Wednesday, 18 July 2012

23 And Me And Me: Part 2

In which the most difficult part of getting yourself genotyped turns out to be dealing with shopkeepers, and I impress the eight-year-old me.

Following on from part 1...

The spit-tube arrived while I was on holiday, couriered by DHL, and was kindly held for me by a neighbour. The package was expectation-deflatingly small (now where have I heard that, before?) and contained a brightly-coloured box, four sheets of paper, and a padded envelope for sample return.
I was excited to see what was in the box, which turned out to be an instruction sheet ("Spit in the tube. Not around the tube. In the tube"), sample bag (containing an absorbent pad, presumably in case the instructions were confusing), and a plastic container that held the spit-tube itself. Each tube is individually barcoded, to be registered at 23andMe's website, so my first step was to visit the site and log the tube's number.
Then I read through the accompanying paperwork. I've had disappointing interactions with DHL before, such as the time when a hard drive that should have gone to Germany was sent to Brazil, and the thesis that should have gone to Brazil went instead to Germany (it wasn't my fault, honest!). With that in mind, I was careful to read the instructions well, as most of them concerned making sure that the package was couriered back to the lab correctly.
After a couple of days' delay to wait for the weekend so that I could convey the sample to the local DHL Express 'office', based in a local company redacted, I produced my sample. Which sounds much more suggestive than it was.
The only discomfort comes from not eating, drinking or chewing gum for 30 minutes before providing spit. The tube comes with a mouth-sized funnel, so it's even hard to miss. A couple of minutes of rubbing my (buccal!) cheeks to stimulate saliva production, and I had produced the couple of millilitres of spit denoted by the level on the tube. A couple of seconds later I had snapped the funnel lid down, releasing the buffer, and capped the tube for placement in the sample bag.
I filled out the waybill, the commercial invoice, made the required triplicate copies of the paperwork, and waited until morning, so I could return the package.

Never underestimate the stubbornness of shopkeepers...

So off I went on Saturday to post the package in the nearest small town. I should have suspected that things wouldn't go well when I saw that the retail space was filled with photocopiers in an unidentified state of repair, and people using public workstations because, well, those at home are just too traceable, right? But at least the owner/sole member of staff recognised the symbols DHL and acknowledged that they were some kind of delivery company, so that was a start.
Unfortunately, the owner's grasp of the process seemed to end there. After staring at the waybill for what seemed like the time needed to translate it into a faintly-remembered and long-dead argot, he said that he could, in fact, help me. All I needed to do was to leave the package with him, call the people paying for the postage (i.e. 23andMe), and have them ask DHL to pick it up from his shop.
I reminded him that the company paying for this were located in California, and expressed mild disbelief that a worldwide delivery company hadn't come up with a more efficient means of organising deliveries yet. Such as, for example, the DHL Express 'office' with the package ringing a local hub to add their address to the delivery route, that day.
The shop owner had the air of Tim Nice But Dim about him so, rather than entrust him with my pure bodily fluids, no doubt to be lost behind a broken photocopier somewhere, I explained I'd take my package to an actual DHL office and bother him no more.

Spotting European tourists in the UK...

So off I set on the the 40 mile drive to the nearest actual DHL office.
Did you know that you can often spot European tourists in the UK by the speed they drive? If you're heading along a road with a 60mph limit, they're the ones at the front of the queue you meet, travelling at a steady speed of 37mph because they're still thinking in kilometres per hour. Usually in a camper van.
After a couple of those queues on winding roads, I reached the DHL distribution centre. Ten minutes after it closed. But it wouldn't have mattered, because it was now a Yodel distribution centre.
Disappointed, I returned home...

DHL save the day!

..where I called DHL to check if the explanation of the pickup procedure by Tim Nice But Dim was correct. After all, if I was going to have to go back and apologise to the guy at company redacted (and light about forty votive candles to whatever minor god looks after non-hazardous human sample transport so that my package didn't end up under some discarded wrapping in his shop, next to the conspiracy theorists), I'd better have the facts.
It turned out that DHL will come and pick your package up from anywhere. Even your house. No need to travel to your nearest small town or distribution hub. You don't even have to get dressed, just turn up at your front door in a dressing gown and show the driver your package.
The driver picked up my sample from work, on time, the next working day. It made it through East Midlands airport (gateway to Kegworth!), Cincinnati (Ohio's very own Mansfield), and has now been delivered in Los Angeles.

When I was a young child, the kids in our street used to have spitting competitions. Never did understand the prevalence of respiratory diseases in my home town.  Anyway, I wasn't any good at them. But this week I managed to spit in the UK, and have it land in Los Angeles. Which would have impressed the younger, apparently infection-prone me.

And now, I just have to wait for the results.

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