Another big Thursday for me. I left around 7 am, but not before talking with K over the phone. He just called to send me off on what he thinks is another regular work day for me. Little did he know.
So I made it to the HIV ward of the San Lazaro Hospital a little past 8 am, had myself registered, and my vital signs taken. H4-2008-054. Weight is still the same, blood pressure normal, temperature was a bit high, I’m thinking because I had barely taken a breather before they sat me down to take it. But I was feeling fine.
I noticed some of those metal medical clipboards on the counter, probably records of those confined. I noticed that the patient codes were written on the top of the clipboards, one of which I read as H4-2008-059. I realized, geesh, at least five other people have already been diagnosed after me. And whoever this is, his condition has called for him to be confined. I’m pretty lucky then.
I walked into the waiting room, and sat down. There were three other guys already there. One of them I recognized to be the guy trying to smile at me when I was there two weeks ago. A bit surprising, since he has been checked-up at least twice this month already. He recognized me, smiled and went back to reading his newspaper. The four of us continued waiting since the doctors hadn’t arrived yet.
After a while, Y walked in and started chatting up with all of us there, who he knew apparently. It was nice to see a familiar face. He still treated me as the new kid, which was nice.
I heard voices from the reception counter, later on realizing it was the other doctor. She called for me, and instructed the nurse to hand me my referral slip for the CD4 count. I was pointed to the direction of the SACCL, short for STD/AIDS Central Cooperative Laboratory. Their name was also on my diagnostic results which I got last April. Apparently this is where most of the STD related tests are done, such as Hepatitis, HIV, Venereal Disease, etc.
But before going, I noticed the guy getting his vital signs taken, looking at me. He was cute. He seemed like an older guy, smaller, fair, manly, a bit stocky, dignified, and a bit shy. My type. I don’t know what his name is, but he was looking at me, and I was looking back. I still wasn’t hell bent at using the ward as a cruising place so I picked up my heels and just headed to the SACCL.
Walking to the next building, 8 or 9 people were waiting before me. I had to spill over to the waiting area outside the building where one other guy was. He asked me what I was there for, explaining he was there for a medical test for Hepatitis required for his application to the Philippine National Police. I don’t remember what I answered but I’m sure I couldn’t have been vaguer. Hahaha.
When it was the turn of the guy in front of me, I could hear from the voices in the lab that something was wrong. The guy first walked out with a cotton ball taped to his left arm. Going back in, he later walked out with another cotton ball on his right arm. Still they weren’t done. I don’t know where the hell else they took his blood, but this was scaring me quite a bit already!
Then my turn came. Oddly enough, they asked me to write my real name on the referral form, contrary to what I believed was a confidentiality law for HIV infected persons. If I were a fraction of sensitive and defensive, I would’ve put up a fight. But I wasn’t, so I penned my name away.
Then I saw the needle. It was bigger than my usual and it hurt going in. Then I felt the lady pushing and pulling and wiggling it around in there. My blood wasn’t flowing?! It was a problem with some adaptor they were using. It was hurting like hell! I’m still squirming right now recalling the pain. Then she just said sorry and pulled it out. Next arm. She had left me with a big red pock on my left arm, and had no blood to show for it. Thankfully she got it on the second try. I’ll need my phobia to heal again after this.
So anyways, I headed back to the ward, half wishing I’d catch “the guy” still there. I went in to see my doctor in the doctors’ office for less than 3 minutes, faced another one of her pity-faced are-you-sure-you’re-okays, and headed out. I didn’t see him there. I wasn’t sure, but good thing I waited because he had been talking with the other doctor the same time I was inside. So anyways, I saw him again, we exchanged nods a bit, but never talked. Y felt the need to keep me company, so I didn’t get the chance to work the guy over. I hope I bump into him there again sometime.
I’m beginning to look forward to San Lazaro. I’ll be back at the ward next Thursday, mostly to discuss my CD4 results with the doctor, but partly hoping to meet more pozzies as well. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll see “him” there again. Man, I’m a slut!
- 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.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Another big Thursday for me. I left around 7 am, but not before talking with K over the phone. He just called to send me off on what he thinks is another regular work day for me. Little did he know.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
May 28 is Philippine Flag Day. So in that light, let me tell you more about my beloved country.
The Republic of the Philippines is an archipelago in Southeast Asia. It is comprised of around 7,107 islands, depending on whether it's high or low tide, divided into 3 major island groups, 17 regions, 81 provinces, 136 cities, 1,494 municipalities and 41,995 barangays or villages. Whew. That's a lot.
The Philippines is a melting pot. We’re neither black nor white, we’re somewhere in between, the brown beings of the earth. We’re a melting pot of races, generations, cultures, religions, nationalities, dialects, traditions and sexualities.
I actually feel I'm lucky to be a gay man in the Philippines. I believe the general population is accepting of gays, as they can be encountered everywhere, as hairdressers, make-up artists, fashion designers, stand-up comedians, impersonators, entertainers, dancers, masseurs, girls' best friends, and lately, the trend has spread to customer service, especially call center agents.
I guess the sad part about it is that the stereotype of effeminacy still prevails, which causes the misuse of the word bisexual to encompass discreet gays here.
Homosexuals here are lucky, but to some extent. We are accepted, but not entirely celebrated. I mean I don't see any gay marriage laws taking effect any time soon. But other than the close-to-dying generation and the closed-minded catholic sector, we can live pretty freely with the rest of the normal Filipinos here.
