Getting tested at the Crown Heights Sexual Health Clinic
When it comes time to be a responsible, sexually active person, the feels and fun of sex seem to come to a screeching halt at the idea of getting tested. The phrase ‘getting tested’ is not sexy. Nobody likes a test. Test is pass or fail. Test is ‘Fuck. Did I study enough?’
It’s why I feel so lucky to live a barely 8-minute walk away from the Crown Heights Sexual Health Clinic. New York City offers 8 clinic locations throughout the boroughs where you ‘can get low- to no-cost services for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV’. I’ve visited this location only twice, but each time has been a stress-free and, yeah I’ll say it, enjoyable experience.
I’m sure no two visits are alike, but I hope that by getting an inside look into mine, those of you nervous about getting tested will feel empowered to make the healthy decisions towards your sex life that you and your partners deserve.
As with anything in New York (and anything that is free), it is important to arrive early, arrive patient and arrive with the mantra of ‘This may be awhile.’
The Crown Heights Sexual Health Clinic opens at 8:30 and they won’t open their doors a minute earlier. A line will start to form outside as only the doctors and nurses arriving for the start of their day are allowed in. It was snowing on the morning I chose to go which was probably to my benefit, because when I arrived at 8:20, there was only one other woman outside ahead of me. I felt like a winner already.
The guards opened the doors promptly at 8:30 for the now 4 of us. There’s a slight pressure to run up the stairs to the 2nd floor where the clinic is located, but no need. People respect the order of the line.
When you enter, there will be numbered forms sitting on a table and clipboards if you wish to feel fancy. Yes, I equate clipboards with fancy. Being 2nd in line, my form was #2 and before sitting down I remembered to stamp them in the non-ironic Time Date Stamp Machine. Yes, they still exist and the city of NYC has found a way to use them. Don’t be scared. Shove it in and take a seat.
The waiting area feels more like a freshman year homeroom than a health clinic. Instead of ‘Hang in There’ or ‘Rules of the Classroom’, colorful PrEP posters and ‘No insurance, no problem’ reminders decorate the walls. On the window ledge lives an assortment of pamphlets, condoms (male and female) and l believe even lube. My first time at the clinic I watched as a patient rushed to the ledge and began stocking up. I respected his love of free shit.
The completion of your paperwork depends on what brings you in. A variety of questions are asked: Did you receive a letter or call asking to come in? Have you been sexually assaulted? Have you taken drugs? Been with someone who’s taken drugs? Would you harm yourself if you tested positive for HIV? Date of your last period? Are you showing any symptoms? Since I was there only for STI and HIV testing, I answered N/A for most.
You won’t be tested right away but once things get moving, it’s a steady progression. The people are there to work. I think about the start of my own work day: mosey into the office, flirt with a colleague here, flirt with a colleague there, get my coffee, take a selfie in the bathroom and then finally open my computer twenty-five minutes later. These people don’t have that luxury and at 8:38, number 1 was called. Some music started playing lightly in the background, Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ to be exact. Perhaps too appropriate a song to be playing but either way, it worked. At 8:43, when there was now 6 of us in the waiting room, 2, aka me, was called.
In the first room, a nurse looks over your completed paperwork and double checks everything is completed accurately. She asked me again what brought me into the clinic, when was the last time I had sex and wanted to make sure that I was able to wait the 30 minutes for HIV results. It’s ok if you can’t, they just recommend that you do. She sent me back to the waiting room to wait for my number to be called again.
At 8:53, my number was called again. This time I was led to a different room and I realized this room held the provider of music.
“Ah, so you’re where the music is coming from?’ I said.
“Yeah.” she laughed turning it down.
“Oh I don’t mind.” I reassured.
“Yeah, it’s too low.” she said and turned it up a few notches. Lionel Richie’s ‘Easy like Sunday morning’ played. The Crown Heights Sexual Health Clinic soundtrack was entirely too good.
This nurse had the job of confirming how I would get my results once available. She provided a unique ID and set up a pin for me to use online or on the phone. She gave me a form to complete if I decided to use insurance but never once asked for payment, an insurance card or my job status. She also had the very important job of showing me how to correctly collect my urine sample.
Don’t you just piss in a cup, Carolyn? No! It is so much more than that! Yes, the process starts by first peeing in a regular, plastic cup. But then you are given the great responsibility of transferring pee from that cup to a test tube of sorts. But be careful! Your pee cannot be under this line or over this line. It has to be right in between!! It’s Price is Right’s Range Game but with pee! Your prize? Sweet, accurate results, baby.
At 9AM I was in the bathroom trying to play the Pee Game, except, I couldn’t pee. ::cue Price is Right loser horn:: I knew soon 3 and 4 would most likely be needing to collect their own samples, so instead of hogging the room, I left and stood outside chugging water. I was glad I did because it was then the counselor made his way to the waiting room for a welcome greeting.
This man, whom I’ll refer to as Sam, looked equal parts English teacher, basketball coach and winning poet. I imagined him at night sipping red wine on a seedy underground stage spitting words of beauty. His welcome was no boring, ‘Welcome to the Crown Heights Sexual Health Clinic, take a number’ greeting. It was the real deal. It was improvisational, it was informative, it was entertaining, it was a part of him. He was the speech. The speech was him.
“Don’t have insurance? Don’t worry. We don’t rock and roll here at the Crown Heights clinic. We’re Beverly Hills. You’re safe.” Did I know what this meant entirely? No. But did I 100% stand behind it? Of course.
Sam kept us updated when it was discovered they’d be down a doctor due to inclement weather. He assured us that this wouldn’t disrupt the day for any of us. “You’re all here for different things but I want you to be able to make an informed decision! I’m from the 60s and 70s. I’d be the one sitting on the train, no one telling me to get off.” ::snaps:: Yes Sam, yes.
The laughs from Sam gave me the extra push I needed to pee where I laughed again when I saw myself in the mirror. There I was bent over the sink, holding a now yellow tube, carefully squeezing until the perfect amount of urine trickled into a test tube. I looked like I was posing for a ‘science class’ stock photo.
At 9:15 I was called in for my bloodwork. I don’t faint or vomit during blood work but I do get a little goofy, talkative and silly. “Well did you eat?” she asked. I didn’t. She playfully scolded me and I apologized. A good reminder that there are no snacks at the clinic.
Her directions were simple: “Make a fist and don’t faint.” She complimented my easily visible, blue veins. What can I say? Phlebotomists love me! She checked in throughout the whole extremely quick process of drawing my blood, which I appreciated, however, it was the finger prick which got me feeling goofy. I felt my wooziness kicking in just as she finally got her sample. Phew. She sent me back to my seat to wait for the HIV results.
At 9:40, dear Sam called my number and invited me to his office, chatting with everyone along the way. “Have a seat.” he said. “Nothing to worry about, your HIV test came back negative and the rest of your results will be available in 7-10 business days but let’s be honest it will be 7. It’s 2019. We just have to say that.” I thanked Sam and told him he needed a raise. I left the office at 9:42, where they were calling number 11.
From arrival to finish, an hour and twenty minute experience. I’ve spent more time than that in line for Van Leeuwen ice cream. A major round of applause for all the employees. I left feeling good, grateful and Google review ready. This place deserved all the stars.
I encourage everyone to get tested however and wherever you feel comfortable. If you’re nervous to go alone, ask a friend, heck, ask three friends. Celebrate your responsibility with coffee and scones after. This process (and your results) should be a topic of conversation that I hope becomes easier and easier to discuss. Because, like Sam said, you’re safe in Brooklyn and I’d like to keep it that way.
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