Thursday, October 30, 2008

HIV - It's cool by the Pool...right? [COLUMN]

I have AIDS. They say it's no big deal, but it is a big deal. Try saying those words to anyone: friends, colleagues, parents, potential girlfriends (potential exes). Not something you'd ever want to do, never mind spent the rest of your life having to repeat your case by arguing ad hominem(with yourself and the world).

Life is not fair, but logic and consequences give it a certain clarity. So when you take the modern HIV test (which provides results in seconds, rather than a number of weeks)clarity is what you get. I now appreciate what fertile women have to go through when they take pregnancy tests. Something that can change the course (and quality) of your entire life, relies on whether a thin pinkish red line forms in a particular white space.

While the results are quick, it nevertheless requires the passage of a lifetime of seconds. In my case, the vertical white line did appear. I watched the grains of blood filling up that white space, pleading for the color to dissipate. But, sure enough, a vertical pillar began to form. The sense of doom is palpable. The hypoxia begins, the faintness of heart.

The lady who assisted me was a motherly, angelic figure. She explained, with humor and patience - and some sensitivity - that the first white space was the crucial one, and if a person was HIV positive, it filled up almost immediately. Now I began to understand her flippant, easy going attitude (filling in forms, devil may care, while I sweated the small - but ultimately giant - stuff). So since my blood column was in the right hand column I was fine. 2 vertical pinkish columns in those white spacesa mean: HIV +. The column on the left, as I say is critical - and if you're HIV+ it fills up immediately.

If you are to get a positive test, in that moment, your life changes. You anticipate a decline in your well being. Probably, as honest as you mean to be, you will start protecting this secret from the world. There will be THOSE WHO KNOW and THOSE WHO CAN'T KNOW. It's understandable. The point is, it isn't an easy place to be. And this is the reason why so many people are loathe to have themselves tested, with, of course, consequences of their own.

Even though I tested negative I was apprehensive. Initially I sort've misunderstood the lady and so honestly believed a positive result was manifesting before my eyes.

I asked her whether most people doing the test were nervous and she said every one. She said she had had no positive results today (I was one of the last to be tested), but couldn't speak for those testing next door (and she nodded towards the wall). She said a positive result was hard (I gathered, for her too).

My impression is that the marketing efforts so far make the test out to be not a big deal. Let's be clear. A positive result is little different from being diagnosed with cancer. Yes, it's not the end of the world, but it certainly marks a boundary between the sunny happy and carefree life that was, and an inclement downturn.

People aren't stupid. The way to market this stuff is by being clear,and no nonsense. You put others lives at risk by not knowing your status.
The other aspect is, I got tested at work. I've seen tests that are very public. At schools for example. They do need to happen in a room with one other person - someone qualified and trustworthy and showing a degree of compassion/consideration. Kits can also be provided.
Doing so at work works because:
- it is convenient
- it's a work sanctioned break from work
- there is a positive peer pressure
- it is somewhat anonymous in the sense that friends and family do not necessarily know you are taking the test
- it's something in your ( has to be admitted, your company and Healthcare providers) best interests to do anyway

Discovery Health seem to be aware of best practise, and have become very efficient in their rollout. At the same time that I checked my HIV status I tested my cholesterol, BMI, glucose etc. All good, except my BMI could be a bit lower. I need to lose about 6-8kg to be where I ideally need to be.

It's good though, to know I don't have HIV, as opposed to not having HIV and not knowing it either way. I hope this message encourages you to take what is a bold step. If you do take this bold step, whatever the result, you can begin to live with more certainty and clarity going forward. Good luck.

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