Living with HIV in the Philippines is another thing. I’d say it’s still on the border of being taboo, just like contraception and safe sex. No one talks about it. I never knew or met anyone who had it before this. I’d only see people with HIV on the news, or in documentaries, and not that often either. It’s even still regarded by most as a gay disease. I think the mere fact that only one specific ward in one specific hospital caters especially to patients with HIV and AIDS might sum it all up. Are we being tucked away in a corner of the closet? I’m still trying to figure out for myself how it is really to be living here with HIV.
Although I do look purely Filipino, I am actually not,. My family tree will reveal traces of British, Panamanian, and Chinese in my mix. So I myself am a melting pot.
Regardless, I like it here. I’m not your typical Filipino whose ultimate dream is to go abroad and pursue so-called greener pastures, and eventually forget or deny that they were ever Filipinos.
On my sidebar, to express my pride in being Filipino, or ‘Pinoy for short, I now stamp this blog with the official “Proudly Pinoy” seal. Sa isip, sa salita, at sa gawa (By thoughts, by words and by actions…).
PinoyPoz is Filipino, and proud of it. Mabuhay!
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
I just heard back from the doctor of the HIV ward of the San Lazaro Hospital, and she's confirmed my appointment on Thursday for my CD4 count.
I'm getting a bit of nerves again, both about the ward's Thursday crowd, and the test as well.
So to at least equip myself for the latter, I've been doing some research.
What are CD4 Cells?
CD4 cells, also known as T-cells, are a type of lymphocyte or white blood cell. An important part of the immune system, CD4 cells come in two main types. T-4 cells, or CD4+, are "helper" cells which lead attacks against infections. T-8 cells (CD8+) are "suppressor" cells that end the immune response. CD8 cells can also be "killer" cells that kill cancer cells and cells infected with a virus.
Why are CD4 Cells Important in HIV?
The cells that HIV infects most often are CD4 cells. The virus becomes part of the cells, which when multiply to fight infections, also make more copies of the HIV. The number of CD4 cells (their CD4 cell count) goes down when infected with HIV. The lower the CD4 cell count, the more likely the person will get sick.
What Factors Influence a CD4 Cell Count?
The CD4 cell count varies a lot. Time of day, fatigue, and stress can affect test results. It's best to have blood drawn at the same time of day for each CD4 cell test, and to use the same laboratory.
Infections and vaccinations can cause CD4 and CD8 counts to go up. It is advised to have CD4 cell counts at least a couple of weeks after recovering from an infection, or getting a vaccination.
How Are the Test Results Reported?
Reported as the number of cells in a cubic millimeter of blood, normal CD4 counts are between 500 and 1600. CD4 counts can drop to as low as zero in people with HIV.
What Do the Numbers Mean?
The CD4 cell count measures the health of the immune system. The lower the count, the greater damage HIV has done. Anyone who has less than 200 CD4 cells is considered to have AIDS according to the US Centers for Disease Control.
CD4 counts are also used to indicate when to start certain types of drug therapy such as antiretroviral therapy, aggressive retroviral therapy, and drug prescriptions to prevent opportunistic infections.
The complete article can be found at http://www.thebody.com/content/art6110.html.
Wish me luck.
Monday, May 26, 2008
I found a copy of this poster online, and it just broke my heart. I have AIDS. Please hug me. I can’t make you sick.
I’m a man with HIV, and I can feel how hard it is. I recognize the fear I have of not being accepted. I worry about being different from the norm. I feel like I’ve been demoted to being just someone who’s sick. But that’s me. I’m thirty. I am aware of how the world works. And I understand how I need to fight for my rights.
But what about the others who live with HIV and AIDS? What about the little kids? They’re not even supposed to be emotionally and mentally equipped to deal with situations like this. I can’t even imagine how hard it would be for them, not understanding why they’re being treated differently.
So I beg the rest of the world, please learn everything you can about HIV and AIDS. Not for me, but for the kids, and the others who need more understanding.
Leave the ostracism to guys like me. I can take it. They’re kids, for crying out loud. Spare them the hardships. Hug them. Hell, go pick on someone your own size.
I’ve been busy. Even busier than a bee.
A chat buddy of mine who I hadn’t met yet just sent me a text message last week, asking for me to get in touch with his friend. He sent his friend’s number, and I guess the timing was good. I was at the mall, with nothing else planned for the day. So I sent a message. A few more messages later, plus a short conversation over the phone, it was set, we were to meet. Let’s call him K.
Yes I admit. We had sex. One further admission, we had planned to have sex even before we met. Yes, I was a partisan to this plan. Good thing I had stocked up on condoms, right?
I don’t know what got into me, but it must have been the weeks and weeks of not having it. I just needed it. I still didn’t have a roster of poz guys to choose from, and I thought doing it safely with a stranger would be the next best thing. Honestly, I just didn’t know how to tell of my you-know-what. I didn’t have the guts. My logic told me that as long as we used protection, and this was a one time thing, it would be ok. But so much for my plan…
We got along well. Sexually compatible. Personalities matched. He was having relationship problems (yes, he had a boyfriend) and needed someone to talk to. I was a good listener and gave good advice. I liked K but had no expectations. I just enjoyed his company, and he did mine too. It was a bit of a relief that he had a boyfriend. Less of a temptation for me I thought.
But alas, we’ve been in touch since then. We exchange messages at least once a day. He’d update me about his boyfriend of course. Until that one day that K said it was over between them. At that point I was scared, dreading that he broke up with his boyfriend because of me. I knew inside I never led him on. I was never expecting. Then reality pushed paranoia aside, and K told me they a big fight and had to break up because of their irreconcilable differences. Whew.
So at this point, yes I like him as a person. He’s great company. He likes me, too. But we’re just friends, okay. We’ve even met a second time already, and seems as though this is the start of a perfect friendship. The only catch… he doesn’t know.
