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.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Half A Day Off

I’m on Day 12 now of my ARV trial, still everything is green and go. And I’m thankful. Two more days, and I graduate to the higher “test”.

I had planned to take Friday off from work to accompany an online acquaintance to the RITM for his first steps since finding out he was positive. Good thing I took U’s advice and sent Ate a text message a day before confirming if the doctor would be there that day. She replied that the doctor wouldn’t be holding clinic there that Friday, and told me to come on Monday afternoon. I relayed the information to my referral-to-be, and he agreed.

So I had a bit of a change in plans, and took just the morning of Friday off instead. I needed to drop by the Social Hygiene Clinic in Manila again, to get the results of the lab tests I had done the week before, and have more tests done.

So I took the trip straight there first thing in the morning, and greeted Dr. Diana Mendoza, who was still alone when I got there. I can’t explain the warmth I feel from all of them whenever I go there. Dr. Diana, Dra. Malou and Ate Luz, and even the utility guy Kuya Gerry have been there since my day 1. I have nothing to hide, nothing else to be ashamed about, and I’m just really comfortable there.

Dr. Diana greeted me with a smile, and asked what more tests I needed done. I reminded her I was there for the lab results of my RPR and Fecalysis, which is when she called an Ate Olive and requested to check with the lab downstairs for my results. Ate Olive was sort of assisting the doctor that time, doing the things that Kuya Gerry would do before.

While waiting, Dr. Diana sat me down and eagerly asked me how I was doing. I mentioned I had just started on ARVs, which made her pleasantly surprised. She found it wonderful that I was up and about being just over a week into the trials, noticing that I was taking it well, and even said, “It didn’t even make you darker?!” Darker? Yikes, nobody told me about that side effect. Oh, well. After all, I’m dark enough. How much darker can I get?

So anyways, she went on asking how it was at the RITM, as compared to San Lazaro. I never felt afraid of admitting to them there at the Social Hygiene Clinic that I had transferred to RITM, mostly because I know they’re not tied to either. It just so happened that they were just across San Lazaro, so it made sense to refer HIV cases there for profiling. I just said that the facilities were better, to which she replied that others had given the same feedback as well. But I explained the real reason why I needed to transfer, about how I was left hanging by the San Lazaro doctors.

She was obviously surprised by the difference of the two centers in handling HIV cases, especially that one could start on ARVs without confinement or disclosing to family. She understood my sentiments, and promised she’d bring it up with the San Lazaro people.

She mentioned she knew of others who had made the same move as well, and that the dilemma with San Lazaro was making it hard for them at the SHC to keep track of their “babies”. Apparently, since they started their HIV screening program there at the Social Hygiene Clinic in November last year, they’ve had 15 cases of positive results, I being one of them. With fifteen being still a low number, they could still keep in mind by face or by codename, so they’d be constantly wondering how we were all doing by now. Technically, we would not have any need to come back to the SHC after the referral to San Lazaro. So she found it great that I was still dropping by there, just so they knew how their “baby” was. It was nice. Their concern is truly, truly genuine.

Some more minutes of chit chat later, Ate Olive came back with my results. Okay, okay, not entirely good. My Fecalysis results were fine, but the Quantitative RPR, which is a test for Syphilis, still came out reactive, of higher concentration since three months before. Yeah, yeah, I got it, and it’s not something to be proud of.

Dr. Diana initially thought of administering another round of treatment, but just told me to refer it to them at the RITM, being cautious that it may interfere with my ARVs, or that they might have a different protocol of treatment at the RITM. I agreed. I then remembered to ask her if they did Hepatitis screening there, which they didn’t. Yeah, yeah, Chronic Hepatitis B. Alas, another possible problem for me. But I’m just thankful that we’re doing the test, something that wasn’t part of the protocol at San Lazaro.

