Getting STD tests in Chile sucks and here’s why

There came a time in one of my relationships where it became important to check my STD status.

So I went like any responsible adult for a checkup, just in case I had picked up something along the way. I was in my usual state of semi-poverty/stinginess, so of course I didn’t want to fork out money to see a doctor.

I found a website advertising free STD tests at a local hospital. Impressed with the forward thinking Chileans, I made my way one Wednesday morning to check it out. Not finding any sign of the place, I asked a receptionist for where I could get tested for STDs. Luckily when I’m speaking in Spanish I don’t seem to get embarrassed – something about being a foreigner allows me to be “promiscuous”.

STD Blood tests

She sent me to the Dermatology area, where I repeated my question to a passing nurse. She was stumped, but found me a doctor who shaked her head at me and mumbled something about the clinic not existing anymore. She told me I had to go to a doctor and pay. Of course I had to ask her to repeat herself a few times before I understood her. I ❤ Chilean Spanish.

But I didn’t want to pay a doctor just to get a list of lab tests. By chance, on my walk back to the metro, I saw a laboratory and went in and asked the *three* receptionists sitting behind the counter if they could test me for any possible STDs. 

They did some brainstorming, called someone, and finally presented me with a list.

I didn’t hear them mention Chlamydia, or Gonorrhea.

Oh, I wanted those too?

Ummm, yeah… Did you not hear me? I want to test for *any possible* STDs.

They added them to the list, and tallied up the bill.

Once I had paid, they brought me into a nurse who took my blood. I was then handed off to another nurse who spread my legs, pierced me with metal and poked me with cotton swabs.

I tried to stay calm throughout, especially when the nurse peering into my vagina had a frown on her face, and rushed off to talk to someone as soon as she was finished. Lovely.

A few days later, when I came in to get my results, I started to feel panic. I knew it was illogical. There was 0.01% chance I had HIV but at that moment, my imagination wasn’t feelin’ the logic. They called a nurse to give me the results.

While I was waiting, I had plenty of time to imagine the awkward humiliation of telling my parents, my ex-sexual partners and my friends that I was diseased. I had accepted the fact that I had probably infected people, and that I was a murderer.

When the nurse finally appeared on the scene, she started to rummage through my file, searching and searching. What could she be looking for?

By this stage, I was in a hate spiral for not being more careful, for ever having sex, ever. I was responsible for my own early painful death. I would have to quit my startup and leave Chile early. It was a disaster of epic proportions.

Finally she found it. Jesus. And made me follow her into a private room. I decided I was going to just sew up my vagina and throw myself off the nearest tall building. Anything but have to go through this again.

She put the results on the table and asked me to fill out a form.

A form? What now? Why didn’t she just SAY IT? Why was she postponing the inevitable?

I glanced down, and caught a glimpse of the word “negativo”. Phew. All was well in the world.

I filled out the form while she stuffed the papers in an envelope.

I asked her if everything was ok, and she assured me it was, and handed me the envelope.

I walked to a nearby park bench and opened it. It was incoherent. Was was V.D.R.L? What was Flujo Vaginal? What was Ureaplasma Urealyticum because I seemed to have it. But I didn’t have Mycoplasma. Did that mean that Ureaplasma Urealyticum wasn’t serious?

I went back to the three receptionists and confessed to my infection right there in the waiting room. What could they do for me? I wanted a cure. They told me to go to a gynaecologist down the road.

I went to Google instead. I don’t see why, on top of $200 of lab tests, I have to pay money for someone to interpret my lab results? Isn’t this pretty straightforward? 

All I want is:

a. a standard list of STD lab tests in any language that I can print off and bring with me to a lab so I don’t have to rely on uninformed receptionists.

b. an email with the results as soon as they are ready, along with explanations of each test and what the result means so I know what I need to do next.

c. and free tests would be awesome. Most people can’t afford to pay $200 to get checked.

Fear causes people to avoid getting tested, and spread more diseases. Forcing people to wait and denying them information causes panic. In general, in all my interactions with nurses and receptionists, it was obvious that being proactive about sexual health is not the norm in Chile. Instead of being rewarded for taking care of my sexual health, I felt shame for being so open about the fact that I was having unprotected sex, like I was a criminal or something.

I thought sex was supposed to be a joyous act? All I see is risk of STDs even if you use condoms, fear of pregnancy even if you use contraception, and guilt if you ever ask for a pregnancy test or an STD test. God forbid you might be having sex with someone without the intention of getting pregnant.


Even if I do have an STD, there are treatments. No one should be given reason to panic, ever. I never want to have to go through that again.

Is it any better where you are from?


Why can’t I refill my plastic water bottle in my local supermarket?

Musing more on what else we can use plastic bottles for, I found myself wanting to refill my water bottle, not just while “communing” in a hostel, but while living in an apartment in Santiago. The tap water here is potable, but it tastes just awful. I spend money every day on plastic water bottles, and am starting to feel more than just a little guilty about it, especially since I’m pretty sure the generic garbage facility is not recycling them [update: I will soon be able to recycle them at a local Lider supermarket].