So now I’m stuck. Again. Another new friendship started, but still not on level ground. I’ve just dug myself deeper into the grave and added one other person to fill it in after me.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
As you can see, this blog has been going through some major changes. I’ve been experimenting. Trial and error, just as I live my life. My bit of knowledge in web design has allowed me some freedom to tweak. Color scheme is new. Fonts are new. My banner is new. Even my picture is new. This is a sign that I’m really dedicated to keeping, maintaining and improving this site for everyone who remains interested. Odd, isn’t it, that I’m not focusing on HIV this time?
I’ve been undergoing a makeover myself… subconsciously. I mean, it was one big change to discover that I had HIV, but right now, I realize that I’ve adjusted. From the shocked, paranoid, jittery, worried me, I am now more subdued, relaxed, and eager to learn and share. Extremely optimistic. Happy. Back to my old self actually, but in an HIV positive way.
I’ve been getting back in touch with friends. I’ve been interacting a bit more. Hell, I’ll admit, I’ve even been on a trip to the pharmacy… of all things, to buy condoms. I know! What the fuck?!
The change in my color scheme I think can sum it all up. I’m a very visual person. And I live a colorful life. I love most colors, but most especially reds, blues and blacks.
My blog colors before were high contrasts between white, black and shocking reds. Extremely harsh. Code red always came to my mind when I’d surf this blog, which was exactly me. On red alert because of my HIV.
Now, I’ve realized that things aren’t all that bad. HIV is not my entirety. It is only part of who I am. And our eyes now swim in cool blues floating in a dark sea, punctuated occasionally by shades of red.
That’s exactly me, or how I want to be. HIV positive, but cool about it.
Give me some feedback. This blog is, after all, for everyone. This is our blog.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
I was pleased to receive a message from Y this morning. Remember him? The guy I met at the HIV ward? After exchanging a few messages, he ended saying “Give thanks to the Lord for everything you have.” He’s not the first person who’s indirectly told me to seek the help of The Higher Being for what I’m going through right now. So I ask myself, should I suddenly be more God-fearing because I am not well?
I am not an atheist. I am Roman Catholic, and was brought up to believe in God. I studied in a Catholic school run by Dominican priests. I even served as an acolyte in more than a handful of masses. I do believe in God.
Throughout my life, I've prayed a lot. I usually pray to Him for strength and clarity. I pray that he allow me to muster up the guts to face my fears. I pray to Him to bless the people I love. I have even prayed to Him to take me, during times that I was down.
But I know why he created me. And I know why He keeps me here. It’s not my destiny to be happy. It’s my purpose in life to make others happy. I’m here to be used by others. I’m here to please. I’m here to make life better for others. I’m here to take all the crap.
I know it makes my life sound so pathetic, but I’m honored to be given this responsibility. I make people smile. I make them laugh. I give them physical pleasure. I make them feel good about themselves. I make them feel loved. I make them happy. That’s what I feel God wants me to do. And that’s what makes me happy. Pleasing others.
But I’m not religious. I repeat, NOT religious. I do not pray every night. I do not pray before and after meals. I do not go to church every Sunday. Not even now that I got infected with HIV. My relationship with Him is still as before. I know I’m still blessed. I have a lot going for me in spite of this. I’m happy that I can still make people happy.
Believing in God is one thing, but the Catholic Church is a whole other dimension in itself. In this predominantly Christian country, mainstream Catholicism comes along as too self-righteous. And there’s no better example of that, than the way it frowns on homosexuals. The way they try to turn people like me straight and lead them to the “right path”.
How can I support people who discourage the exact being of who I am? Who are they to turn their backs on someone who He created in His own likeness? Are they saying that God made a mistake when He created me?
“I believe in God”… but omit the part about “the Holy Catholic Church”. Until they learn to accept and respect every living creature on the face of the earth, they’re misinterpreting the Word of God.
God loves us all!
Monday, May 19, 2008
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Bloggers List, or LGBT Bloggers List for short. I found this bloglist online sometime ago, and just tried to get myself on the list. To my surprise, the blog owner Sh@ney not only included me in the list, but also featured my blog in an entry he made! Thank you, thank you, thank you Sh@ney! Such a warm welcome for me into the bloggers circle.
The LGBT Bloggers List features an updated listing of bloggers and their blogsites, all created by members of the LGBT community.
The blogroll is on the blog's side panel, and all blogs are put into categories, such as by orientation like Gay Male, Lesbian Blogs, Transgender, and Bisexual Blogs, content such as Parenting, Gay Art & Poetry, Community, Entertainment, Fashion & Shopping, Photography, Travel, Health and Adult, and by regions, such as Australian, Spain, Mixed Language, Chinese, French, Asian, and even a category dedicated to Pinoys!
Why be a part of the LGBT Bloggers List?
You might not find my blog under the Pinoy category, rather with the other HIV/AIDS Related blogs. I hope this means that my blog caters to an audience beyond just the Philippines. Wow...
I am proud to be a Blogger. Even more proud to be an LGBT Blogger. Check us out at http://lgbtbloggers.blogspot.com/. It feels nice to belong.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Mothers’ Day came and went without a stir. I know I’ve not talked much about my mom, or my family even. Just so happened we don’t have the perfect relationship.
Apparently, being the youngest child doesn’t automatically mean you are the favorite and the most pampered. I’ve always been under pressure to live up to my parents’ expectations, not to mention reach the achievements of my older siblings. Something I’ve failed terribly at.
Growing up, I would willingly do chores around the house. But nothing good came from this. My mom would just end up scolding me for doing things wrong, or just not good enough. I’d be left wondering why that was the thanks I’d get for my effort, when my older brother who hardly helped got all the praises.
