I am in a much better place now
than I was before HIV.
To explain, I need to take you
back to those days before the diagnosis. I’d moved to start a new life in Spain. Arriving
in a new city
in the middle of summer, I felt like I was on holiday and wanted to experience
it all – and that included all the saunas and sex clubs the city had to offer.
I knew about HIV but I was really ignorant. I was enjoying being promiscuous
and, apart from the very rare drunken occasion, I thought I was being careful.
The truth is I still don’t know
how I came to be infected. But, owing to what occurred afterwards, I now
attribute it to an incident one night in a sex club when a stranger forced
himself roughly on to me. I would have found it horny, if it wasn’t so painful
and I made him stop almost immediately. I would say it lasted only about 10
seconds and the guy didn't cum inside me so I thought nothing of it at the
time. However, about two months later, I started to get flu symptoms and I went
for a HIV test. It came back negative, ironically on World AIDS Day.
My lack of understanding about
how tests work caused problems later. Between being infected and testing, there
was a period of only eight weeks and so, I guess, the antibodies didn’t show
up. But I had a negative test so everything was fine!
Fast forward ten months. I’d had
a cold on and off for six months, I felt incredibly tired and weak and couldn’t
stop coughing. I returned to England
and the GP told me three times that I just had a virus and it would go away. He
was right and wrong.
It was only when I was returning
to Spain that I decided to test again so I could talk about HIV in my own language
with the nurse. I thought that I hadn’t taken any risks since the last result
so completely expected it to come back negative. I was completely hit for six
when it didn’t. In my ignorance, I asked how long I had got to live. Although
the nurse reassured me that the prognosis was good, he kept saying how sorry he
was which seemed a bit incongruous.
It also turned out that partying
hard, working hard and exercising hard while not eating properly over the
preceding months had taken its toll on my body. Not only did I have HIV but it
seems that I went straight from seroconversion to having an AIDS-defining
illness and my CD4 count had dropped to 46. All new terminology to me.
The month that I spent in
hospital was the turning point for me. Family and friends were told and they
showed incredible support, visiting me in hospital and reassuring me, then helping
me recuperate after being discharged.
I rapidly learned about HIV,
about CD4, CD8, viral loads, testing, medications, adherence, superinfection,
I realised that I could live with
HIV infection and do all the things that I wanted. But I also realised what it
was that I wanted. I wanted to be close to family and friends and not living
some party lifestyle, constantly seeking out the next quick thrill. And then
while spending time with family recovering, I found my partner and we are still
happy together. I don’t mean that life is perfect now, or that I would say ‘no’
to a cure to the illness so that I can stop taking my meds. And there are still
plenty of things that I want to do. But I am happy and, like I said at the
start, I think I’m in a much better place in my life now.
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