So she sent me down with Ate Olive to get a referral for a nearby private clinic which did the Hepatitis screening. I left shortly, thanking them all, with a note in my hand signed by Ate Marina of the laboratory department, which was my ticket to a discounted price at Jubilee, the private lab along Bambang, just walking distance from the SHC.

I walked there, just a couple of blocks, got pricked yet again, and headed off. It was around 9:00 am, and I was anticipating where my medicines time would catch me. So I took the LRT south to EDSA, stopping at the Metropoint Mall to buy a bottle of water just in time to down my tablet. Then back to Ortigas via MRT, just in time to catch the Robinsons mall opening. I still had a couple of hours of my half-day off, so I checked it out, the mall being on sale for the whole month of August. I ended up just buying a small drinking bottle, supposedly to lug around in my bag just enough for a gulp, in case I’d get caught again outside in time for my 9:30 habit. Oh and I got another one for U, too. Hope he likes it.

So anyway, that was that. A lot done in less than half a day. I was back at work and back to ordinary life. More updates soon. I need to do my research on Hepatitis, and refresh on Syphilis as well. I’m trying not to hide in a closet within my closet, so I’ll just take things in stride. What else could be next?


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Day 6

I’m now on day 6 of my anti-retroviral treatment, and I have no big news to tell you. And that’s a good thing. I’ve been on Lamivudine+Zidovudine twice a day, and Nevirapine once a day.

I was wondering why I was given different meds from the other guy who was starting the same time I was. We had compared notes while at the RITM, and realized I got the Nevirapine which was notorious for rashes, while he got the Efaverenz which was known for dreams, nightmares and hallucinations. I was thinking to myself, “I want to dream, too!”, but just left it all up to fate.

It’s the Nevirapine that I was told to be wary of, because of some possible side effects. But so far, on a once a day dosage, nothing. No gagging, no vomiting, no diarrhea, no fever, no flu, no rashes.

One thing I noticed, is that I get hungry more easily since I started on the meds. It was so bad that I couldn’t wait to get home for dinner Friday night. I had to pass by the local Julie’s Bakery and get me a couple of pieces of bread which I chowed down on walking home. So might this make me put on weight? I hope so. This might just be the answer to my long standing problem of being a hardgainer.

At the RITM last Tuesday, the doctor asked me what time would be most convenient for me to take the meds. Once in the morning, once in the evening at a 12-hour interval. Initially I chose 6:30 am and 6:30 pm, imagining I’d take the meds after breakfast in the morning, and before leaving work in the evening. I eventually changed my mind, and decided on a 9:30 habit. So what happens is I take my meds in the morning while at work, and in the evening, just before going to bed.

The 9:30 habit was a good choice, as I noticed I didn’t feel anything unusual even while at work. Saturday night, though, I realized another side effect that Nevirapine may be having on me.

C, U, and I (Yes… surprise, surprise… C & U knew each other and didn’t tell me until recently… talk about connivance…) met up for some late snacks at the local mall yesterday evening, so for the first time since getting on ARVs, I was up past my usual bedtime of 10:00 pm. I just felt soooo sleepy after taking my medications, but not to the point of dizziness, as I was able to make my way home without problems. So in a couple of days, once I start taking the regular dose of Nevirapine, which is twice a day, I’ll have to figure out how to handle the drowsiness while at work.

U especially had been checking up on me regularly, having experienced the side effects of Nevirapine himself. He and C were both on Efaverenz themselves.

So for now, everything is good. I’m still able to work, still able to do chores, and still able to eat anything I want. Still no one can tell just by looking at me that I have HIV, nor that I’m on ARV medication. I still remain most wary about any signs of rashes. I constantly check my inner arms and forearms, where I am most fair and think that early signs of rashes will be most noticeable.

Watch out for my next big step.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Normal Day?

It's been raining most of the day, and classes have been suspended around Manila. It's almost the end of the day, but we still haven't been let off from work.

Work? Yes! I am working today. It's my first day on ARVs and yes, I am still able to work, which is always a good thing.