Conversations at home would be me saying something and getting ignored, and my brother saying the exact same thing and getting commended for his good idea. This forced me to become more passive, less opinionated, and more introspective. It made me a loner, but it made me stronger.
In primary school, I never got any awards, unlike my older brother and sister’s handfuls of medals and certificates during their graduation. I took my secondary education in the premiere science high school in the Philippines, getting into which was an achievement in itself. But my mom would only point out that though I was passing all my subjects, I wasn’t doing as well as my sister did when she was there.
I was never one to take that against them, but I could not deny that it was changing me. I had given up trying to please my mom, and ended up being an underachiever. I had accepted that I was expected to fail.
By the time I was in college, I had turned to extracurricular activities instead, where I earned some respect from my peers for my talents and leadership. My mom never knew about any of my achievements in that field, as I chose not to let her know. I was just happy to get praises from somebody. From anybody. Though my grades suffered and I went beyond the term of the course I took, I finished anyways. And I was proud of that. Maybe because I was no longer expected to graduate, and I surpassed that expectation.
I’ve mentioned that I came out to my mom when I was 21. And I did that at that time, because I knew my relationship with my mom could not possibly get any worse. It came to a point where I was wishing she would tell me I was adopted, just so I had some reason as to why she didn’t love me like my siblings. Just so I didn’t have to think that she hated me for being me.
It’s only this year that I’ve had her to myself, as my dad passed away some years ago, my sister has been married and on her own for several years now, and my brother just left the country to pursue a job abroad. She has decided to turn her attention to me finally, but as my sister says, too late the hero. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t need it. I matured early on in life because I had no choice but to. I learned too soon that I could not count on anyone but myself. That I could please no one but myself. The wall has been built. The damage has been done.
At this critical turn in my life, I have no urge to tell my mom that I have HIV. Because she wouldn’t understand. Because she’d just be disappointed… again. Because she’d just feel obligated to care for me. I don’t want her to love me because of pity. I don’t know if and when I’ll tell her of my condition, but most probably, it will be just an FYI.
How she brought me up made me what I am now. I’m quiet, because I was taught my opinion didn’t count. I’m a loner because I knew only I could accept and love who I am. I love to write, because I had no voice. I’m strong, because I learned I could only count on myself. I’m happy, because I am content with myself… I’m proud of myself.
So thank you, Mom. I just want you to be happy. Happy Mothers’ Day!
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
The last time I was there, my new friends at the Social Hygiene Clinic, Dr. Malou, Dr. Diana, and Nurse Luz asked me to help get the word out on getting tested. So here goes...
The Social Hygiene Center of the Manila Health Department continues to offer free HIV and other STI testing until further notice. Yes, guys, girls and everything in between... it's free. They intially had the free testing for the duration of March, but thanks to other sponsors, they continue to be able to offer it indefinitely. Please, please, please take advantage.
For those interested to check their HIV and reproductive health status, you can visit the Social Hygiene Clinic from Mondays to Thursdays from around 8:30 am to 3:00 pm, and on Friday mornings from 8:30 to 11:00 am. Sorry guys, they're closed on weekends and holidays.
Why do they want everyone to get tested? Because absolutely anyone exposed to the risks can get HIV. And there are no really reliable symptoms to tell that you have it. The only way to really know, is to get tested. It's not knowing that spreads the virus.
Look at me, I never thought I had it. You could never tell. But I did. Now that I know, I will make sure that the virus stops with me. Imagine how many others I might have endangered, had I not found out.
Just so you know, you will be asked to give your real name and a code name. Only your code name will be attached to the blood samples sent to the lab for testing. And only Dr. Malou has access to the files linking your real name with the code name. They know how delicate the situation can be, and how important anonymity is to us.
They will also give you pre- and post-test counselling, just so you're prepared and informed. Yes, you can ask questions. Results are claimed from Dr. Malou as well after a few days. She even gives her personal cellphone number so you can follow-up your results.
The Social Hygiene Clinic is located on the second floor of the Manila Health Department. It has a separate entrance on the right side of the building, so it's very discreet. The Manila Health Department is along Quiricada Street in Manila, across the San Lazaro Hospital main gate. The area is located between the LRT stations at Bambang and Tayuman. If you have other questions, you can call the Social Hygiene Clinic at (+632) 711-6942.
Please consider our plea. If you need someone to go there with you, let me know. I'd gladly help.
For everyone else not in Manila or the Philippines, think about doing it too in your own city or country.
Please, please, please. They're not there to judge us. They want the best for us. But they need our help. They care. We should, too.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
POZ.com, the online arm of POZ magazine, is a comprehensive resource for almost every thinkable concern of people living with HIV and AIDS, as well as those around them, be it their friends and family, and others who are just interested to learn.
Topics range from What is HIV/AIDS?, HIV/AIDS Fact Sheets, Safer Sex, Getting Tested, What to Do If You've Just Been Diagnosed, Finding a Doctor, How to Find a Support System, How to Tell Someone You Have HIV/AIDS, Treatment Information, and Understanding Labwork, to Health Issues, AIDS Services Directory, Activism, Exercise, Drugs, Mentoring, Personals, Job Listings, Special Reports, Features, and so much more.
Being new at this (or with this), I too have much to learn. I'm thankful there are sites like this to help enlighten me, and you, about this disease.
Monday, May 12, 2008
I’m back from a weekend spent very quietly at home. After my lab results came out last week, and before my CD4 count at the end of the month, I’m left with a good two and a half weeks with nothing much to worry about. My mom went with some other relatives on an out of town trip. I was a bit torn between going and staying home, bugged mostly with dramatic thoughts that this might be my last chance to go on a trip with the family. But I got over that soon enough and elected to stay home and spend time alone. Solitude kept me company.
