I took the call on a Thursday evening, and browbeat the nurse into telling me which test was abnormal. HIV was the furthest answer from my mind, but there it was. "You'll be dead in a week," I thought to myself. My wife came home, I told her and within five minutes we decided to divorce. I didn't want my kid to see me waste away to nothing, and the marriage was a shadow of its former self, so it was not a hard decision. Painful, but not difficult. Straight men can't get HIV, right?
I left the house and just drove. Don't know how it happened, but I ended up near the local university hospital and just walked into the ER. It was very late, and there was no one there, so I approached the desk and told the attendant that I was thinking about hurting myself. She made a call and shortly this young woman came down to fetch me. She was from the psych ward.
It was just like you see on TV. She took my belt and shoelaces and I went in a little room by myself for a short while. Soon she came back and we sat down to talk. We talked until the sun came up. About suicide, depression, HIV/AIDS, etc. First thing Friday morning, this young grad student got on the phone and started making some calls. By 9:30, I had a case worker and saw her by 11:00. That's when my real education began.
The case worker got me into a support group and I was to attend my first meeting the following Monday. The weekend was very hard. Lots of tears and angry words with my wife. She and my little girl had to go through testing and, thankfully, they were negative. Not that I deserved any, but there was little sympathy shown. She couldn't possibly have hated me as much as I hated myself that weekend.
The support group was great. I was the only straight man there, but the rest of the guys totally accepted me and were a great source of knowledge in that most were very long-term survivors. A couple had over 20 years with the disease at that point. Just knowing that these men had gutted it out through all the terrible early medications and were still kicking was an inspiration. They talked me through the stages: denial, rage, sadness and finally acceptance. Once you accept your situation, the only person that you can rely on from that point on is yourself. Yes, the support helps, but you yourself have to take charge.
That first week, I got my blood drawn and was on the borderline to start meds. Luckily, the university was just beginning the drug study to see if multiple meds could be combined into one. This eventually led to the first single pill antiretroviral, Atripla [efavirenz/tenofovir/FTC]. It has been 12 years and I am still on the exact same regimen and my numbers are typically exceptionally good. My doctor says it is unusual to be able to stay on one treatment so long, but she's confident that things will remain the same for a long time.
So, I manage the illness ok. I'm healthy, and still working, but I have self-isolated, which isn't always the best thing to do. My advice to the newly diagnosed is to get yourself educated. There are reputable sites like TheBody.com and AIDSmeds.com, but there is also a lot of misinformation out there, too. Do your research and make your own decisions, plus be a partner in your treatment plan. Most importantly, don't let HIV/AIDS run your life. It is traumatic to be diagnosed and coping can be hard, but it does get better and can be a totally manageable condition.
Lastly, reach out to people you trust. Don't try to go it alone, but be a little careful whom you tell. Most positive people have had mixed reactions when disclosing. Try to find a support group and definitely find a case worker. They have the resources to help you fast-track finding the support programs that will aid you going forward with your long and healthy life.
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.