer Agnes Erickson tells her own experience.

'I couldn't see my doctor': Being ill in Norway with suspected Covid-19
Illustration photo. AFP
It was a Friday morning and I was just getting my kids off to preschool when I felt it. My gland was swollen on the left side of my throat and it hurt a little when I took a sip of my coffee. 

‘Don’t panic’ I thought. Like most everyone else in Norway, and around the world, having a symptom that could possibly lead to a positive Covid-19 test added stress to the situation. 

I could feel my swollen gland throughout the day but it never got any worse, so I chose to focus on work, and even went for an already scheduled run I had with a friend later that evening.

The weekend looked like most others as I prepared for Christmas and spent some quality time with my family. But even while watching my daughter pick out a Christmas tree, or when eating julegrøt (Christmas rice cream) with my in-laws, I was still mildly aware of my swollen gland.

READ ALSO: How Norway's Christmas traditions could be affected by Covid-19 pandemic

By Monday the swelling on the left side of my throat had progressed from a slight annoyance to real pain. ‘Ok, it’s time I check-in with my doctor,’ I told my husband. I felt pretty confident it wasn’t Covid-19. I had no fever, no cough, and could still smell and taste my food. I had even had enough energy to be going for daily runs since Friday. Still, it felt wrong not to make sure.

I called my doctor’s office to get an appointment with my GP right when they opened that morning. The receptionist asked me if she could inquire as to why I was making an appointment. “Sure, I have a swollen gland and my throat has started to hurt,” I told her. She immediately let me know that I wasn’t allowed to visit my doctor if I had any cold-like symptoms.

I was surprised. In a country that boasts having one of the best healthcare systems in the world, my attempt to see my doctor had been met with flat-out refusal. Not just Covid symptoms, but one common cold symptom could keep you from seeing your GP. She let me know that if I wanted an appointment, I would have to go through the smittevern kontroll (infectious disease control) before seeing my doctor.

After accepting that this is just how it was these days, I hung up and was almost immediately called by the head of infectious diseases in the small town of Mandal, where I live.

She gave me an appointment time for later that same day. “Go through the white tent and press the buzzer precisely at 4:30pm,” she said. It was no-fuss, no pleasantries were exchanged, and the entire 19-second call gave me the impression that this system was up and running, despite being almost brand new.

When I arrived at my appointment later that evening I became overwhelmed with emotion. Part of my job is to write about Covid. I haven’t seen my parents in ten months because of Covid, and I’ve used more hand sanitizer this year than most will in a lifetime, but the reality of the pandemic really hit me right then.

Here I was on a windy winter evening in Norway sitting in my dark car, in this dark parking lot, staring at the white tented entrance of what was previously the emergency room in Mandal. I was scared out of my mind that by ignoring a swollen gland over the weekend, I could have possibly put others in serious danger. A swollen gland, and now a sore throat. Two things that in my pre-pandemic life wouldn’t even have been enough to call my doctor. The pain in my throat suddenly magnified, and my thoughts raced as I waited the two minutes before my scheduled appointment time.

At 4:30pm, I rang the buzzer and a nurse in full pandemic protection gear came to open the door. She greeted me by name and already knew that I was suffering from throat pain and nothing more. She took me into a room that smelled sterile and held only medical equipment. It was just myself and the nurse. After taking my temperature, and seeing that I didn’t have one, she called the doctor in for further examination.

READ ALSO: The vocabulary you need to understand the health system in Norway

The doctor came in matching protection gear as the nurse and proceeded with more in-depth questions about my condition. As he was feeling my glands, the nurse came over, took my hand and told me that I would feel a prick. She had suddenly taken my blood and I was startled as to why? “Was that the Corona test?” I asked. I knew it wasn’t. I had heard about how they test with a nose and throat swab. But it seems as if there is no ‘normal’ during these times. Only ‘new normal’.

I didn’t hear why she took my blood as her answer was muffled by her mask and she was walking away from me. The doctor concluded that I was suffering from a viral infection and had an abcess on my throat that would need to be surgically removed if it got any bigger.

Hearing my diagnosis in any other situation would normally bring me a sense of relief. But there, in that giant sterile room alone with the doctor who never gave his name and whose face I couldn’t see, I felt nothing. I could still have Covid, on top of my other newly diagnosed illnesses.

