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 in September 2012 when Uno first had an HIV-related symptom. “Being an emergency room nurse, I am aware of several medical conditions… how it is acquired and all. (So in 2012) I was so surprised to have gotten boils (pigsa) on my buttocks. There were only two possible reasons for having it. First, poor hygiene; and second, (a compromised) immune system. I was pretty sure it was not because of my hygiene,” Uno said.
Although he is a medical professional, “back then, practicing safe sex was something ‘unessential’ for me. I had a strong feeling that I might have been infected with HIV, but I was so complacent that I ended up disregarding the idea of being positive.”
With his boils, instead of finding out if he was indeed infected by HIV, “what I did was just sought out medical treatment for my skin infection. After fully recovering from the skin infection I had, I completely dismissed the possibility of being HIV-positive that moment,” Uno recalled.
But after just three months, “I had multiple boils in the same region, which I found very alarming. Together with the skin infection, I also realized how much weight I lost and how sickly I have become.” So in January this year, “I faced my fear of being HIV-positive. It was my own decision to get tested.”
Uno said he know how he got infected; but if asked from whom, “I was too promiscuous to identify who infected me,” he said.
After he tested positive, “my initial reaction was nothing… I did not feel anything. I felt disconnected from myself.”
Also after he tested positive, “the biggest challenge that I had to face was to take care of myself when I got severely ill. Most of my family members were in the US during that time I had pneumonia and boils. Although my younger siblings were around, I felt that it would be unfair for them to attend to my medical needs. So, I had to nurse myself to full recovery.”
Nowadays, though, “my support group consists of two of my siblings, two close friends from college, and a group of fellow HIV-positive individuals I met from a training program about self-empowerment. To this day, I still haven’t found the purpose of disclosing my status to the rest of my family, especially to my parents. As selfish as it may sound, I don’t think that my parents deserve to know my condition – my mom in particular who is battling with cancer for almost a decade now.”
On disclosure, Uno believes that “telling someone that you’re HIV-positive is like letting that person have your Kryptonite. It’s in their power to protect you or harm you. And I try my best not to give much of my Kryptonite away.”
Uno was advised to take ARVs from the moment he got his first CD4 result. “I am now in my eighth month of ART. Aside from having periodic rashes, I have been feeling a lot healthier compared to before.”
If there is a “major drawback” for testing positive, Uno said it is “not being able to ‘fully’ practice my profession as a nurse here or abroad. I had to let go of my career as a nurse. One major reason why I decided to quit my job is having the fear of being discriminated. Sadly, even among medical professionals, being HIV-positive will lead to direct or indirect discrimination. It was really heartbreaking to have your dreams shatter in front of you and knowing that you only have yourself to blame.”
In hindsight, “to this day, I am still sorry for disappointing myself, but I am also slowly coming into terms with the fact that past is past. Although things got out of hand, I took full ownership of my situation by working out (the) things that I have a control of and letting go of things that I can not change.”
But Uno learned some of life’s lessons when he tested positive. “The best lesson that HIV taught me is that life is indeed short. So I try to make every moment count from now on,” Uno said. “I know that I am still a work in progress. Every day, I maintain a conscious effort to truly love myself. I am now a firm believer of the statement: ‘You can only love others when you love yourself’. And from that love I invest within me, I can love others. You only have one life, treasure it, because you are a gem. And that’s the lesson I can share to everyone.”