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, (+63) 9157972229 and (+632) 536-7886.
On December 1, 2013, @Mike_Fozz decided to take the HIV test, just as the world observed the annual World Aids Day, by going to the now closed RITM satellite clinic in Malate, Manila.
“I always had myself tested even before (that),” he recalled, “and I (was) very confident with my HIV-negative status.”
But he recalled prior to getting tested that day that – in the third week of November 2012 – “I met someone and we engaged into a ‘No Strings Attached’/‘Friends with Benefits’ relationship. He’s guwapo, borta, makinis (handsome, muscular and had clear complexion) and looked perfectly fine and healthy. You wouldn’t think that he has (HIV). Every time we see each other, siyempre hindi nawawala ang (of course we always had) sex. And tried both protected and unprotected sex. We ended our NSA relationship in February of 2013.”
In the summer of 2013, “I started to have rashes on my skin. I thought it was just bungang araw (prickly heat) because of the very hot weather. But after a few days it turned out to be a chicken pox; I was so worried because it was my first time to have it.”
While he was getting treatment, @Mike_Fozz said he read every info about chicken pox. And then he came across one that stated that one of the causes of having chicken pox is a “weak immune system”.
“That was the time I started reading articles about HIV,” he recalled.
It also got him so scared that he stopped having sex from May to November of 2013.
Instead, because he said he already felt something happening in his body, he became a voracious reader on everything related to HIV. He planned to get tested, and “I needed to prepare myself for the result, whatever it may be.”
When his reactive result was given him, “nalungkot ako (I was sad), of course,” @Mike_Fozz recalled. “But life must go on.”
That very day, @Mike_Fozz said his way of looking changed. “I promised myself to be more positive in every aspect of life. Whatever negative thing is happening, as much as possible, I try to turn the situation into something positive.”
This is why “I became closer to my family,” he said. Also, “I became more focused on everything that I do. I also quit smoking; don’t party as often; and everyday, I make sure that I get eight hours or more of sleep. In short, I became more disciplined.”
@Mike_Fozz’s CD4 count was 403 when he was diagnosed to be HIV-positive, so he chose not to start his antiretroviral therapy immediately. But in June 2014, when his CD4 count went down to 356, he started his taking his ARVs immediately. With his regimen (Lamivudize, Zidovudine and Efaverinz; LZE), “thankfully, I did not experience any side effects,” he said. He was able to raise his CD4 count again, and he now has undetectable viral load.
“You just need to be committed,” he said. “Never skip and religiously take your meds and you’ll be fine.”
For @Mike_Fozz, the biggest challenge an HIV-positive person can experience is still “discrimination from our society,” he said. And so “I try to teach and educate (people) sa abot ng makakaya ko (to the extent of my capabilities). I tell them that today, PLHIVs can actually live normal lives; that you cannot get it by shaking hands hugging, kissing, and so on.”
He is glad, of course, that there are other PLHIVs who helped him go through life; on top of “the strength I get from my family”.
@Mike_Fozz actually had a chance to confront the person he suspected to have infected him. Right after his tests in RITM (his treatment hub), he created a faux Facebook account and looked for his ex-sexual partner. When he found him, he started chatting with the guy; but this time, he was upfront with him, asking him “saan ang treatment hub mo (where is your treatment hub)?”
The guy allegedly said “RITM”, and that he knew of his status since 2008, thereby confirming @Mike_Fozz’s suspicion.
And so he came out to the guy.
That guy was apologetic, claiming that he had undetectable viral load, so he didn’t know how he could have infected @Mike_Fozz.
Everything at that point became “he said, he said”, and “me, who committed to continue with my journey and just go on with my life, decided to just forgive him. Inisip ko na lang na hindi naman ako gagaling na kahit saktan or ipakulong ko pa siya (I thought that I won’t be cured if I hurt him or have him jailed).”
As an HIV-positive person, the best lesson @Mike_Fozz can teach others who are also HIV-positive is to fight on. “This is not the end. There are so many living proofs that there’s life after HIV,” he said. “Just learn to live a balanced life, live healthy, take your meds on time, listen to your doctor, love yourself, and believe me… you’ll be okay; we will be okay.”
And for HIV-negative people out there?
“Please stay negative,” @Mike_Fozz said. “Huwag makipagsapalaran sa isang gabing sarap (Don’t play with your life for fun for just one night). Think before you fuck!” (with Michael David C. Tan)
Follow @Mike_Fozz on Twitter.