Yes, I'm gay. I probably was since the day I was born. On my 21st birthday, I sort of had my debut. I came out to my parents. A little drama from mom, and some indifference from dad. An above-average coming out. Almost perfect.

Nine years later, two weeks before my 30th birthday, I found out... I'M HIV POSITIVE.

And so my story begins... I'm BACK IN THE CLOSET.

Friday, August 15, 2008

RITM Day 1 (A Day w U)

It’s a huge week for me. This is the week that I make my first appearance at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine. I just realized it’s in Muntinlupa already, of which Alabang is a part. That shows you how unfamiliar I am with the south parts of Manila. The farthest south I’m familiar with is Taguig, where my first boyfriend lives.

Anyways, yes, it was U who offered to take me to the RITM. I took a leave from work this Monday. U and I agreed to meet at the GMA Kamuning Station of the MRT at 9:00 am. I left the house at 8:00, amidst the baffled look on my mom’s face, who was wondering if I was actually going to work. Of course, I lied, and said I was. I left as late as possible without being too obvious. I passed by the ATM to pay some bills and kill some time before riding a bus to the MRT station. I got there around 8:30, and lined up to get a ticket to the Magallanes Station. I didn’t mind being early, especially after U mentioned he hated waiting. He got there and acknowledged he was late by eight minutes. Let’s just say he was worth the wait. Hahaha.

I had decided to dress casually, in just a white shirt and a pair of jeans, which may have added to doubt in my mom’s mind as to where I was going. But U surprised me, he was dressed even more simply, in a pair of shorts and a shirt. Hot nonetheless.

Anyways, enough flirting. I was trying to account the cost of transport to the RITM. Tricycle to EDSA, P7.50. Bus to GMA Kamuning Station, P12.00. MRT to Magallanes, P14.00. Bus to Metropolis Alabang via the Skyway, P35.00. And finally an FX Taxi at the Alabang Central Station to the RITM, P20.00. So an hour and a half and P88.50 later, we were there. The RITM.

It was a quiet building on top of a hill, which looked decent with upkeep. We walked through the corridors of the main building, and I was shocked when I realized that U knew so many people there. I just thought he was the serious type, shy to some extent, so he didn’t seem like the type.

We walked to the Out-Patient Department, which I later realized was dedicated to HIV “clients”. Yep, that’s the term U always used. We were not patients, we were clients. We encountered a couple of guys there who he greeted by name and introduced me to. Seeing that the doctor was not there yet, we left the room and wandered back through the corridors. He introduced me to one lady, Ate, who we passed. We then headed on out what seemed to be a rear entrance to the bulding.

We came to what was an Annex building of the RITM. We walked in and all I could think of was that it was like a school building. Its doors opened up into a courtyard around which some quiet rooms and corridors sat. We walked to one of the corner units of the building. No labels, no room number, nothing. Door opens and… wow! It honestly looked like a kindergartener’s classroom! There were small scale sofas lining three of the four walls, and a long desk lining the fourth, behind which a pair of ladies were sitting. U introduced us.

This other Ate is a nurse I think, and the other girl was identified as the encoder of the OPD Annex. They were nice, regarding me as U’s new recruit. They invited us to take our lunch with them, so we went and bought some food to eat with the rice and other viands they already had. It was nice to see U in what seemed to be his element, his territory. He was more loose, less stern, lighter and happier. He ate to his heart’s content, admitting he had always been big on rice, and even joking (I think) that he was fattening me up as well. I would have loved to assume he was flirting with me.

Just a few minutes after we were done with lunch, we got word that the doctor was in, so we headed back to the OPD, and there she was, the doctor, who ushered me to take a seat as she was still with another client. U got his supply of medications while we were waiting. As much as I’d like to think that he was there purely for me, hehehe, that was not the case.

