Personal Perspective: Why Me? Why Now?
I am not a good person about going to the doctor. Whenever I went, they wanted to take blood to see what was wrong with me, and I didn't want that because it might come back HIV positive. I remember when I lived in California a couple of years ago, I got shingles. I was told it was due to stress and I was like, "Okay -- I just lost a friend in a car accident, which I saw, so it must be that." The doctor never told me that shingles is an HIV-related illness, so I went on thinking I was okay.
I moved to New York City and started to work for an org that deals with HIV/AIDS. But last June I started coughing a lot and I was like, "Well, it has to do with the weather." I didn't think nothing of it, but at the same time I had friends coming out to me about their HIV and I started to think it was a sign from God saying, "You need to get tested." I kept on not looking at it but I saw signs. Could I be? I was losing weight.
I am the strong person in my group of friends, and I have lost a lot of friends to this disease. I lost my mother to AIDS. I was angry: "Why is God doing this to me? Why me and not anyone else?" I have been through a lot in this world. I had a mother who took drugs by using needles, and I was not brought up by her. I mean, I am not blaming her for my actions because I was not that innocent, either.
I just couldn't deal with it. What would my friends think? How would I look if I was sick with this? Would I die faster, like my mother? I mean, this is hard for a single person to deal with, who doesn't have no one in this world but his friends.
So I went and got a physical and when I called for my results I was told that I needed to come in and take an HIV test because my blood was not looking right. I thought, "Oh, no -- has this really caught up to me? Am I now going to get sick and have my face look all sunk in?" I was worried people would look at me and say, "You are HIV positive." I felt my life was gone. How would I tell my partner? Would I have to tell everybody?
I started to hide and got very angry: "This is not going to happen to me! Now my name is going to be on some piece of paper and the whole world is going to know what is wrong with me and they are going to see that I am sick and I am going to die alone. I don't want that. I don't want this to be on a paper somewhere but now there is nothing I can do about it."
It took me a while to go to the doctor and talk to him. I was going to tell him that I was not ready for this test and that I would need some time. In the waiting room, I was shaking because I did not want to be there, number one, and number two, I was not ready. So I said to myself, "This is a mistake and this is not happening to me." I walked into his office and as he was going through my chart I was building up to telling him that I would like to wait for the HIV test because I was not ready. But as I was going to tell him, he said, "Oh, here is your result: you're HIV positive."
At this point my world came down. It was finally here. I was an HIV victim. So I was like, "Okay, I am ready to leave." And he wanted to know if I should call someone or did I have someone to talk to and I said, no, I was going to be fine and I did not need no one but just wanted to leave. I took a copy of my results and left.
I wanted my world to end. I went to work but didn't talk about my problems. If my co-workers found out, how were there going to treat me? Would it be different from the way they already felt? So I said everything was fine, but I told two co-workers later on and I had the their support and they have stood behind me. I figured, "Well I have HIV now but I will not have to take meds because I have been okay without them." But my doctor had given me a prescription for something called Bactrim and I thought, Oh hell, no, I am not going on HIV meds so I can just die faster." And my roommate told me that it could cause terrible side effects.
My coworkers explained time and time again that it was just an antibiotic, like you take for pneumonia, and that the side effects didn't happen to most people. So I took it, but then I was mad because I started to get thrush and I was like, "What is that? Now that I am taking meds, why are things happening to me? I will stop all this and forget that this is happening to me." But I didn't because my coworkers told me that I could get worse.
A month later I had to go back to the doctor but this time I was not going to the same one. I was like, "No one told you to do this test on me in the first place and I did not want to know about this." So I went and got a different doctor. They say that if you have HIV you need to feel comfortable with your doctor and I wanted to start to feel that way. If I was going to admit that I was positive I needed to really be honest. So I went to a new doctor and it was hard because I was like, "Here we go again. Will this doctor do the same thing?" But it was not so bad because when I met him we sat down and had a good talk about how I was feeling, and then I got tested for my viral load and T-cell count.
After a few days I got my results back. I had a T-cell count of 53 and that was not good. At this point I had to decide about taking meds, and I did not want to do that because I thought I would die faster. I felt like if I was going to do this I would take the best one there is but I was scared because of the side effects. My friends told me it will cause you to have nightmares and your liver would be affected and I was like, okay, Bactrim is one thing but now HIV meds? No way.
So after a few days of talking with my two co-workers, who have more experience in this, I decided to take the meds. I had to take Atripla and I want to say I have not had any side effects to this day. My T-cell count went from 53 to 268 in a month and a half, which was a good thing.
I can honestly say that this is a difficult thing to deal with but with the right support and the right knowledge you can survive. I have known about this since June and I can say I am now in acceptance of it. I am okay with saying I am HIV positive. I know that not everybody needs to know what is going on and not everybody must know. But I am glad I have done the test and I want people to understand that when you think that people are not there for you, someone is there for you. So if you feel the need to get a test, go ahead. This is my story and I hope that it helps anyone or everyone that reads this.
This article was provided by AIDS Community Research Initiative of America. It is a part of the publication ACRIA Update. Visit ACRIA's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.