I Went For An HIV Test And This Is Exactly What Happened
IT'S LEGIT SO EASY TO DO.
Sitting in a small room, face-to-face with a stranger who sticks a needle into your arm, then reveals whether or not you’ve tested positive for a life-altering virus is a daunting prospect.
Of course it is. All of us get that pang of nerves when we go for sexual health testing –whether we have reason to suspect we might be carrying an STI or not. Well, this week is officially National HIV Testing Week. NHTW falls at the end of November every year, and during the week, all of us around England are encouraged to get into that small room with a stranger and let them stick a needle in our arm. Yay…?!
I’m due a sexual health check-up anyway, so got involved in the annual push for testing and took myself along to my local sexual health clinic. My local clinic that happens to be based out of a glass box under a railway arch! How very London. Quick reminder - this is just MY experience, and every clinic is different.
I grabbed a fruit and nut bar on the way to pre-congratulate myself on the experience. Well done, me.
Ok so I'm here - what tests should I have done?
During my previous sexual health check-ups, I’ve always been offered Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea testing as standard and HIV and Syphilis as optional extras. My sexual orientation, ethnic identity and sexual history apparently deem me low risk for HIV. You might generally get told the same thing as me and think that given HIV is tested for using a blood sample and the others a swab or urine test, you’ll give HIV a miss. Wrong.
All the tests are free and you’re there already. Go for the job-lot.
Once again in the glass box I was required to fill details out about myself including my sexual orientation and ethnic origins. You also provide address, email or phone number and specify how you wish to be contacted (ie if you don’t want your mum to end up opening a letter from the STI clinic over Sunday lunch).
But won't I have to wait for actual hours to get tested?
The reception staff told me I’d be waiting about an hour to see a nurse.
An hour is a while but hey, this is my health we’re talking about. Plus, THE WAITING ROOM LOOKS LIKE A SWEDISH FURNITURE SHOP AND THE COFFEE MACHINE IS AS FREE AS THE TESTING!! It’s totally free.
There’s even a dangling, genital themed, mobile art installation! I was more than happy to wait. As were half of South London also, judging on how busy the place was.
After pretty much an hour exactly, I was called out by my first name. My nurse checked a couple more details - that I had no allergies, had no symptoms, a bit about my most recent sexual experiences, what contraception I’d been using and that I wanted to whole shabang – Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Syphilis and HIV. I sure did.
My results would take two weeks to come through. If you have reason to suspect you are at particular risk, your nurse or doctor can do a one-minute test and tell you your status there and then.
Okay, but what actually happens? Does it hurt?
First things first - you don't have to do anything with a needle. If you are afraid of needles, call round a couple of local GPs and sexual health clinics to find one that offers saliva testing.
To test me for HIV, my nurse tied an elastic strap around my arm to pop the veins out. As I already knew, my veins are a bit awkward so she did have to jab away a little bit and switch to another needle to actually get a bit of blood out. Once we confirmed I was in fact a human being and did actually contain blood, we eventually got there. That probably doesn’t give you much peace of mind, but it really was just a little bit stingy and I think I’m a special case anyway.
And after a bit of self-swabbing for the other nasties, that was me all done and I was free to go, clutching a purple baggy of free condoms.
What happens next?
The clinic will call me within the next two weeks if anything shows up in my results and if not, I have the all clear. EASY.