The doctor seemed unsure of how to proceed. His uncertainty didn’t make me nervous as I felt the moments where he stalled discussion while deep in thought were just to make sure he was doing the right procedures. “I think we should do a Covid test, just to be sure,” he said. Who was I to argue?

As if on cue, the nurse reappeared and unwrapped a sterilized test. The doctor explained to me what he was going to do before administering the long swab to the back of my throat and then inside my nose. Even though I knew what was coming, it was still a shock. The throat swab felt like all the others I had been previously subjected to, but the nose swab went so far back it felt like it was being taken in the back of my throat.

Was it a painful test? No. Was it very uncomfortable? Absolutely. After the doctor finished the test, he asked me if I had any questions. “When do I get the results?” I asked.

He explained they should be posted on the Helse Norge website and that I could log in through my bank ID. I scratched my nose as I thanked him and the nurse. It still felt like the swab was in there.

As the doctor said, I received my results around 7pm the next evening. Negative. I had never been more excited to ‘just’ have a viral infection and abscess in my throat. I swallowed (painfully) and the relief that should have come with a diagnosis the day before, finally flooded through me.

I don’t know what life after the pandemic will look like in Norway, but I do know what it looks like in the midst of one. And from what I can see, these new systems that have been set in place are functioning as best they can to protect Norway’s residents.


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Ticks in Norway: Do I need to take a vaccine? 

The summer months in Norway mark tick season, where thousands of people are bitten each year. Although most people are usually fine, tick bites come with the risk of Lyme disease. Here's what you need to know about the tick vaccine. 

Ticks in Norway: Do I need to take a vaccine? 

The summer months in Norway mark tick season, where thousands of people are bitten each year. Although most people are usually fine, tick bites come with the risk of Lyme disease. Here’s what you need to know about the tick vaccine. 

Ticks, or flått, in Norway can be found mainly in the southeast and along coastal areas in the west, and as far north as Bodø. However, ticks can also be found further inland. 

They can be found in forests, meadows, and long grass, meaning the biggest risk is when you’re out in nature – especially hiking, camping, or berry-picking.

Ticks are active when the temperature is higher than around 5c, but are most common during summer. Tick season is roughly from April to September in Norway, with most bites occurring in summer.

The two main tick-borne diseases in Norway are Lyme disease and Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE).

Lyme disease (also called borreliosis) causes no symptoms in around half of all people who catch it. For others, it can cause skin redness, headaches, and pain and can attack the nervous system.

Around 25 percent of all ticks in Southern Norway are carriers infected with the Borrelia bacteria, according to The Norwegian National Advisory Unit on Tick-borne Diseases.

TBE is a viral brain infection, which can cause a range of symptoms, usually starting with typical flu-like symptoms and then developing to include nausea, dizziness, and in around a third of cases, severe problems. Symptoms usually appear around a week after the bite but can take longer. There is no cure, but it can be treated, and there is a vaccination too.

While ticks are found across Norway, ticks carrying TBE, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, are mostly concentrated in Rogaland, Vestfold and Telemark, Adger and Viken. Around one percent of ticks in Norway carry TBE. 

Who should get a vaccine? 

Vaccinations are recommended for those living in areas with TBE-infested ticks and/or who spend a lot of time in forests. More specifically, the vaccine should be considered for children and adults in west-Agder, east-Agder, Telemark, Vestfold and Buskerud.

You get three doses within the first year, each one increasing the level of protection, another amount after three years and then will need top-ups every five years, every three years if you are over 60.

Because you need several doses to be fully protected, it’s recommended that you begin the vaccination programme well ahead of tick season. It’s also worth noting that you should receive the third dose before the next tick season starts if you receive your jabs mid-tick season. 

However, the incidence rate of TBE in Norway is low, meaning that in most cases, you won’t need to take a tick vaccine and can instead focus on preventative measures. 

If you are spending time in wooded areas with long grass, especially those with a high tick presence, take precautions like wearing long-sleeved clothing and tucking trousers into socks. Also, avoid brushing against long grasses by walking along the middle of the path where you can.

After returning home from a day out, you should check carefully for ticks and shower shortly after coming inside. This can give you the chance to remove them before they bite, for example, if you spot them on your clothes. Putting clothes in a tumble dryer for one hour should kill ticks.