I slept through my first set last night. No dreams, no nightmares. No fever, no rashes. Woke up my usual time, went through my usual routine, except of course for my new 9:30 habit.

So here I am, almost at the end of another work day. Been checking my arms regularly for signs of rashes, so far, so good. Looks like I'm surviving. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Long Weekend

Yesterday, August 18 was a holiday in the Philippines, a rescheduling of Ninoy Aquino Day. A long weekend for most. But I had a longer weekend than the rest. I took the day off today, not for a vacation, but to pay the RITM another visit.

Today, I was out of the house by 7:30 am. My appointment at the RITM was still in the afternoon, but I had my day all planned out. I first made my way to the Social Hygiene Clinic at the Manila Health Department, primarily to have my fecalysis and quantitative RPR done, but also to pay the dear doctors a visit.

Only Dr. Diana Mendoza was there, attending to a younger group getting tested for something. After she was done, she looked my way and immediately recognized and greeted me. She asked me if I needed anything, guessing my quantitative RPR almost magically. I nodded, and asked if they did stool tests as well. She said yes, and immediately asked Kuya, the utility guy to run to the lab and request that they do my fecalysis, apparently because I had arrived past the deadline for accepting samples. She wrote out my lab referrals, taking those given to me by the RITM. I had gone there knowing that they conducted the tests for less than the usual cost, but surprisingly, Dr. Diana endorsed them and they were given for free! Lucky me!

So down I went to the lab, where they extracted some blood, and literally took the shit outta me. Well I had my stool sample ready, and had been checking constantly on the way there if it was already stinking up my bag. I was glad to leave my crap there. On the way out, Dr. Diana asked me how I was, complimenting that I looked good. I thanked her and headed off, saying I’d call for a follow-up of the results. This will truly always be my first HIV home.

From there, I took the LRT out to EDSA, and the MRT to Magallanes, where I made my way again via bus to the Alabang area. Arriving in Alabang early, I took my lunch first at Jollibee, a local counterpart of McDonald’s, craving from everything from a Champ to a Jolly Spaghetti, but eventually settling for a Palabok and a large order of Fries. Yum. Not being known for slow eating, I was done in about 20 minutes, with still more time to spare before my afternoon appointment, so I checked out the Alabang Starmall while waiting, but found nothing much to see after less than an hour. It was past 12 noon, so I decided to just head for the RITM and hang out there.

Getting to the RITM, I headed for the OPD room, finding only Ate there. She showed me my CD4 results… 328. I then apologized for being too early, and ushered her off to lunch while offering to man her post somewhat. Sitting there alone, I started computing:

2 months ago, CD4 count = 343
Present, CD4 count = 328
Difference = 15
Decrease = 15 / 2 months = 7.5 per month
At that rate, I would reach the critical CD4 level of 200 after… 1 year, 5 months

Am I obsessed with math or what?! I was meaning for that computation to help me decide whether or not to start on ARVs, but thought maybe my logic didn’t apply to this case, so I shoved it all out the window and just cleared my head.

Shortly after, Ate arrived, as well as some other clients. One has been living positive for 15 years, and was doing voluntary counseling for other clients there. One was like me, CD4 above 300, had never been on ARVs, but wished to start. One was just weeks on ARVs and having his side effects checked. Another one was new, first time at the RITM, armed only with his test results for being positive with HIV. We all got talking while waiting for the doctor, and came to a point where we were sharing our experiences with the newbie, who was clearly still unable to accept his condition. I honestly think it helped him a lot being with and talking to others like him, as he really calmed down and opened up by the time the doctor came around.

Being the first one there, I was served first, as the doctor showed me again my CD4 results. She told me all my other tests were clear, and asked me again whether or not I wanted to start on ARVs. Without flinching, I said yes.