Why can’t I refill my bottle in my apartment building? Or better yet, at a local Lider supermarket? You can do almost everything else there – including pay your bills and use their lockers.


It seems like coin operated water dispensing machines like this one do actually clean the water, so they could be used in Mexico or Bolivia where they don’t just crave nicer tasting water #firstWorldProblems.

It also seems like they would be more environmentally friendly since they don’t waste any resources otherwise used to get plastic water bottles onto shelves, but I still need to investigate further.

coin operated soviet era automatic water dispenser-15
Here’s a coin operated water dispensers from Soviet Russia. Super cool.

If you are in the US, Whole Foods have a reverse osmosis water machine at $.35/gallon (about 3.7 litres). The only downside if you already have clean water in your apartment, is having to lug the reusable jugs home. In Canada there are cool 24 hour water refilling stations, like Rocky Ridge.

coin op web rock ridge
Rocky Ridge 24 Hour Water Refilling station

In Mexico, we had no choice. It was either that, or pay more to get it delivered.

Familiar sight in Mexico – collecting your water jug

But I don’t really need a 10-20 litre jug. At the moment I find myself buying 1.5 litre bottles as I need them, so if there were a coin operated water dispenser in my local Lider, I would just refill my bottle there instead.

I wonder does anyone have this in mind for Chile? It’s probably never going to happen – it costs so much to import equipment here that it would take forever to earn back the cost of the machine. It’s probably too niche a use case. But Mexico might be different.

Anyone know if this already happening there? If not, anyone want to start this as a side project with me? 😉  Importing coin operated water machines into Mexico? Lets do it!

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How to get FDA approval for mobile medical apps

If your parents house is anything like mine, there are random health machines all over the place, mobile monitors of all sizes and shapes for monitoring blood pressure, ECG electrocardiograms, and god knows what. But smartphone apps are a-coming.

AliveCor mobile ECG monitor

Today I covered the FDA approval of the first smartphone operated, continuous ECG mobile monitor, eMotion ECG Mobile, for inventorSpot. While I was researching the multitude of competitors, I saw a few smartphone operated ECG’s, mainly for use by clinicians in their clinics. It made me wonder how the FDA is dealing with this influx of smartphone medical device apps.

Having trained and worked as a Biomedical Engineer, I can tell you from personal experience that the FDA approval process is no fun – when people’s lives are at stake, things tend to get serious. But as an iPhone app developer, the Apple approval process has at times been too much to take. I can’t imagine having to do both!

So it turns out the FDA released guidelines just a few months ago about how they are going to regulate what they call mobile medical apps.

And they have been dealing with an influx:

The agency has cleared about 100 mobile medical applications over the past decade; about 40 of those were cleared in the past two years.”

They’ve decided to focus their oversight on mobile medical apps that:

  • are intended to be used as an accessory to a regulated medical device – for example, an application that allows a health care professional to make a specific diagnosis by viewing a medical image from a picture archiving and communication system (PACS) on a smartphone or a mobile tablet; or
  • transform a mobile platform into a regulated medical device – for example, an application that turns a smartphone into an electrocardiography (ECG) machine to detect abnormal heart rhythms or determine if a patient is experiencing a heart attack.

Mobile medical apps that undergo FDA review will be assessed using the same regulatory standards and risk-based approach that the agency applies to other medical devices.”

I guess that means it takes a long time to get mobile medical apps through the FDA, and will keep the barriers to entry high for the majority of aspiring mobile medical app inventors. Looks like my parents will be waiting a while before they can download mobile medical apps for everything they need right on their smartphone.

What medical devices are lying around your home? Do you have any cool ideas for medical device apps that you think should be built?

If you want to hear more about the latest in health and fitness technology inventions, you can find me writing over at inventorSpot

How to remove the doormat/nagging conflict from a relationship

woman doing housekeeping

Today I realized that I was a doormat in my relationship. He hated washing the dishes, so I washed them. He said he would clean the bathroom tomorrow, so I cleaned it. He left his dirty clothes on the ground, so I washed them while I was washing mine. I did it all thinking that it was what a cool woman did, keeping the peace. 

Cool women don’t nag their Significant Others. Cool women understand that men hate certain activities, and so it’s about finding what they do like to do, like cook the occasional pizza and make a huge mess, or code code code. Cool women see that it’s not worth fighting about the small stuff because they hate having arguments over so-called “stupid shit”. Cool women know that mundane activities are actually an opportunity to practice mindfulness.

My sister was definitely not a cool women. She was training her man so that he would follow orders. He was washing dishes, ironing clothes and mowing the lawn, instead of writing songs and practicing piano. She is so mean, I thought. He needs time to create. She is going to lose her man if she isn’t careful.

Where did I get these ideas from? Who was I? Why was I so fucking NICE? And where’s the balance between being a nagging bitch, and being a doormat? I cared about having a clean house and wished I didn’t. My SO just didn’t care and didn’t care that he didn’t. If he could use that cleaning time to code, why couldn’t I use the cleaning time to write?

