Day One With HIV: "I Learned How Much People Can Care for Each Other"
My name is Mikey Barnum. I'm 30 years young and I was first diagnosed as HIV+ in August of 2009. This is the story of a day that changed my life forever:
I had gotten sick. Very sick. I had a high fever, I had night sweats so bad that I woke up with soaked sheets, and even worse, no appetite. I wasn't stupid. I was well-read on the issues and knew what it meant and what it was like when someone contracted HIV. I prayed to God that I was wrong, but in my heart I knew what was happening: I was seroconverting in a bad way.
I made an appointment with my doctor and he told me I just had a bad flu and to rest and drink plenty of liquids. I decided to get a second opinion and this time the doctor, a girl my age and fresh out of med school, asked the pertinent questions and felt I should get the full (and expensive) panel of STD tests. Then came the days of waiting. Eventually, I was called and told to come to the doctor's office for the results. I steeled myself and mentally prepared for what I knew in my heart she would say.
She went down the list of STDs I didn't have. Syphilis -- no. Herpes -- no. Gonorrhea -- no. For moments that seemed like an eternity she was quiet and, with tears in her eyes, she looked at me and I knew. "I have HIV, don't I?" She nodded and said something that I didn't hear because the world stopped existing. Everything was blurred and muddled and I was alone with one thought: I need to ask questions.
I didn't cry because I knew I would do that later. I surprised my doctor and myself with how stoic I appeared to be. I asked what happened next and she explained the details of getting me set up with a specialist, running some more blood work, and then gave me some pamphlets. I hugged her and comforted her and let her know I would be OK (to this day I laugh at that moment).
I left the doctor's office and didn't know where to go or what to do, so I drove to work and went to my boss's office and I told her what just happened and broke down crying. Immediately, I was surrounded and being hugged by her and her two receptionists. They let me know I was loved and that they would support me and to take the day off. Five months later I was let go in an email because I had "been looking tired."
I didn't want to go home and face my parents. I couldn't. They had made it very clear that they didn't support my being gay and that I would be thrown out of the house if I were ever caught "being gay" -- whatever that means. I drove about a mile to my best straight guy friend's house and told him and his mom what the doctor had told me. He just sat there trying to process and she left the room. My friend asked what it meant to be HIV+ and as I was telling him his mom (also my old high school drama teacher) came back into the room with a bowl of blueberries and said, "You eat these because they make you healthy," and then cried and hugged me. The love in that house for me that day is something that I will always hold close to my heart, and as I'm writing this I'm crying because that love meant everything to me that day. I stayed at his house into the night and later explained to his girlfriend and future wife the situation. She too hugged and loved me and that family has ever since been a group of dear, dear friends to me.
That first day, my Diagnosis Day, could have been a very dark day for me. I was lucky enough that I had people who immediately encouraged, supported, and loved me. Diagnosis Day for me was a day that let me know how much people can care for each other. It's something I've kept with me and I've been trying to emulate that sentiment ever since.
From Mikey: I live in South Gate, Calif. I'm 30 years young and I've decided to make being HIV+ something positive in my life by educating and helping others know about what HIV is and what it means to be living with HIV.
Want to share your own "Day One With HIV" story of finding out your diagnosis? Write out your story (1,000 words or fewer, please!), or film a YouTube video, and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the coming months, we'll be posting readers' "Day One" stories here in our HIV/AIDS Resource Center for the Newly Diagnosed. Read other stories in this series.