So here I am, in bed with my medicines beside me. One tablet is a combination of Lamivudine and Zidovudine, to be taken twice a day at 12 hour intervals. The doctor guaranteed there are no usual side effects. The other tablet however, Nevirapine, is a different story. Usual side effects are rashes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, plus nightmares and hallucinations, i think. I’m supposed to take it once a day for the next two weeks, and guard for the side effects. If everything is good, it increases to twice a day, monitoring closely again for another two weeks. I saw one client there who had the rashes from this same tablet, so I know what to look out for. U says he had the same reaction to it as well. Sigh.

Okay it’s exactly 9:30 pm now, and here goes my first dosage… cheers.

Okay, done. And as it goes, once I start this, it will be a lifetime commitment, and I cannot miss a beat. I’m planning to get a watch with an alarm, just to make sure I never ever forget. I want to get one for U, too.

So anyways, I’ll have more details again tomorrow. For now, I want to rest early, so I can adjust to my new… schedule. I’m putting my laptop away, as I usually have it beside me in bed, just to make sure I don’t beat it up in case I have any nightmares and stuff.

I’m hoping I don’t have any adverse reactions to it, or at least it not be too bad. Wish me luck… good night.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Day w/o U

RITM, day 2. This entry may as well have been entitled another day with… needles. Imagine me cringing.

It just happened to fall on another Thursday. I had been scheduled by Ate and the doctor for my lab tests at the RITM. I had planned on taking another day off from work, but reconsidered, thinking I’d save my leave credits for other more important appointments. I had been given the option of showing up early at the RITM. And I mean early. As in 6:00 am. Early enough so I’d be able to make my way back in time for work at 8:30. At least that was the plan.

Instead, I mistakenly left my cellphone in silent mode, missing my wakeup call by about 45 minutes. Instead of getting up at 4:45 am, I ended up realizing my mistake at 5:30 am, and just rushed to get out of the house. I had planned on making the first trip of the MRT, but obviously missed it. I was able to take the train at 6:00, not too bad. I love traveling that early in the morning. It was still pre-rush hour, a big advantage for the claustophobe like me. It was around a 20-minute train ride, from which I rushed down to street level to hop on a bus plying the Alabang Skyway route. I was just trying to recall how U took me to the RITM last Monday. Plus it made sense, it was a route straight to Alabang via the Skyway, meaning less stops, making for a faster trip.

It was a long but quick bus ride, and I tried to take note of landmarks on the way. We passed by the Nichols Exchange, the farthest south I was really familiar with, since that was where my first boyfriend was from. Further on down, we entered the skyway, and passed the Raya residential development which looks amazing. We passed the Hapee Toothpaste plant, the SM Mall in Bicutan, an finally exited at what looked like a newly constructed Alabang Exit which led into the Filinvest Corporate City. I got down where U and I did previously, at he Alabang Central Terminal.

I decided to walk towards the RITM instead of riding, primarily because I get a better sense of direction when I’m on foot. I retraced the steps we took last Monday, walking towards the Festival Mall and up towards the hill where the RITM was situated. It was a long walk, and I made it before 7:00 am, but remained unconvinced that I had taken the shortest way.

I first walked towards the comfort room, to relieve myself of the pee I’d had brewing in time for my urinalysis. I needed to keep it in almost the whole way, since I’ve been known to suffer from a shy bladder at times. I whipped the bottle out and filled it up mid-stream as advised. Then off I went to the Laboratory Department, which U had pointed out to me during our earlier visit. There was still no one answering the doorbell, so I sat down on a bench in the hall trying to cool off after the long walk. A few minutes later a lady passed me and walked into the lab, shortly after peeping out the window asking if I was a client. I handed her my lab referrals and the urine sample as she ushered me in. I sat down in the torture chair, putting my arm down on the armrest ready for my sentence. She looked at the list of test to do… viral load, CD4 count, genotyping, CBC, hepatitis profiling, and urinalysis… and whipped out four vials to fill. Four vials? That’s worse than the three I filled up at the Manila Health Department months earlier. This would be a record for me. Or so I thought. I looked away as she started to push the needle into my arm. I’m getting used to the feeling, but still can’t stand seeing it. Next thing I know, she’s asking me to hand her two more vials from the table next to me. Four? Plus two? Another record broken… but I have to admit it wasn’t that bad. So there I was, six vials of blood lighter, a survivor.

