Posted by Dave on February 4, 2010 | 12 Comments
Don’t get me wrong: I’m quite certain I don’t have HIV. But I’ve never been tested. I can remember a time in the 1980s when I thought it could be possible. But now Greta and I have been married for over 20 years. She was tested routinely during both of her pregnancies and came out negative.
However, from a public health perspective, regular testing of people in high-risk groups is essential for preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS. Since there is a simple, FDA-approved, over-the-counter test, I thought I’d give it a shot and let you know what it’s like.
I have to admit, even though I’m sure of the results, I’m a little nervous about this. Since the InSite says it might not be available in every state I did an advance search and found out that a nearby Walgreens has them in stock. However, the Walgreens is about a 5 mile drive, and we have a CVS right here in town. Their website isn’t as friendly, and it doesn’t say one way or another whether it’s in stock. I guess I’ll just have to go to the store and ask.
Of course, I could just drive to the Walgreens. I’d be much less likely to run into someone I know there. But many folks may not have that option, so I decided it would be better to try the local store first.
I must say, I’m a little nervous about this. Who would be the most embarrassing person to run into in line? What would I say to them? Generally people don’t chat about their … um … personal purchases at a drug store, but perhaps word could get around. Clearly most people know that HIV is usually transmitted via unprotected sexual contact or intravenous drug use. Given that anyone in town who knows me knows I’m married, there’s a lot of potential for embarrassment. But what if I really believed I might have HIV? The best thing to do is to get tested right away, regardless of what people might think. Of course, I could also order the kit privately online, but many people in risk groups don’t have this option — they don’t have credit cards and they might not have a computer. So let’s do this. I’m on my way out the door to the drug store now, and I’ll report back once I’ve made my purchase, probably in an hour or so. In case you want to watch this live, I’ll commit to an administration time: 3 o’clock p.m. US Eastern Time. Updates will be below the fold.
1:10 p.m.: Success! Our local store had just one test left. I wandered through the actual pharmacy section of the store for about five minutes, lingering near the condoms and pregnancy tests, but couldn’t spot the test, even though I knew what the box looked like based on my earlier internet search. Finally I broke down and asked the pharmacist. She wasn’t sure they carried it, but then she walked around to a different section of the store and found the one remaining box, hidden behind a home marijuana test. She was quite friendly, smiling as she handed me the box. I walked to the front of the store to check out, and picked the shortest line. Another woman stepped in line behind me.
I felt a bit like I did the first time I bought condoms as a teenager — a little nervous but also kind of cool. I’m not sure I would have had the “cool” feeling if I wasn’t pretty sure how this test was going to turn out. The clerk rang me up quickly, and I was done.
Cost: $64.94, after tax — steep! As an over-the-counter item, it’s not covered by my health insurance. Part of that cost is due to the fact that the test includes overnight express mailing to the lab where my blood sample will be tested. CVS does have a cheaper version for sale, using regular mail and costing $32.99. But not only is it online-only, it’s also out of stock. I guess most people want their results fast. I’ll be back at 3 for the actual test.
2:56 PM: Getting things set up in my kitchen. The box says the test is 99.9 percent accurate, FDA approved, and confidential and anonymous. It even offers results and counseling over the phone.
2:58 PM: Okay, I’m going to open the box. I’m taking pictures of this, but I won’t be posting them until after I’m finished. [update, pictures added!]
3:00 PM: Box is open. This is complicated. Quite a few instructions. Apparently the first thing I need to do is call an 800-number to register my sample.
3:02 PM: I called the number and registered my sample. Then I was given a short demographic test asking a few questions about myself and my risky behaviors — have I had sex with a man, a woman, taken unprescribed drugs by needle, and so on. Made sense. Then I was told that I could get counseling about my test results both now and after I receive my results. Apparently the most common reason they are unable to give accurate results is not getting enough blood, so they made it clear that I need to fill the sample card completely. I was given the chance to listen to a 5-minute informational spiel about HIV/AIDS, but I figured by now I pretty much know everything they might have told me, so I declined. Let’s get to the actual test!
3:21 PM: Okay, the test is done. Now my right index finger is covered with a bandage, so typing is a bit of a challenge. They didn’t warn me about this! Basically all you do is poke your finger with an automated poking device, then push the blood out to the tip. I made a little video of the whole thing, so after this is done I’ll see if I can put that up on YouTube.
3:26 PM: Next, I had to write my special “home access code” on the sample card. This is the number I’ll give them when I call in for my results. This is supposed to indicate that I consent to the test. I’m not supposed to sign, so as to protect my anonymity. Of course, “they” could just check my caller ID when I call, or look at my credit card data, but I suppose if I really cared about anonymity, I could find ways around that.
3:30 PM: I’m getting ready to put the sample card in the pouch, and it says I must air-dry for 30 minutes. About 20 minutes to go. I’m going to see about compiling those photos and video now. Back in a bit.
4:10 PM: The sample is dry. I placed it in a foil pouch, then a cardboard envelope, then a prepaid FedEx envelope. Now I’ll have to take it to a FedEx drop box for delivery.
4:36 PM: Here’s a YouTube video of the whole process:
I’ve dropped off the sample in the FedEx dropoff box. Since I paid extra for the “Express” test, my results should be ready tomorrow. I’ll share them as soon as I find out.