My solution-vention? [Apart from breaking up and resolving never to get into a serious relationship with a man ever again…]

– Live separately a.k.a Simone de Beauvoir

– If that’s not possible, hire someone to clean the dishes, wash the laundry and mow the lawn. Because it’s not worth trying to find a balance. 

What do you think? Am I just falling in love with the wrong men? You can tell me. I can take it.

Update: Low cost safety device for solo travellers (male or female)

Wow. Guess what I just came across. The device of my dreams – on indiegogo. The BiiSafe buddy. This is like, super awesomely amazing. For 35 bucks (69 will be normal retail price) they’ve created what I wanted, but in a much niftier way – they’ve just used bluetooth in the device and let the phone do the tracking. Super cool.

BiiSafe buddy location tracking


How I find problems and invent solutions

inventions and inventors

It’s been over a month since I started this invention experiment and so far I’ve learned a LOT about myself, about the things I like to invent, and the way I like to invent things.

I learned that the majority of my inventions come from the “Why can’t I?” place – that angry, frustrated voice that questions my discomfort, or blind acceptance.

Why can’t I travel alone without worrying my family? Why can’t I take as many risks as a man when traveling alone?

Why do I have to hop up and down and get my clothes covered in yucky fluids when I need to change my underwear?

Why can’t I use the wifi of coffee shops nearby without buying something?

Why can’t I tell people I live in hostels without feeling uncomfortable?

I learned that I am motivated by Repeated Personal Experience, e.g I am easily motivated to invent under a solo female travel safety device when I am constantly confronted with the anger and frustration of traveling solo as a female, but as soon as I am living somewhere stable, I get demotivated.

I learned that I like designing apps, but I like to design both simple, and multipurpose solutions, which is difficult to achieve in an app context. They often need to target specific niche audiences and be solo purpose.

I learned that I get triggered by my surroundings, and that I can come up with different inventions by simply putting myself in a new situation.

I learned that many of the solutions to my current set of identifiable problems have already been invented, and that the bigger problem is often KNOWING about them, or CARING enough to spend money on them.

I also learned that I want to invent things that solve big problems, but I’m either living too perfect a life, or oblivious to the problems I deal with everyday. I need to dream bigger, look deeper, and challenge how easily I accept the status quo, if I am to cultivate anger and frustration for the more important problems.

How do you invent solutions to problems? How do you identify the problems you would like to solve? 

Tracking food allergies detective iPhone app

I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to wheat. Or at least intolerant of it. I don’t think I can handle dairy either. But I’m not sure. My symptoms are not bad enough to make it overwhelmingly obvious, so it’s only when I get acne breakouts, or crash out from tiredness, or experience bouts of bloating, that I remember I should probably figure it out. That or stop eating so much of it.

So last week I wanted to build an app to help me easily track things like what I’m eating and what I’m feeling. I actually found a really good app on my search, Food Allergy Detective, and even though I tried to redesign the interface to make it prettier and more fun to use, it turns out MY pain wasn’t big enough, and THEIR solution wasn’t bad enough for me to be motivated to continue.

food allergy detective app iphone

It was a lesson in knowing when to keep going with something, and when to just concede gracefully.

But it also made me aware of how many things I do a half assed job of tracking, like when I get my period, and what symptoms I experience, or how much I am spending, and how much I should be spending.

It would be nice to track activities without any explicit action required.

I have no problem tracking what I’m eating when I’ve just had a stomach ache, because I’m highly motivated to find the source. But a day passes, and the pain passes, and I forget. I have no incentive to track what I’m eating when I’m asymptomatic. The same can happen with tracking expenditure, or the dates of my period.

So what if there were a way to track things in the background, or what if it were more fun to track behaviour?

I wrote recently about the fertility tracking app, Glow, and they too are asking people to manually enter data, as are Clue, the app for tracking periods, and Insandouts app for tracking baby activities.

Some more intelligent tracking apps that come with a smart device that does the data entry automatically are the Mimo Baby Monitor for tracking your baby’s temperature, activity, and sleep; Propeller that collects data for asthma sufferers, so they can see how many puffs they’ve taken, as well as where and when; and OMSignal clothes that track your biometrics like heart rate and stress levels.

But what would be an automated way to track what we are eating? A device in our mouths? Or in our stomachs?

Maybe I’m crazy, but there is power in tracking. Feedback loops work:

…humans are self-regulating creatures, with a multitude of systems working to achieve homeostasis… Feedback loops are how we learn, whether we call it trial and error or course correction. In so many areas of life, we succeed when we have some sense of where we stand and some evaluation of our progress. Indeed, we tend to crave this sort of information; it’s something we viscerally want to know, good or bad. As Stanford’s Bandura put it, “People are proactive, aspiring organisms.” Feedback taps into those aspirations.”

If I knew that I was always tired after I ate dairy, then I might have more of an incentive to stop eating it. Or maybe not 😉

Are you good at tracking your behaviour manually? Do you have any cool apps that you recommend that motivate you when you feel demotivated? Would love to hear in the comments!