Peeing into a cup and pricking her finger didn’t intimidate Louise Bruton initially, but several pricks later she was in a spot of bother…
My left ring finger was devoid of colour and with all of the kneading I’d inflicted upon it, it was so misshapen that it looked like an uncooked cocktail sausage. And for what? Under the premise of ease, experimentation and “taking one for feminism”, I ordered a home STI test and it did not go well.[restrict]
I don’t mind getting tested for STIs. I’m okay with my blood being taken, as long as I take a deep breath, look away and think happy thoughts, and I’m okay with being vaginally prodded and poked in the name of good health and a good time. I usually reserve my sexual health screenings as a Valentine’s Day treat for myself – which I believe falls in line with Emma Watson’s idea of self partnering. It also makes check ups as mundane and calendared as paying my TV license – but I indulged this Christmas and I needed a clean slate for 2020. New year, new me and all that.
To do the home test, all I had to do was pee into a cup – I pee into a bowl every day so I was confident in my abilities there – and provide a blood sample by pricking my fingers with a lancet. Priced at €119, the Standard 6 kit from letsgetchecked.com tests for Hepatitis B, syphilis, HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis, saving me €31 and a morning of inconvenience visiting a sexual health clinic. A bargain… until I discovered the true cost.
The kit arrives discreetly within two days of ordering it. As instructed, I register my kit online and file the starting time of the test – which was 8.15 – just so the lab has some idea of how old my piss and blood is, I guess. I’m no scientist. As predicted, I pee successfully into the provided plastic-lined cardboard box and using the pipette, I pipetted my own pee into a test tube. Securing the lid tightly on my pee tube, I move onto the red chapter.
Eyeing up the four lancets I am provided with, I read the instructions three times over. I obediently pierce my ring finger on my non-dominant hand first. “Pierce your finger. If possible, you should stand up while collecting the blood sample.” Our first obstacle; I cannot stand. No matter, I proceed, for I believe in my ability to circulate blood.
“After piercing, a small drop of blood will form… Massage your hand and finger for new droplets of blood. Do not touch or squeeze the fingertip.”
I massage my hand and a droplet appears. It is so small that it would barely quench the thirst of a tiny vampiric mouse. I “lightly tap” the droplets of blood into the vial, as instructed, but the blood barely bubbles out of me. Tapping turns into desperate, frustrated scraping. I scrape and I scrape and my finger stops producing blood. “If blood flow stops, you will need to follow this process using another finger.”
I prick the next finger and repeat. I scrape and I scrape until that finger runs dry. With two lancets down and only two more to go, I move onto my dominant hand where, I presume, the blood runs like Usain Bolt in the 100m. We have as steady a flow as the last sludge of golden syrup that refuses to be added to the cake mixture.
The vial demands 6ml of blood. I have captured less than 1ml. This is not what I envisioned for my morning. Finger number three enters the drying phase so I use my last lancet and attempt to pump two fingers at once. This does not work because my fourth finger – my last resort finger – stone cold refuses to bleed. Everything is riding on finger number three that just about splutters blood under duress. €119 is riding on this very finger. A clean bill of health is riding on this finger. My vagina… is riding on this finger. I throw the rulebook out the window and squeeze my fingertip in ways that I had previously thought impossible.
The collected blood does not cascade down the vial but sits at the rim like an angry bullfrog. Taunting me. Using the tomato ketchup method, I thud the vial against the sink, encouraging the blood to gloop downwards. Splatters of blood – no, smaller than that – spitters of blood escape.
Each escaped spitter is worth an estimated €5 that I’ll never get back.
With less than half the vial filled, I pine for the evening where I was making dinner and sliced the top of my left index finger off with the big boy knives. I bled through three layers of cotton wool that was wrapped taut under six novelty Spiderman bandages. Remembering that evening with a strange fondness, I realise that I need to wound myself if I want to get the job done. For good reason, the big boy knives have been hidden from my reach so I search for other sharp objects. As I twist nail scissors into the fresh wounds and jab impenetrable skin with safe-to-use but blunt-as-fuck kitchen knives, I ask is this really worth the €31 I aimed to save?
Normally when I get the good news of a negative test, I fawn over my vagina like she’s a beacon of hope in times of darkness. “Behold! Isn’t she gorgeous,” I coo. However, through great errors I have learned that unprotected sex is not how others celebrate their STI-free genitalia. Assessing the damage in my bathroom – littered lancets on the floor, hemoglobic spots staining the sink, defunct nail scissors and knives forever deemed useless – I scold myself for thinking that an act of impassioned but unwrapped recklessness can ever be read as a boast of responsibility. Only I, an egomaniac, thinks like that.
The almost-full vial dares me to have another go if I think I’m hard enough. Hacking the last drops of blood from my finger, I look deep into my soul and question my choices. I’ve made bad choices in my time but none are as bad as this one that I have made today. When I (just about) reach the 6ml mark – my finger shrivelled and skeletal – I check my phone. It’s 10.15.
It took nearly two hours for me to draw my own blood.
Posting my precious load, I catch sight of the “handle carefully” label on the prepaid envelope. The package plummets to the ground. Of course. Sure look, I’ve fucked it already. So what do I do? I drop it again. The smack of plastic hitting off concrete in front of the postbox rings through my ears. €119. Against the cold steel of my wheelchair’s tyres on the streets outside, all four punctures wounds are now awake and streaming blood. Broken down and bleeding, I now understand why we leave this to the professionals.
Less than one week later, I get the email announcing the all clear, but my fingers still carry purple indents of personal failure. The home test truly was a test of will and the next time I face the opportunity to flaunt my sparkling clean vagina in front of or suctioned to an undressed penis, I will remember to protect her at all costs.