This is part of “More than a Number”, which Outrage Magazine launched on March 1, 2013 to give a human face to those infected and affected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the Philippines, what it considers as “an attempt to tell the stories of those whose lives have been touched by HIV and AIDS”. More information about (or – for that matter – to be included in) “More than a Number”, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (+63) 9287854244 and (+63) 9157972229.
Eric tested HIV positive only on January 26, 2013. “I went to see my primary physician after I complained of tonsillitis. I had tonsillitis the previous year, so I thought it had recurred again,” he recalled.
He also knew that “I had unprotected sex the previous month, so in the back of my mind, I knew the possibility that it may be more than just tonsillitis. When I saw my doctor, I told her about the unprotected sex. She suggested that I get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including an HIV antibody test.”
Eric then went to the lab and had blood drawn; he then waited for a phone call from his doctor.
“I was surprised that it was taking too long to know the results. I had the blood drawn on Saturday, January 19th, but my doctor had left me a voicemail on Friday, January 25th asking me to come in the following Monday. I couldn’t wait. The following day, Saturday, January 26th, I went to a local HIV testing center and had the rapid HIV test. I found out that same day that I tested positive for HIV antibodies.”
Eric recalled that “exactly one month before I tested positive for HIV, on December 26, 2012, I met up with a guy I dated four years prior. I saw his picture and profile on an Internet hook up site and sent him a message. We exchanged several messages and made arrangements to meet up on that day. He talked about getting high on ecstasy and engaging in bareback sex. We discussed HIV and I had told him that I tested negative three times in the past year. The last HIV test I had was on December 2, 2012, and I was definitely sure that I was HIV negative. He assured me that he is also HIV negative. I needed to ask the question since I was the receptive partner and wanted to have the discussion and make the decision to proceed. I trusted him even though I had not seen him in four years.”
Upon knowing his HIV positive status, “I felt numb at the news when the counselor came back to the room, sat down and said, ‘Your test came back positive.’ I expected the result since I knew that even though the symptoms of HIV seroconversion and tonsillitis were similar, there was something very different about the symptoms I was experiencing. In the back of my mind, I knew that I will test positive for HIV antibodies.”
Eric is, by the way, in an open relationship with an HIV-positive partner, and they have been together for several years. “He is very supportive and gave me a lot of emotional support. He has been HIV positive for over 20 years and I had seen him go through the emotional rollercoaster of having HIV,” he said.
For Eric, the biggest challenge he believe he had to go through is “getting used to idea that I am now HIV positive from here on out. I know the challenges that I have to go through since I witnessed firsthand the stigma and the challenges of being HIV positive from my partner. I don’t want people to treat me differently, so I only revealed my status to three people. I don’t want anyone else to know. I have lost my sex drive, which was very high prior to my diagnosis. I do get emotionally crushed whenever I think about having this disease. It had taken me several months to finally stop crying whenever I think about being HIV positive. I used to get visceral and heart crushing pain whenever I think that I am now HIV positive.”
Eric added: “I am taking it one day at a time. I no longer feel depressed and sad about it. Time has certainly helped in dealing with it.”
Eric chose not to reveal his status to his family. “I revealed my status to three of my closest friends. Two of them are a couple who both have HIV as well. They have been very supportive and offered words of encouragement. I have chosen not to tell my parents since I didn’t want them to worry, and there really isn’t much they can do. I am very much aware of how to care for myself and I have the support I needed to get through the emotional and psychological effects of my diagnosis, so the need to tell them is not necessary at this time.”
Support largely comes from his partner. “I decided not to go to a support group. No one in my family knows. I live with my partner and we have been together for 22 years. I was dating him when he found out he’s HIV positive, so I was there in the initial stages of his diagnosis. He was there when I became HIV positive; so in a way, this incident has brought us closer together.”
When Eric tested HIV positive, he was referred by his primary physician to an infectious disease specialist, and “I have been seeing a specialist for my care since then. I get CD4 and viral load blood analysis every three months. My initial CD4 was 271 and my viral load was 161,000. I had to take ARV immediately. She had told me that it didn’t matter to her if my CD4 was over 500, she would have asked me to be on ARV therapy right away.”
For Eric, the initial experience was not at all unpleasant. “I take one pill, once a day of a three drug combination pill. It is a very easy regimen. I take it at night before bedtime because the medication causes dizziness. I am doing well with the regimen and so far, so good.”
Eric believes that there is a stigma associated with being HIV positive. “There is still a lot of fear and people do not know how to deal with people who are HIV positive so they treat them differently. I am afraid to disclose my status to just anyone. I don’t want my family to know because they will only worry about me. I am healthy and am doing very well, so I have no reason to worry my family.”
If there is a lesson he can teach others as an HIV positive person, it is for them “not to waiver from protecting yourself against HIV infection. Do not use drugs. Do not engage in risky sexual behaviors. Surround yourself with people who are educated about HIV and who are adamant about using condoms when having sex. Men who have sex with men should get tested on a regular basis, at least every three months. The sooner you know about your status, the faster you can get treatment,” Eric ended.