Giving HIV the finger

I know there’s a general stigma about talking about sexual health and testing, but it’s hugely important and affects a huge swathe of the population. Just like (until relatively recently) mental health issues, the prospect of talking about sexual health can prompt intakes of breath and moralistic judgement that threatens to ride roughshod over the very real human cost that comes when it is ignored.

I’m a little late to the party, but the end of November saw an initiative in the UK looking to raise awareness of HIV testing (alongside other tests). It cropped up just as I’ve been talking with my partners about condom use and ceasing to use them in our triad.

Although we’re all pretty sure we don’t have anything lurking in our systems, it seemed a good idea to look at testing – and it has been difficukt to schedule all going at the same time with our busy lives and the distance between us.

I was surprised to find out just how easy it was to get a free home-testing kit arranged, so in the spirit of raising awareness, I’m talking about my experience of using one.

The parcel came through within three days of ordering it, and I’ll admit it sat on the table for a few more days as I summoned up the nerve to do it. I’d answered some questions online about sexual activity and it came down to a simple urine sample, and a blood test. I opted for the blood test for HIV as I’ve never been tested for it before (to my knowledge unless it was done as a general screen while in hospital).

The idea is that you take the samples, package them securely in the materials provided and send them back in a sealed Freepost prepaid plastic envelope.

The urine test was simple enough, but the blood test package specifically included for testing for HIV came with automatic lancets, alcohol wipes, plasters and a long set of instructions that I had to read and re-read several times.

They essentially boiled down to washing your hands in warm water both to clean and encourage good blood circulation. Then dry your hands on a clean towel as blood drops are harder to form on wet skin.

Alcohol wipes are provided, so one last clean with those was needed before I went any further.

The next step is to press the lancet (which looked like a key fob) firmly against the side of your little finger and squeeze it to trigger it. It feels like a rubber band flicking the skin and theres an initial small spot of blood that the instructions said to wipe away.

Then, for lack of a better description, I had to milk my little finger to fill the small tube with blood drops. It didn’t hurt, beyond a little bruising this morning, but it did feel odd to see the drops slowly growing and dropping.

Plasters are provided, and it took moments for the blood drops to stop forming when I’d done enough. The cap for the vial clicked shut when pushed on and then all that remained was to gently shake it a few times and check all the labels were correct before sealing everything away and putting the package by the door to drop into a postbox in the morning.

So, in theory, in a week or so I’ll have the test results back. I’ll keep you posted.

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