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.
It was November of 2013 when an insurance underwriter went to my office and offered me an investment/insurance. However, for me to be able to obtain such insurance, one requirement was to be tested for HIV.
I declined and told the underwriter if the insurance have a contestability period for me not to undergo such test. To cut the story short, I got the insurance without the medical requirement.
Days passed, I felt uneasy and I wanted to make sure if I was really clear from HIV. And for me to know, I had to get tested. It took me so much courage that I embraced the fact of being tested and just accept my fate whatever the result might be.
I went to Hi-Precision in Kalaw (in the City of Manila). I told the front desk nurse that I wanted to be tested. He gave me a form to fill in. I was a bit hesitant to answer it, but I must, in able to help myself deal with the uncertainty. After filling in the confidential disclosure form, I had a quick blood extraction. The nurse told me to call back after a week for the result.
It’s the due date and I called the health service provider. They told me to call back again after a week. It somehow gave me a feeling of anxiety. But still, I thought of having the best of health. I had no idea that my result was on its way to being confirmed by the STD AIDS Cooperative Central Laboratory (SAACL) of San Lazaro Hospital.
MOMENT OF TRUTH
November 23, 2013 – the moment of truth. I asked for my result and the nurse told me to patiently wait. All I can recall was that most of the nurses were looking at me in a peculiar manner. It took some time before they called me again. Another nurse assisted me at the second floor. She was carrying a sealed enveloped. Every second made my heart pound. Anxiety was gripping me and it took me so long to wait for the final result.
I think I waited for an hour just to know my result with an authorized DOH counselor/doctor. I entered the clinic cubicle and two of them were with me: the Hi-Precision nurse and the doctor/counselor. They started the conversation with a pre-counseling. But my mind couldn’t grasp the torture of waiting for what the result may be. I didn’t deserve such torture of prolonged suspense! I cut them short and asserted myself by being in control. I told them to please open the envelope first then we proceed with the so-called counseling.
And yes! The waiting was over! It’s POSITIVE.
I wanted to cry, my mind floated and it’s like my body was splash with icy water. I maintained my composure and accepted immediately my fate. I choose to be strong and took responsibility for myself. There’s no one to be blamed because I defined my lifestyle, choosing all the actions not in accord.
I didn’t waste time and I called the attention of both the nurse and the doctor to be realistic in handling a patient who is positive. Too much prolonged suspense can truly kill you. I taught them a lesson to be straight-forward the next time, and to be constructive. I guess they were more emotional than me. It truly created a great pain in my heart. The waiting is unacceptable! And I told them to be more responsible with their duty; to empathically feel what a HIV-positive person may feel.
That afternoon, the first thing I did was to drive to the cemetery. I felt that my life will soon pass. I was so lonely, so depressed. I visited my departed relatives in the cemetery and told them that I will be with them soon. I cried as if I was a helpless child. I prayed to the Lord to give me the strength that I needed, to comfort me in my lowest moment. And yes, He did comfort me….
As I read the sealed enveloped sent by the Department of Health, now as one of the numerous HIV positive individuals in the country, I acquired my personal code number. This saddened me so much! It was like a prison number in Les Miserable that was going to be with me in my lifetime.
The enveloped contain the treatment hub from different regions where I can get the anti-retroviral (ARV) medicines for free.
I chose a private hospital where I can receive the free treatment to prevent the spread of the HIV virus in my body so it will no longer progress to AIDS. Well, I am lucky that these medicines are now available. I cannot imagine having this disease 30 years ago. Otherwise, it would have been an automatic death sentence.
The first time I met her, my attending doctor was very pleasant and she told me to undergo a laboratory procedure to know my CD4 – it measures my immune system versus the level or stage of infection from the HIV virus.
My good doctor gave me three type of medicine (since I learned that I was co-infected with Hepatitis B). She prescribed Efavirenz (600mg), Lamivudine (300mg) and Tenofovir Disoproxil Fumarate (300mg). To date, the said medicine is now 3-in-1, so I must just take one caplet a day before I go to bed. It’s like taking a sleeping pill, literally.