Anyways, it was finally my turn, and U sat in with me and the doc. U gave his introduction. I was the guy registered at San Lazaro, advised to start on ARVs, but not without the family knowing, but was not ready to tell the family. I gave her all the copies of the medical results that I had. She looked through them and asked me some of the usual questions. Why I got tested, where I got it from, what I was feeling, etc. Then she helped me fill up the information sheet, with the usual stuff. Sexual orientation, profile of sexual partners, vices, medical history, etc. And then she came to my verdict.

Definitely, I was welcome there. My previous lab results were good, but they’d have to take new baseline measurements for me. Noting my previous CD4 count of 343, the doctor said it wasn’t too urgent that I start on ARVs, and that in cases like mine, it would be my choice if I wanted to start. Hmmm. Interesting. She asked me, “How badly do you want to start?” I said, “Pretty badly.” She explained to me the dedication involved in taking ARVs. Once I start, it would be a lifetime commitment. The medication would only be effective if taken exactly on schedule. No misses, no advances, no forgetting, no losses. I think I’m ready for that.

That being said, she and Ate worked together to give me all the lab tests I’d need to have done. Some old friends, the CBC, x-ray, and CD4 count were to be done. But a lot more new tests were coming my way. The Viral Count, which measures the concentration of the virus in my blood. Urinalysis and Fecalysis. PPD, which was meant to detect a tuberculosis infection. Hepatitis Profiling, to check for hepatitis. And most amazing, Genotyping, which the doctor says can help predict which types of medication I will be most compatible with. The fecalysis I opted to take elsewhere, because of the 30 minute timeframe given for a valid sample. All the other tests are free, except for the PPD, for which I had to pay for the medication. Just P120.00. Not too bad.

So we finally left the RITM, with my lab requests on hand, my Alabang experience put on hold for now, until Thursday that is, when I’m having my lab tests done. U and I actually walked back towards the highway, where we were to catch a bus back home. It was one long, hot, sweaty, tiring day for U and I, but it was all worth it. It was another eye opener for me.

My assessment? Transport expense is a point for San Lazaro. The P88.50 trip to RITM was everything compared to the P20.00 I spend getting to San Lazaro. Aesthetically, RITM is more pleasing over all. Comparisons to a school building and a kindergartener’s room should spell it all out. Plus the tranquility of being hidden up on a hill does have some novelty to it. The crowd is much less at the RITM, but as I said before, the pleasure of the Festive Thursdays at San Lazaro will probably wear out. Treatment-wise, I appreciate very much the several options and open-mindedness afforded to me by the people at the RITM. It’s striking how differently they handle patients or clients, and I’m happy with the way RITM does.

Obviously, I look forward to the next few visits to the RITM.

My HIV journey has just hit a fork in the road. Looks like it’s a good one.


HIVPOS27 said...

I'm now intrigued with you and RITM. Well I'm a client of SLH and almost every week I go to SLH to have myself check and connect to my friends there. Based on ur story RITM is offering alot for people like US and it starts me to think if I can also transfer there because for one it is nearer to my place rather than going to SLH.

PinoyPoz said...

Maybe you should check it out for yourself. I'm not saying it's for everyone, I'm still in the process of discovering whether it is for me or not. But give it a shot, the proximity might be a big factor for you and help out.

Took a look at your blog too. Thanks for the inclusion of this blog in your blogroll :-)

E said...

yup, RITM is way better! Was there thurs am with a friend to get our cd4, hepa, cbc and viral load plus xray :-) nice quiet and people are accommodating :)

Welcome to RITM pinoypoz! Ate Ellen is the best!

PinoyPoz said...

waaaaah! i was there too E! ooops, i've just preempted my next blog entry... :-) thanks for the welcome!

E said...

wow then that means i saw you already guessing you were the tall one? or probabgly the guy wearing shades hahahahahahhaha u dont have to post this sssshhhhh... we have to keep our identities a secret I respect that sssssshhhhhhh

PinoyPoz said...

hahaha, nah, i doubt if you saw me. i was there before 7 am and was able to leave by 9 am. there weren't any other clients yet, and ate ana had just arrived :-)