I genuinely love being alone. I wasn’t moping or sulking. I just enjoy being myself, by myself, doing what I want to do. I was up to my usual things. I mean, other than having sex left and right, it was just like before. I went to the market to buy vegetables. I got online to check e-mail and surf the web. I napped a bit. I finished some work on the computer. I did some chores at home. I did some home improvement as well. I got myself a haircut. When I got horny, I served myself... if you know what I mean. Really just regular stuff. I worked up a sweat, got tired, got hungry, got refreshed... basically got myself going.
It was reassuring to realize I could still do everything like before. It was validating to know that I wasn’t demoted to being just someone who was sick.
I now know I’m still the same me that I was before this chapter of my life. I am not HIV. I am me.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
I'm physically tired by this time. I've had a very long day. But my mind keeps racing. I just have to get this out lest it keep me up all night.
Looking back at the day that just passed, I realize what a relief it was. Not just because of the lab results I got, but because it was great to see I'm not alone. Being in HIV ward was relieving. I'd never met anyone living with HIV before I stepped into San Lazaro. I'd only seen them on the web, and in tv documentaries. I never imagined I'd be one. But spending a short time in the waiting room of HIV ward was... eye-opening. There are others like me. All kinds, all shapes, all sizes. From twinks to hunks, you name it, you got it. I prefer the hunks though...
Wait... was I cruising?! Geesh! I was!
Okay, okay, so I suddenly snapped out of my trance and decided to become cruisy. How couldn't I? I have HIV, and based on my shallow philosophy that someone with HIV can't catch HIV any further, it should be logical for me to gravitate towards fellow HIVers, right? And to be in a room of pozzies, ahhh heaven.
Okay, okay, I'll stop now. Mojo would not approve.
My point should be that looking at the variety of people there, men and women, young and not so young, twink and hunk, they all looked... normal. Other than a few who had visible skin discolorations or rashes of some sort, you could never tell they had it if I threw them in a room of people. Good for the paranoid like me. Bad for those who use protection based on whether their partner looks like he has it or not.
Anyways, I jut thought I'd share this breakthrough of a moment before I went off to lala-land, when, just for a few minutes, I realized that... I'm not so different after all.
Walking towards the HIV ward, I didn’t know what to expect. How big a crowd would I be in there? Trust me, I’m no good in crowds. I was just relieved that I didn’t see a line formed a block away from the door.
Walking up the steps, I passed some seats where people were waiting. There were about 5 or 6 of them there, but they were all a blur to me. I was trying not to make eye contact. Paranoia, I’m guessing.
I approached the nurse up front, and said the doctor asked me to drop by. The nurse asked if I was there for a checkup. I answered that I didn’t think so. She said that she’d list me down if I was there for a check-up. I just know that the doctor was expecting me back today to give her the results of my lab tests. It didn’t seem like a real checkup for me. At least, not the checkup that I was familiar with. She said the doctor wasn’t there yet, and asked me to sit in the waiting area.
So I sat. There were three others there, a woman with a younger guy on my right, and a guy across me. I saw the woman was wearing a face mask, and realized despite this, I couldn’t tell which one was the patient. I noticed the guy across me trying to work in a smile while looking my way. Was he flirting? Or was he just being friendly? Was he new here too? Or was he laughing at me for being the latest victim? Paranoia again. Turns out he was poz too. I realized that when he was called into the doctor’s office.
One after the other, they rest of the people there, less than 20 of them, got called in for their checkup. They would spend just between 5 and 10 minutes each inside. Not bad. Routine monitoring, I guessed.
Then one older guy approached me. He introduced himself. Let’s call him Y. He didn’t seem like he was there for a checkup. Sort of supervising… and mingling. He seemed to know everyone, and asked what I was there for, and asked me to have myself put on the list out front. He said it was standard procedure, despite my trying to explain that I didn’t think I was there for a checkup technically. But he came across a bit territorial to be honest, so I just followed his advice.
The nurse took down all my information – patient code, code name, weight, temperature, blood pressure – after which Y led me back to the waiting area. He was a bit more relaxed now, and started a conversation. Apparently, he’s been poz for a while now, but definitely in the peak of health, and was there to oversee the procedures. Sort of assistants to the doctors. For public relations and other concerns if I understood right. He was having such a difficult time asking me if I was a confirmed poz, which I found funny. So I just blurted out, “Yes, I’m HIV positive”. I think I relieved him of his burden. He explained most of the going-ons there that moment, and introduced some of the personalities there. My nerves eased up at this point and he got me talking a bit about myself.
In the midst of our conversation, the doctor walked in. Seeing me, she smiled and signaled to wait a bit, probably to give her time to settle down. The next time she stuck her head out from the door of the doctors’ office, she asked what my patient code was. A few more minutes later she called me in. So I was right, I didn’t have to line up with the others in the “checkup” queue. Whew.
Sitting down in front of her desk, I handed her my lab results, as she ranted about why she was late that day. She took a look, and said I was ok. Say what? She repeated that my lab work says I’m doing good, and just reminded me that I was scheduled for my CD4 test on the 29th. I wasn't even in there for five minutes. But anyways, another whew from me. I was just happy that I was ok.
So from there, she sent me off, and I left some final words with Y who I passed. He took my number and gave me his, as he said he’d like to invite me to join their group sometime. Something called Pinoy Plus. I’ll tell you more about that when I find more out.
So I left, a bit triumphant. I just had to spread the good news, so I dropped by Dr. Malou Tan at the Social Hygeine Clinic across the street. She was happy, and I was happy. Nurse Luz and Dr. Diana were there as well, and they were happy to see me, too. Dr. Malou is great. I feel she truly cares. She’s like a mom to me now. Maybe she can be my HIV mom.
