June 25, 2013
In light of this year's National HIV Testing Day, I got tested last week at GMHC (Gay Men's Health Crisis) here in New York City. It wasn't my first HIV test (I routinely get tested at my annual physical checkup), but it was my first time going to a free testing site.
When I got there, I was kindly greeted, given forms to fill out and directed to a separate waiting room. I guess it's separated for privacy purposes, which is nice if you don't want to be recognized by passersby. The room itself was small and there was only one other person waiting. There were a lot of pamphlets about HIV and free condoms (so if you need condoms, visit your local HIV organization).
It took me about 15 minutes to fill out all the forms, even at my quick pace, because there were a lot of questions ranging from your identity to sexual history. I should note that this was confidential testing, which by definition, "involves recording the name of the person who tests positive and reporting confidentially those names to public health authorities. Confidential testing is available in all states. Confidentiality laws and regulations protect against disclosure of the information. You should ask who will know your result and how it will be stored." If you're uncomfortable with that, you could use an alias or look for a site that does anonymous testing.
After I handed in my forms, I was then greeted by my tester, who I don't think will mind being revealed, but just in case, I'll call her Fiona. She was very warm and friendly and brought me into a private room for some pre-test counseling. It was basically more of the same questions, plus some education about HIV transmission and information about what the next step would be if I were to test preliminarily positive. For me, it was just routine testing, but I can still see why it can be daunting and nerve racking. Because even though I knew I would most likely test negative, in the back of my mind, I wondered, "What if I actually test positive?" But it's a thought I quickly dashed because I knew my odds and also knew it wouldn't be the end of the world.
After the consultation, Fiona took me into the testing room. She was very professional about it and made sure I was comfortable with each step she took. There was a little difficulty in actually drawing my blood. Apparently, if you prick me, I won't bleed. It may be because of my iron deficiency or a slightly blocked lancet, but after two pricks and some squeezing, she got enough blood for the test. It didn't hurt at all, and Fiona kept making sure I was OK.
Then she put the blood into the Uni-Gold test, which can detect HIV antibodies within 10 minutes. We chatted for about six minutes before she said, "Well, we still have to wait four minutes, but I can tell you your result right now. If you were positive this would have detected antibodies right away." Sure enough, after the full 10 minutes were up, I had my negative result. Another staff member was called in as a witness and I was given an official test result document. Fiona and I chatted a little more before I was on my way.
Overall, the experience was pretty pleasant. As I said, I can see why getting a test would make someone nervous, but GMHC provides a very safe space for people to do it. Their care and attention also shows in the amount of people they link to care after testing positive -- Fiona told me they have about a 95% linkage-to-care rate, which is tremendous! I would hope that every other HIV organization has the same philosophy and success. So for those of you who still don't know your status, get tested at a free testing site! It's simple, fast and you'll be in good hands!
Warren Tong is the research editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Warren on Twitter: @WarrenAtTheBody.
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