Go for the gold!

From 2005 to 2008 I maintained a blog about my experiences working in the drug test industry. Every Sunday I revive one of those experiences here. The following was originally posted August 3, 2005.

Go for the gold!

I do what’s called a “Gold Service” collection for some of my clients. Gold Service is basically a dipstick test I can do in my back room in order to get a negative result within hours, rather than within days.

For me, Gold Service is just a big headache.

Consider my involvement in a normal collection: the donor comes in, drops off his sample, and leaves. I stick the baggie containing said sample into a big white box, and at the end of the night the nice man from the courier service empties the box into his truck. I never, ever see that particular sample again.

Gold Service means I have to use a little eyedropper to place several drops of the sample onto a test strip, then wait a while, then check the results, then record them, then phone or fax the client to deliver the results. If the result was non-negative, I then have to phone up DHL and have them pick the sample up and ship it to Minnesota, where it will be tested by a real scientist in a real lab coat.

Now on the eyedrop test you have six purple lines you’re looking for; the first is a control strip that always turns purple no matter what, and the next five are for illegal drugs (marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc). Whenever a purple strip doesn’t show up, that means the test is non-negative for that particular drug. The wording is important here; this test can be over-sensitive and report false positives, which is why all non-negatives must be verified by the lab up in Minnesota.

Those little purple lines are the cause of much frustration.

Now, sometimes, those little lines pop up almost immediately. Sometimes ten or fifteen minutes is all it takes. Just as often, though, they take an hour or longer. I’ve seen test strips that displayed non-negative after 60 minutes, but negative after 90.

In other words, if I call in the tests too early I run the risk of having too many false positives. And if I call them in too late, I run the risk of clients getting angry with me.

I’ve settled into a nice routine consisting of a 90 minute wait, then a callback at my first opportunity. Since Gold Service proudly declares two-hour turnaround times, most clients get their results on schedule. Sometimes it will take a little longer if the results come back while I’m at lunch, or if the guy doesn’t show up for his collection until 4:55, or if I get swamped with latino guys all trying to share the same translator. For the most part my clients are cool. A few of them who send large batches of Gold Service applicants all at once have told me they’d rather I just call them back before I leave for the day, instead of getting nine messages from me on their voice mail.

Mrs. Satan, however, is different. Mrs. Satan wants her results and she wants them right now.

The problem came to a head one day when she sent an applicant to me at 11:45 am. The collection took about ten minutes (the gentleman didn’t have the urge, so to speak), so he was out the door by noon. The two-hour turnaround means I should check the test at about 1:30, but I’m not in the office at that time. Like ever other 8-5 worker in America, I get a lunch hour. Anything that needs doing on my 1:00 hour waits until 2:00.

Compouding the problem: the 2:00 hour is usually my busiest hour of the day. Not only do I have the usual flow of donors coming in, but I have to accomodate all the people who tried to show up during the 1:00 hour as well. It’s not uncommon for me to unlock the door at 1:55 and do solid collections until 2:30 or later.

On this particular day I was slammed after lunch. A whole truckload of landscapers plus the random draw from a local pool company, plus the regular stream of people I mentioned before… I did about twelve collections that afternoon, several of them with translators, and in between juggling all these and a reasonable suspicion alcohol test (a 19-minute ordeal) I didn’t have time to check in any of my Gold Service results.

Finally, at almost 3:00 I have time to sit down and catch my breath. It isn’t often my office gets flooded, but when it does it can take me forever to catch up. I call in Mrs. Satan’s results and leave them on her voice mail.

Twenty minutes later the complaining starts. The results were late. Two hours late. She sent her applicant in at 11:00 am and didn’t get the results until 3:00. She’s angry. She’s out for blood.

I did what I always do in that situation: I gave Mrs. Satan the number for my boss in Tampa and told her to lodge a formal complaint.

I heard back from Mrs. Satan about 30 minutes later. Whomever-she-talked-to in Tampa told her that Gold Service tests come back in as little as fifteen minutes, so now she wants all her results back within that time.

I tried to explain about the false positives, and if she insists on this madness she’s going to see a huge increase in the number of tests being shipped across the continent, and turnaround time on those tests is a week. But no, she doesn’t listen to me. After all, someone-in-Tampa told her that fifteen was the magic number.

In the coming weeks, Mrs. Satan would receive her tests on her own timescale. About half of these had to be sent out. Of the ones I sent out, most would eventually come back negative, but after the results have been delivered I have to send them out regardless. So, the phone calls start coming again. Now Mrs. Satan is infuriated that she isn’t getting her results at all. I explain that, after I send them out, the results are given to the MRO in Tampa. I never see them again.

Even though sent-out results take nearly a week, I get calls every single day. On Wednesday there’s a message demanding Tuesday’s results. On Thursday there’s a message demanding Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s. And so on. The number of increasingly-less-polite reminders that she’ll have to call the MRO starts to pile up. And all the while I slowly wean Mrs. Satan away from her unbelievable 15-minute demand.

Eventually an equilibrium is reached. Now she’s on the same 90-minute timer as everyone else, and she doesn’t seem to mind. The angry phone calls and complaints have dwindled. In the end, the collector was right about the drug testing process (imagine that!) and the client was defeated.

Still, I make sure to call in all the results Mrs. Satan has requested before I leave the office for lunch or to go home, regardless of how long they’ve been sitting.

I imagine people go into a normal HR office (the ones that don’t rely on Gold Service or, for those that do, the ones that don’t flip out when results are a few minutes late) and receive their drug test request. The lady behind the desk smiles and says, “Please report at this location for drug testing, and just bring our copy of the form back whenever you have time.”

Then I imagine Mrs. Satan’s office. She draws her fangs out from the applicant’s eye sockets, thrusts a map to my office into his jugular, then screeches in her hellish harpy wail, “Go there for drug testing, mortal. Then return here and impale yourself on the Stick of Waiting until the puny childling from the pee clinic calls me back!”

In the end Mrs. Satan gets her results regardless of how long it takes, and I get a headache. Could be worse, though… I could be the poor guy who has to work in the same company as her. Shudder… wince.

It’s much easier to cheat on a Gold Service test than a regular one. Don’t tell anyone I said that.

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