So anyways, it was 10:30 am, and I had accomplished a lot. I started my journey to work. Back to my regular life. Or my former regular life. The parallel world I live in, where Thursdays are just like any ordinary day.
In the tradition of the Lifestyle Network's Clean House, it's reveal day for me. I took the morning off from work again to get my lab results and bring them to the doctor at the HIV ward of San Lazaro Hospital.
I first went to the Manila Health Department to get the results of my CBC, FBS, BUN & CREA. I usually play know-it-all when it comes to numbers like these, so I evaluated my results. FBS, BUN & CREA levels were within normal ranges. How do I know? Well, they were printed alongside my results. Hehehe.
My CBC results weren't as ideal. Hemoglobin and Erythrocytes were good, but Leucocytes were mostly out of normal ranges. I got a bit worried, but decided to hear straight from the doctor what was wrong with me. I next went to a private clinic nearby and got the results for my SGPT, SGOT and ALP. All good. I was a bit relieved to be honest, that most of my results were within normal range.
I had my chest x-ray result with me as well, from a previous checkup about three weeks ago. Just a routine checkup that time required for the Sanitary Permit of the company I work for. This was pre- my HIV.
Walking to the HIV ward, I was a bit nervous. I'd been told that every Thursday was a busy day for this ward, as this was check-up day for those in the HIV registry. This was to be my first Thursday here. And Thursdays will never just be Thursdays again.
I just logged on and was about to write my piece for today. Decided to take time to moderate comments on the blog. And I say this to all who've visited and taken time to read and even comment... thank you, thank you, thank you.
I checked out one particular comment today, from baklang aj. Was surprised to find out he was behind baklaako.com. As a bakla or gay myself, I've browsed his site before.
His blog for today was Bakla’s Top 10 Emerging Influential Blogs of 2008... I don't exactly know why, but I hit click to read more... I was SOOOOOOOO surprised to see my humble blog in his list! I was shocked, honored, flattered, amazed, wowed, and more! Honestly it took me a while to figure out what to write... I was absolutely speechless... in a written way I guess.
I never had such recognition in mind when I started this blog. This is just part therapy, part release and part creative-outlet for me, and hopefully, part information, part entertainment and part realize-how-much-better-your-life-is for you. It was just my way of moving forward, so to read how much readers take from what I write is incredible. It's empowering, but as some superhero said, with power comes responsibility. To be granted this honor and be called influential is amazing.
Nuff said. I forgot I was supposed to be absolutely speechless.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
HIV is a serious matter. But interestingly, I stumbled onto an online game involving HIV... Found on http://www.posornot.com/, Pos or Not is a game where pictures and short profiles of people living with HIV have been thrown into a mix with those of people who are HIV negative, and you're tasked to guess whether that person is HIV positive or not.
Simple enough? You'd think so. It's really a simple way of teaching people that you can't tell who has HIV and who does not just by looking at them. Hopefully, this will help people like me living with HIV realize that there's nothing to be ashamed of, as we are not much different from everyone else. At the same time it should help others understand that there is no reason to discriminate against those living with HIV.
Personally, the stigma that surrounds HIV seems to be a huge battle for those of us who live with it. Stigma becomes a barrier to so many things, such as being comfortable in your own skin, getting tested in the first place, disclosing one's status, accessing healthcare services, and just living a normal life.
You've heard me before rant about the paranoia I experienced just getting my lab test done, and this wasn't even a test connected to HIV. It was for my driver's license for crying out loud.
It just came out before the onset of May, so it's really new. So give this game a try and show me how good you are. Maybe someday I'll have my picture on it as well...
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Before anything else, Happy Birthday to me! So anyways, here were the tests done:
It’s 9:30 am, and I feel like I’m done for the day. I’ve been busy since midnight. Busy doing what? Fasting. I was asleep, but I wasn’t sleeping. I was resting my body in order to avoid feeling the hunger. And why was I fasting? In preparation for the blood test that were scheduled for me today.
I was out of the house by 6:30 am, in order to reach the Manila Health Department just in time for its opening. I got there early as usual, and sat in the waiting area. Already I was number 15 in the line, all the rest of the people there were women, mostly the older set. What I hate about women, is that they’re chatty, to the point of being nosey. One lady sat beside me just couldn’t help herself and had to ask what I was in there for. Awkward! I just said I was having lab work done and being worked up for an operation on my colon. Geesh. I hope she bought it.
What exactly was I there for? I was there because I needed data. I was there because I’m getting to the point of paranoia, where I worry that every cough, every sneeze, every sore, every rash, every time I felt tired was some sort of bad sign of my HIV condition. All that thinking is stressful, and I just needed to know exactly what was what.
I’m hoping my sharing with you provides you awareness, which could relieve the mysteries behind this condition. Replace the fear, with understanding.
I’m done… almost. Also performed were the following:
Wasn’t that a mouthful? And take note that these are ALL blood tests. So could you imagine how much blood was extracted from me for all these tests? Even I couldn’t. Especially when the doctor who extracted blood from me looked at my list of tests and let out a horrific cackle, saying “Wow, this’ll be a lot of blood!” That just did not help. This doctor needs tact classes. Let me give you a hint. They took blood from both my arms. Hell for a needlephobic like me. But I took it.
So there, that’s one unforgettable birthday for me. My results should be out by tomorrow, but I don’t think I’ll be able to make it out. I need to work. I’ll try to get them Thursday, and bring them to the doctor at the HIV ward of San Lazaro.
I wonder what next year’s birthday will be like for me… hmmm...