I religiously went to my doctor and cooperated with her for my well-being. At first, I felt extreme paranoia when seeing people, from the doctor’s secretary, the pharmacist and the staff in a treatment hub (RITM). I felt somehow “different”… not normal from the rest. It felt like having leprosy during the days when it had no cure; when society isolated you from the rest. A stigma! A curse! That’s how I felt…
But with my healthy mental attitude I moved forward and conditioned myself as if “its okay”… “its okay!” I cannot disclose my status to anyone. I’m too afraid of rejection. And the only best thing to do is to move forward…
I call all the saints and the holy angels to be with me always. I pray to God to give me the strength I need, to comfort me, to heal me and to be with me always. But the reality is, I am HIV positive and the cure is not yet available.
The first time I took the medicine, I totally lost my locomotor function. I had a car accident and my mind was floating. Thank God I am still alive and no one got hurt from the accident. Somehow I can relate that experience to overdosing on illegal drug. Because the body is still adjusting to the drug dosage, it felt like you’re drifting, your mind is not there, you are not in control. There was a lack of focus and concentration, or the feeling of experiencing dementia. This adjustment lasted for months and it truly affected my work because of the feeling of drifting.
My doctor gave me several vaccines to boost my immune system. HPV vaccine (although I am a top), pneumonia, flu vaccine, tetanus, et cetera. This is the only way to keep me going in life and be healthy.
Until my CD4 reached the normal range and my doctor declared that I am physically healthy! This truly made me happy!
But my dilemma didn’t end there. I still had symptoms of having a weak immune system. Sometimes I had skin rashes and had to go to a doctor who specialized with an allergy. All I know is that I have an allergy. I found out it’s herpes zoster. It gave me a burning sensation, made me itchy and had watery skin breakouts located in my upper abdomen. I learned that it’s linked to a weak immune system and the best candidate is a person with a HIV. Wow!
The doctor gave me six kinds of medicines that I should take twice a day (morning and evening). Valtrex 500mg, Gabix 100mg, Dolcet 325mg, B- complex for my nerves, Medrol 4mg and Cefalexin 500mg (optional in case a puss might appear).
DIFFERENT AND AFRAID
All throughout, I felt truly sorry for myself; but at the same time, I had no choice but only to remain strong and courageous to what lies ahead. To be connected with my BIG God. Yes, I learned a lot of lessons from my mistake. No one to be blamed. For being too “adventurous” during my younger years. For being so daring as if the pleasure of the flesh has no payback. I didn’t care as long as I was happy, “gratified”…. such a self-centered me! Take note that with all my efforts of having safe sex, I still became positive.
I cannot disclose my condition to my friends because I am too afraid of their judgement. I am too afraid and paranoid with what they will think about me. It took me some time to disclose my status to my family, whom I know will accept whatever condition and situation I will be into.
And yes, only my family embraced my real situation. I first told my younger sister, then my mom. Not so much talk… Not much explaining why, where, when, with whom. They simply embraced and comforted my troubled spirit.
RESPONSIBILITY LIVING WITH HIV
Now, I believe that I have the responsibility to educate my fellow PLU (“people like us”, a term used to refer to other men who have sex with men, particularly members of the LGBT community – Ed). Whether you are a gay, bi or transgender, I wish each and everyone of you a good life and good health. We all deserve to be happy, to be loved and experience loving sincerely by another person. I believe love is the most powerful of all because it can take away all kinds of fear. And I cling to the most powerful love of all… and that is God’s love.
But let me remind you my friend to be responsible enough. To have safe and clean sex (lovemaking). Don’t be a daredevil because you may just find yourself someday with a “code number” from the health department.
And to those who are diagnosed to be HIV positive, I want to tell you that there is life after HIV.
Suicide? Too much worry? Extreme depression? I believe it is normal at first. But let me tell you, the choice of being and living life to the fullest, to be healthy, to be able to reach out is a choice! To be a responsible individual is a must! I am sharing you all these because I am in the situation and I cannot turn back the hands of time when I was free from this dreaded disease. But one thing certain is I can be of help to those who need advise, empower to uplift the weary soul, and a friend who will listen from the heart without any judgement.
No one else knows the feeling of being ridiculed, discriminated and isolated but from a person who is in the same boat.
I hope and pray that the cure for this disease is on its way. For now the best cure is for you to be informed, or to abstain from sex, or be faithful to your partner, or have safe sex by using condom.
Life must go on and it has in store a lot of good things for us. Define your true purpose in life that you may be whole.