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.
In March 2012, @ItsOfficialNemo was diagnosed to be HIV-positive. “Prior to discovering my status, I was already (going) in and out of the hospital because of my pertinent fever at the time. I started getting sick frequently sometime around October 2011, but private hospitals won’t allow me to check in because they thought it was just a simple fever,” he recalled. “However, in February 2012 I collapsed in my own apartment and I was rushed to the hospital in Makati to be examined. At that point, I requested the doctor (to allow me to) stay for further examinations because I was really getting scared and I was losing weight abruptly.”
Because of his health condition at that time, the personal and professional aspects of @ItsOfficialNemo’s life were already affected. His boss, in particular, was already very concerned about his health. “So there I was, admitted in one of the private hospitals in Makati, doctors examining my condition because – aside from my fever – I had some rashes in some parts of my body. I went through a couple of tests at that time (and) it was during my ultrasound schedule that the doctor noticed some oversize nodules/lymph nodes situated at the left side of my neck. After further tests, the doctor recommended that I go through a major operation to take out those lymph nodes for them to be examined.”
And so from a couple of days in the hospital, @ItsOfficialNemo’s stay stretched to more than a week. At that time, he already asked his mother to fly into Manila to be with him before his operation.
Before the operation, no explanation was given to him about his health condition. Instead, the doctors just told him to wait after the operation so they can validate his test results.
When @ItsOfficialNemo returned to the hospital, the document with the test result indicated that he had TB of the lympnodes as the diagnosis. He recalled that “I proceed to my doctor on that same day with a sigh of relief that it’s not the diagnosis I was expecting.” But his doctor started to ask him questions related to his sexual practices. The doctor also asked him if he ever had HIV Ab test – which he never had until then – and eventually recommending it.
@ItsOfficialNemo admitted that “I didn’t submit myself for testing right away.” Instead, he only religiously took the medicines prescribed by the doctor for TB. It took him seven months before he considered getting tested.
“While I was browsing my Facebook account, I saw one posting of my friend who is a member of an organization promoting HIV awareness. At that time, he posted an invitation for (people to avail of) free HIV testing.” To make the story short, it was then that @ItsOfficialNemo found out about his HIV-positive status.
At the time of him getting tested, @ItsOfficialNemo recalled that “when I opened the envelope (containing the result), I was not hoping anymore that it would be negative because I had a very strong feeling beforehand that something was very wrong about my health and the possibility of me being infected is something I (could not avoid). And there, under my name, it stated positive. There was this long silence. It’s like the doctor and the counselor were waiting for me to break down or to react before they did or said something, but I could not find any word to say at that moment.”
In hindsight, “counting back (when) I got terribly sick to the time I was diagnosed, I just got out from a relationship that went bad. After that traumatic break-up, that’s when I lost myself and experimented with different kinds of illegal drugs (and had sexual contacts with) strangers I met mostly online,” @ItsOfficialNemo. While he has a gut feeling he knows who, specifically, infected him, @ItsOfficialNemo said that “there’s no point in pointing who’s to blame now because it’s clear to me that it was also my fault. All I can think of at that time is how am I going to get through this by myself.”
@ItsOfficialNemo decided to inform his two close friends first about his status. “It started as an obligation for me to tell someone because it was required for my counseling session before I could start taking ARV,” he said. But having disclosed, “I realized it gave me a sense of relief and comfort exposing my status to my two friends and how they reacted without judgment but love and understanding to me.”
@ItsOfficialNemo found people from Twitter he considers as “friends of the same status like mine”. “At first, I didn’t know that a certain community like ours existed. I discovered this channel when I saw a blog one time that led me to create an account in Twitter, and that blogger who is now a good friend of mine introduced me to my fellow ‘pozzies’. We keep in touch and meet once in a while to show support to each other, and it really feels good a having people with you who understand your new journey and are with you in this new life.”
@ItsOfficialNemo has been taking ARVs since June 2012 and “it has been pleasant for me. Though I was warned by my doctor that during the first two weeks of taking ARV, I may experience some side effects, in general, I didn’t experience any major struggle. I am thankful that my body is responding well to the ARVs.” @ItsOfficialNemo thinks his mentality contributed a lot in the whole process of taking the drugs. “I was so determined at that point that things will get better now that I am taking ARV. Setting a positive mindset and putting things in perspective helped me a lot in processing my condition with the support of my friends.”
At this point, @ItsOfficialNemo has yet to disclose his status to his family. “I am still contemplating how and when,” he said. “To be honest, the fear of losing them after I disclosed my status to them is still strong at this point.”
His friends now serve as his support system. “I still consider myself blessed to have met new friends sharing the same experience (as me, and forging) a new life with, and this opens new doors for me. They made me realize that my status will not stop me from living. Instead, they made me value myself more and gave me a clearer understanding about life.”
As an HIV-positive person, @ItsOfficialNemo has lessons he believes he can teach others.
“Be responsible, for those who are non-positive – it is still best to have yourself tested. We are so fortunate that we have NGOs that offer free HIV testing, and our community is very aggressive nowadays in promoting HIV awareness in all channels (Internet, television, broadsheet, et cetera). Do not be afraid, you owe this yourself,” @ItsOfficialNemo said.
And for “my fellow beautiful people or ‘pozzies’, life goes on. Let’s continue to love and live responsibly this time. Our status does not define who we are, and we should not feel any less just because (of it). In the end, it’s not our status that will (define) us but how well we live our lives.”