So anyways, here were the tests done:
Monday, May 05, 2008
The afternoon was the highlight of my day. Technically my first visit to the HIV ward of San Lazaro Hospital. The H4 ward. For those not familiar, this is where those with HIV and AIDS are confined. Honestly, it’s a dingy, gloomy old building, and I think it’s a shame it hasn’t gotten spruced up to at least give the patients a more lively and happy environment to live in. I can imagine it’s not hard to feel depression there… something that they say you should veer away from when you have HIV.
I was referred to one particular doctor. She wasn’t available when I got there, so I had to wait for about half an hour before seeing her. The wait was agonizing. Apparently, that ward is notorious. You don’t go there for just any reason. Either you’re a doctor or some medical personnel, a relative, or most probably, you have HIV. I was seated by the door to the ward along with a couple of patients confined there, and I felt like a spotlight was aimed at me, waiting for them to ask me, “Are you one of us?”
Finally, the doctor came around, and she was expecting me. We stepped into her cubicle, and the briefing began. She discussed all the facts about HIV and AIDS. Stuff that I had learned in school. And I realize, education and awareness just doesn’t cut it. I’m living proof.
I know she felt some pity for me. Pity because I was young. Pity because I had gotten tested on a whim, and not because I was feeling something bad. Pity because I was turning 30 tomorrow. Pity because I was alone.
I tried to keep a light attitude the whole time. I only almost got teary-eyed when she was trying to convince me that my family should know. She just made me feel lonely, that’s all. I said it would happen eventually, but that now is not the right time.
And then came my baptism. I was christened with my patient number. To preserve the anonymity of patients, especially when it came to records and laboratory tests, people on their HIV registry are assigned patient numbers. I am H4-2008-054. Let’s break it down. H4 is the ward identification, 2008 stands for the year that I was diagnosed, and 054 means I’m the 54th on the registry for this year. Fifty-four?! Wow! And I thought I was all alone…
I was given my lab referrals as well, and I plan on going to get them done tomorrow. Oh, boy, another date with the needles. What a happy birthday it’s gonna be…
On a positive note, I feel like a secret agent… on one hell of a mission. Agent H4-2008-054… I’m Poz… Pinoy Poz.
This was supposed to be my pre-birthday bash. Thanks to Gloria Arroyo, I’ve gotten the knack of making personal holidays out of days sandwiched between weekends and actual holidays.
I took a leave from work today, but was out most of the day running “errands”.
I spent the morning renewing my driver’s license. Straightforward supposedly. But so much was going through my head while there undergoing the medical exam. I got asked what medications I was taking. I’d only been on amoxicillin for the tooth extraction I underwent recently. But what if I was on HIV medications already? What would the doctor think if I blurted out “I’m on anti-retrovirals…” The reality of my fear of the stigma surfaced. Fortunately it won’t be another three years before I have to get my license renewed again. Let’s put those thoughts on the backburner... for now.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will… and at the worst possible time.
Who is this Murphy guy anyway? And what hand of God gave him the right to conspire with the fates?
Ok, ok, hold on now… Before you misconstrue this as my being in denial or angry about my condition, let me explain. I do believe in Murphy’s Law. That’s a given. But how come even the opposite of his law still makes sense?
If anything can go right it will. True, right? But I say, if anything can go right it will… but still at the worst possible time. Hahaha.
I’m HIV positive. Yeah, we all know that by now. And I’m at the point where I’m thinking I don’t have a right to have a sex life, or a love life for that matter. I’ll worry about that part some other time. But has HIV affected my eyesight, or are there just so many good-looking guys out there tempting my attempts at celibacy?
I’d made trips to the mall over the weekend. Pure, pure torture. Hot guys everywhere I look. Hot guys showing interest even. Making eye contact. But no. I have no choice but to look away. O, tukso, layuan mo ako…
And this isn’t the only case. I’ve noticed before that exactly when I‘m single and available, it seems no one is interested. But the moment I get into a relationship, and am trying sooo hard to be faithful, temptation rears its gorgeous head. Argh! Why?! Why?!
Worst case? I’ll have to have “HIV positive” tattooed on my forehead. That should keep them away.
Let me just make it clear, I’m not planning on consciously putting someone in danger of catching this “blessing” that I’ve got. I do have a conscience. So all you hot, gorgeous, horny, sexy guys out there… NO. I can’t have you. Or maybe I can… but I shouldn’t.
So why now?! Why weren’t these guys around when I actually could have had them? Who the hell told Murphy I was poz?!
Friday, May 02, 2008
Remember the guy I mentioned in my previous post? Yeah, that one. The reason why I decided to get tested… Let me tell you about him.
For purposes of anonymous reference, let’s call him… Mojo. Why Mojo? I dunno, I just always thought that was a cute and cool name. Mojo.
He had found me on the net earlier this year, just being my horny self. Yes, yes, I admit, I’m a raging bull when it comes to sex. How bad am I? Above average kink for universal standards. Which is extreme kink to Filipinos. Please don’t ask for details. So anyways, he found me at it, and surprisingly was still interested to meet. He was into what I was.
So March 25th, we met. Checked into a motel, and did the deed. It was no less than perfect. We were sexually compatible. Unfortunately though, we were both into bareback sex. And we didn’t even consider using protection that night.
We had remained in touch after that steamy night, and I was seriously realizing that this might be more than just about sex. Yeah, he was a nice guy, the split personality type. Quiet, calm and decent in public, but wild, tough and rough in the confines. An ode to Mentos. Crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. A great combination.
So anyways, regardless of interest, he still had to know about my condition. We had non-sexual-dated a number of times more between that first meeting and today, and even once after I got my results. I didn’t know how to tell him. I was afraid of how he would take it. I didn’t want to ruin the relaxed evening we were having. I didn’t have a valid segue. Trust me, I had every reason in the book. I knew I should tell him, but just really didn’t have the guts to. Until tonight.
