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.
@health_worker5 noted being sickly in December 2011, when he had frequent bouts of sore throat, cough and colds, rashes and itchiness. “Being in the medical field, I tried to diagnose myself and I could not relate all these symptoms to just one disease entity except for HIV infection,” he said. “I was in doubt though because I had several HIV patients during my practice, and I’ve seen worse.”
But on December 17, 2012, he decided to take the HIV Antibody test, and it turned out to be reactive.
@health_worker5 knows he was infected through unprotected sex (“A hundred percent sure answer”), “although there is a possibility of acquiring it through needle stick injuries because of the nature of my work – though very minimal is its risk of transmission.”
Looking back, “I really don’t know from whom I got the virus. I admit to being promiscuous before. But one thing is for sure: Whoever the guy is, I only met him from a gay social networking site. I have never met any random guy from the streets, malls, movie houses, spas… not even in clubs or bars.”
In hindsight, though, besides the contact tracing issue, “I really don’t care now and it doesn’t really matter now who infected me. As the saying goes, ‘Let bygones be bygones’. Life is too short and too precious to waste on thinking about it.”
When @health_worker5 tested HIV-positive, “let’s just say that my world shattered into a thousand pieces. My mind went wandering in limbo. I got depressed and eventually cried my heart out. I even prayed for the so called ‘end of the world’ last December 21, 2012 to be true,” he said. But then “I realized that life must go on, that there’s really got to be more to life. I have dreams and goals in life which I need to achieve.”
Being HIV-positive, “I continued on and tried to keep my life as normal as possible. I kept myself busy. I go to work and treat sick people. I hang out and party with my friends. I still travel a lot,” @health_worker5 said.
There are, nonetheless, subtle changes he had to make. “I learned to become more conscious of my health; built much closer relationship with my families, friends, and loved ones; and become more appreciative of life,” @health_worker5 said.
The biggest challenge @health_worker5 had to go through as an HIV-positive person is “being able to do my duties and responsibilities as a doctor when in fact I am a patient too. I have to be holistically fit to render my services to those who are sick,” he said. “Given the fact that I have a weakened immune system, I have to be more extra careful in handling patients especially the infectious ones. I also have to cope with the stresses that my work is throwing at me.”
Since @health_worker5 has yet to disclose his status to his family, he gets a lot of support from friends who are on the same boat as him. “Good thing I was introduced early on to a social networking site where most PLHIV are found. I learn a lot from the experiences, stories and insights they share. Being with them at times makes me feel that I am not alone in this battle.”
@health_worker5 already takes ARVs, and he recalled that “it was an unpleasant experience when I started with Lamivudine, Zidovudine and Nevirapine around February 2013. I got rashes from taking Nevirapine, which is why I was shifted to Efavirenz. However, the dizziness brought about by Efavirenz is really troublesome that until now that I’m on my eighth month on ARVs, I still experience it. I also became anemic (a Zidovudine side effect), which is why again I was shifted to Tenofovir.”
Presently, his ARVs consist of Lamivudine, Tenofovir and Efavirenz, and “other than the dizziness, all the rest are well-tolerated.”
For @health_worker5, disclosing his HIV serostatus is “still a big issue for me. I have no intention of telling my status to anyone just yet,” he said. “Since my family doesn’t even know I’m gay, I cannot just come out to them as having HIV. But yes, in due time I will.”
Among his friends, only his two best friends know his HIV-positive status. “And ever since they learned about it, they have become very supportive. I could say that I am really lucky to have them around,” @health_worker5 said.
As an HIV-positive person, the best lesson @health_worker5 can teach others is that “life goes on even for HIV-positive people. It may hinder you from doing something at one point in your life, but it should not stop you from fulfilling your dreams. Take it as a challenge to make your life better given the condition you/we have. At the end of the day, the victory is sweeter.”