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.
Iam RN found out about his HIV positive status when an opportunity to work in Canada came, because HIV testing formed part of the medical examination that he needed to accomplish.
Looking back, “yes, I worked as an operating room/delivery room (OR/DR) nurse in a government hospital, and I had several needle pricks during the procedures (I handled) without any idea of the status of the patients we catered to because they were all indigents and couldn’t afford to avail the laboratory tests to determine if they’re HIV positive or not, of it they have any other infections,” he said. But Iam RN added that “of course I (also) recognize that the most common cause of HIV transmission is through (unsafe) sexual contact.” But having known about his HIV-positive status, and just as “a fellow PLHIV told me, it’s not the right time to recall how, where, when and why you have this. You engaged yourself to (the unsafe practices), and this is the consequence of that.”
When he knew of his HIV positive status, “of course I was in a state of shock. It was as if I went out my mind at that time; as if I lost all my knowledge about HIV.”
Iam RN could still clearly remember that time when the medical technologist cum counselor in a hospital in Manila started asking him questions, “and I couldn’t talk, as if I was experiencing a laryngeal spasm where there’s no voice (that would come out of me), and my mouth and throat were so dry. I couldn’t even cry at that time. I was thinking of my family, my mom and my aunt who sponsored me to go in Canada. I felt that I was such a big disappointment. I can still remember that time after the counseling; it felt like it was the end of the world to me. I wanted to get hit by a car along Taft Avenue, and just die while everyone was clueless of my status. It was a suicidal experience at first.”
But things eventually changed for Iam RN.
He realized that “nothing has changed. I’m still living a NORMAL life, though now with precaution.”
When he got a chance to disclose his status to his family (particularly his mother, aunt, brothers, and cousins) and to four of his closest friends, “I gained more respect, love, care, and sympathy. They told me that nothing will change. Life must go on.”
Iam RN added: “I’m glad that I made a right decision and choice (in telling my family and friends). I have a wonderful, understanding and open-minded family and friends. They are my motivation, my strength, and my backbone to continue fighting.”
Iam RN also decided to leave the profession he belonged to “because there, I was always at risk. Working in a hospital and having direct contact with the patients was not anymore healthy for me.”
He remained – and still remains – optimistic, nonetheless. “I still have opportunities coming and just waiting for me.”
In fact, “I’m still pursuing my Canadian dream as soon as my CD4 count goes up to 200 and above.”
For Iam RN, “the biggest challenges are adhering with the ARV treatment, taking extra care of myself, avoiding stress…”
Iam RN started with one dose of Lamivudine, Zidovudir and Efavirenz before his ID doctor put it on hold due to allergic reaction. “Well, the side effect was expected,” he said. “But it was hell the whole night. As if I was burning alive. But (the adverse reaction) only lasted for four hours, I think. And it was tolerable.”
All the same, “if you’re really eager to be well, you will take the risk and will have the courage until you surpass it. I’m really determined. I want to be well and to live longer. My mindset is to be okay, to stay healthy, and to show my family that being HIV positive will not stop me from dreaming to have a good life and to have the best future ever,” Iam RN said.
Though select people know of his HIV status, “I’m not yet ready to widely disclose my status,” Iam RN said. “We’re living in a country where not all citizens could understand and accept you. Some think that HIV is a communicable disease that can be transmitted through skin to skin contact, droplets, and so on. Some has knowledge deficit regarding the virus, and discrimination will kill us.”
If there is a lesson he can teach as an HIV positive person, it is for people “not to get deceived by someone or something. Not everything that is pleasurable in our eyes is good. Protect yourself all the time. If you can’t resist the invites, make sure that you and your partner always observe safer sex practices. And let’s stop the spread of HIV.”