He had been bugging me about our pending “second time”, and I was running out of alibis not to do it. He knew how sexual I was and couldn’t understand why I was avoiding getting back into bed with him. He was starting to imagine that I didn’t like him that much, or didn’t like him at all, or didn’t enjoy the first time, or just wanted to be friends, or was seeing someone else. Sounded like plots to some Filipino soap operas.
So tonight I told him by sending him a text message. “I got sick. I just found out I’m HIV positive.” I think it slapped all the drama out of him. I guess he had to hear it straight, and shortly gave me a ring. I now realize that I shall hate being asked if I’m not joking about it. This would be a very, very bad and unfunny joke. Argh.
So we talked. He asked me all the whos, whens, wheres and whys. He said he wasn’t really surprised, knowing all the bad habits I had. But that he was saddened by the news. Hearing him say “I am still your friend”, brought a tear to my eye. I told him he’d have to get tested as well, to make sure he didn’t catch it. He said he’d wait until he feels something bad. Wha?! I reassured him I’d go with him if he needed support. He said he just didn’t know what he’d do if ever he found out he had it. Speechless. So getting tested really is an big issue for people beyond me. Now I’m really, really proud of myself for doing it.
So anyway, we talked for about an hour, shifting to lighter stuff, tackling his own little dramas of life, even laughing just a bit. It was nice. Relieving. He said he still liked me… that sex wasn’t the only thing he wanted… that he’d be there for me. I hate when I get mushy… and I did. It made me stronger, and I could only hope that everyone I will be coming out to would take it this well.
Mojo and I will be seeing each other at the mall tomorrow, and I’m actually prepared to get asked “Are you sure you’re not joking?” After the weeks I’ve spent crawling back into my shell, this will be a breakthrough for me. I’d forgotten for a while how optimistic I’ve always been, but really… Life isn’t all bad after all. I just might be getting my mojo back.
I’ve once again peeked out of the closet. Or maybe more like dragged someone in.
Hate. Yes it's harsh. But I shall use it.
You must understand. I HATE DOCTORS. The only time I'd really been operated on was for circumcision, which is not entirely a free and open choice here in the Philippines. Oh, and I don’t limit my hatred to doctors. It shall extend to nurses, dentists, therapists, pharmacists, and even the guys that do the urine tests required to get a driver’s license. Tsk, tsk, tsk, so much angst. Oddly though, I'd run into more than a handful of doctors and other health professionals during my online dating life. No hate involved there.
One other thing, I HATE NEEDLES. Needlephobia, trypanophobia, aichmophobia, belonephobia, enetophobia or whatever it’s called, I have it. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've been poked by a needle prior to this test.
There. I said it. So give me some credit, ok? Or at least the right to hate...
Thursday, May 01, 2008
I had read online about some free HIV testing in the Manila area for the month of March, and decided to take advantage. It was March 31st, and I didn't want to let the chance pass. I had taken the day off from work to trek down to the Social Hygiene Clinic of the Manila Health Office in the San Lazaro vicinity in Manila. Not exactly convenient for someone who lives in Quezon City, but I made the effort.
Ok, I'll admit it. I had scouted the place out the Friday prior to that day. Ok, ok, maybe not “scouted”. More like I was too chicken to go in and get it done. Hahaha. So by the time the 31st came around, I was a bit familiar with the area, which gave me less reason not to go. Not to mention I had mustered up a bit more guts to actually step into the building. Always a good thing.
I followed all the instructions in the forum post. Across San Lazaro Hospital. Yep, it was there, the Manila Health Office. Side entrance. A bit creepy to be honest. Second floor. It reminded me of some old public school building, which isn’t exactly bad. Look for Dr. Malou. Found her.
Dra. Malou Tan. She was nice and cordial, and just asked me a few questions before a very short briefing on the test. Another guy had come in a few minutes later, also to get tested, so she asked me if I could wait so we’d go to the lab together. No problemo. She talked to the other guy while I waited out in the hall. I even remember wondering why his briefing lasted much longer than mine. Probably he was higher risk. Shrug.
So after their talk, she took us down to the lab where the blood extraction was to take place. Big, big issue for me. I’ll tell you all about my fear of needles later. So anyways, I went first. I sat down, closed my eyes and braced myself. “I’m ready!”, I thought to myself. And even before I could bite my lip and think “Stick it! Stick it!”, the nurse said “Ipit…”, to tell me to press the cotton against my skin. It’s over? Geesh… I wasn’t even done with my prayer. One big “Whew!” from me.
From there, the doctor gave me her number and told me to check back with her the following week for the release of the results. I headed home, triumphant, having conquered my fear. Believe me, I had graduation music playing in my head. Not for long.
March 2008 had not been a very kind month for me. Mostly negative stuff comes to mind.
I had lost my mobile phone to a pickpocket before Holy Week. I spent Holy Week itself just home sulking in the city heat. I had been duped out of more than PhP 20,000.00 of my hard-earned money in what seems to me to be comparable to the Brian Gorrel-DJ Montano tiff. Argh!
The one good thing that may just have happened before the month came to a close was that I'd encountered a hot guy who seemed to be equally interested in me. And I mean sex and beyond. Good enough.
So I decided to just get all of the stress done with this month, and tortured myself into going for voluntary HIV testing. Something I'd been wanting to do for sometime now. First, just to know for sure that I was negative (or so I thought), and second, just to follow through with my interest in this new March guy and give myself to him purely and completely (again, so I thought).
I actually had my blood extracted on the 31st, the last day of my hell of a month.