"I'd Always Practiced Safer Sex -- For the Most Part"
Daniel Recalls His Thoughts From the Day He Was Diagnosed HIV Positive
In the fall of 1998, I had been happily in a monogamous relationship for two years. My partner and I met in 1996 at an unusual place for people to actually make a connection, and come out of it with a relationship -- a bathhouse in Toronto, Canada. What started as a random sexual encounter was within days a full-blown romance with cards, and flowers, and endless phone calls.
On my "Day One" in the fall of 1998, ironically, we were once again in a bathhouse, this time in Orlando, Fla. Seeking to put some spice into our relationship, we had begun opening our relationship up sexually to other partners. We had ground rules: no sex without the other present, and no doing it in our "marital" bed. So, a bathhouse seemed a likely place to meet partners for intimate encounters without damaging our relationship.
The bathhouse was doing voluntary testing as a public service, and the week before we had both submitted to tests -- as we had never been tested prior to our relationship. We had always used protection for ourselves, and our other partners, but thought it would be good to know our actual statuses.
We sat down for our results, and the two volunteers gave my partner his results first. "Adam" (not his real name), they said, "your results came back negative. You do not have HIV." What seemed like an hour passed, as the volunteers started shuffling papers and getting some brochures ready to, I assume, hand me -- something they did not do prior to giving my partner his results. "Daniel," they said, "we are sorry to say that you have tested positive. We would like to give you some literature and direction as to what steps you should take now."
Anything and everything else that was said to me at that time was a blur. What? How could this be possible? I felt fine. I looked fine. I was healthy, overweight even. I have been with my partner for two years, and he was fine. And up until then, "for the most part," I had been safe. The thoughts of "for the most part" started racing through my head as I thought of when, where, how and who. I would not then, and still have not ever been able to put an exact finger on it. Although, I can narrow it down to a couple of drunk encounters when I did not use the best of judgment.
My partner immediately grabbed my hand as we walked to our cubicle room at the bathhouse. Suddenly, everything disgusted me about the place we were in. I could see germs everywhere, and opportunities for infection around every corner. After a few moments of laying on our bed, as Adam hugged me and told me everything would be OK, we packed up and left. We went to eat, and though I could barely eat my food, I got through the meal with Adam and we talked about all the what ifs. I was amazed at his love and support in that moment and, even though he told me he would never leave me (and has since), he did all he could to comfort me and help me get the help I needed at that time.
When we arrived back at our own home that evening, we fell asleep holding each other. [That evening,] many things ran through my head. I thought, "this is not going to get me. I will find a way to stay well." The next morning, I called my county's health department and began researching all I could about the disease, miracle medications, and the dos and don'ts of living with HIV.
I quickly found one of the leading infectious disease doctors in the nation, and certainly the best in my town, Dr. Gerald Pierone of Vero Beach, Fla. Now, some 15 years later, I am lucky to have had his amazing staff of health care professionals on my side. With a beginning viral load of 100,000 copies, and a CD4 count of 400, I was put on study medications right away. I was religious about taking the medication, and about keeping myself healthy. When my doctor said, "You will have fewer complications from the disease than your brother has from diabetes," amazingly he was right.
Within short order, I informed my whole family: two sets of parents, eight siblings, an ex-wife and her family about the disease. All of them were supportive and told me "whatever you need bro."
I am happy to say that, since 1998, my viral load has been undetectable for years, and my CD4 count fluctuates from 700 to 1,000.
My advice to everyone is:
- Don't wait -- find a health care professional that you can connect with and seek out treatment options that you can commit to.
- Enlist the support of family and friends. They will be more loving than you can imagine.
- Be open and honest with new relationships and dating experiences. If a person cannot deal with dating a poz person, that is their issue, not yours.
Most of all, remember that DAY ONE is only DAY ONE, and it could be the start of many, many more day ones for years to come.
From Daniel Mark Hall: I live in Vero Beach, Fla. I am gay, I am 52 and I am HIV positive. I am a working professional and have enjoyed a career in the hospitality industry for over 25 years, and for the last 15 of those, I have worked as a personal assistant and estate house manager. I am also an actor, a director and a singer and have been in community theater for over 20 years in Vero Beach.
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.