I walked next door to the X-ray Department, again no one was there. There’d been a sign saying the personnel were at the canteen, so again I sat down and waited. The old lady in charge soon showed up, and I was in and out of there in a flash.

Last stop, some test called PPD. Research now tells me it stands for Purified Protein Derivative, a skin test for tuberculosis. I had been pointed to the emergency room for it, from where I was pointed to the Pharmacy. I showed the referral, and I was given a box of something called Biocin, and told to return it after. Weird. Not something I’d usually hear at a pharmacy. So I returned to the E.R. and handed it to the nurse, who asked for my chart. Chart? What chart? I had nothing else with me but the referral, but was told they couldn’t do the test without the chart. I tried texting Ate, but received no reply. U had given me her number beforehand in case I encountered some problems. So I had to wait, thankfully she arrived early, around 8:30 am.

Needless to say at this point, I didn’t make it to work on time. So anyways, Ate accompanied me back to the E.R., and gave her personal referral in order to push the test through. So apparently, PPD is a skin test. And I must say skin tests hurt. I got a bump full of the medicine in my arm, had the nurse draw a circle around the test site, plus a note on a piece of tape on my arm with the date and time it was administered. Bad enough that I couldn’t wet my arm for three days, but I had to have the pen mark and the tape on me at work. Hmmm. I have some explaining to do.

Take note again, that all the tests I had done were free at the RITM, except for the P120.00 I paid for the Biocin thingy. I’m told the test will be free everytime, as oppose to that at San Lazaro, where follow-up CD4 counts cost something like P4,000.00, and viral load tests P6,000.00. That should be more than enough savings to pay for the additional transport to the RITM.

I realized I didn’t bump into any other fellow clients, Ate being the first and only person I encountered from the OPD that day. I was out of the RITM by 9:00 am, already having sent a text message to work saying I would be late. I walked back to the highway, but this time following my instincts and passing a road I hadn’t tried before. I think I got the right and shortest route this time. I made the trip back, via the bus and the MRT again, and reached work past 10:00.

Another amazing day, not even half through, but already got a lot done. Just two tests left, a fecalysis and RPR titer. A stool sample would spoil in the length of the trip, while the latter test, they didn’t have at the RITM. I’m thinking of going back to Dra. Malou at the Manila Health Department for those tests, as well as to pay them a visit and update them on my status. I’m planning to do that Tuesday morning, another day I’m taking off from work. A bloody and shitty Tuesday, literally.

I have another visit to the RITM scheduled on Tuesday afternoon for a consultation with the doctor. I’ll find out the results of the tests, plus my options for ARVs. So it’ll be another busy week again for me. My verdict is coming… again. Wish me luck!


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.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Big Move

RITMI’m moving. Nope, not moving out of the house, just transferring. RITM, here I come.

I’ve had my online persona for a while now, and through it I’ve been able to meet a lot of different people. Mostly just online acquaintances, but some I’ve been lucky enough to meet. I’ve also been fortunate with the kinds of people I’ve been meeting. It’s been a risk and a great deal of trust every time I agreed to meet someone new, but so far, no regrets. Although they’re of all sorts, from poz to not, they’ve all been great experiences and learnings for me.

Of the poz guys I’ve encountered online, most if not all of them were presently registered at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, or RITM, in Alabang. I, on the other hand, am with the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila.

I never knew anything about the RITM before, except that it was in the south of Metro Manila. And it’s far. So I never even tried to learn more about it just based on that. But from these guys, I’ve heard a lot more things about the RITM. They never really told me not to go to San Lazaro or to transfer to the RITM. I am currently in the process of formulating that decision on my own.

Money-wise, San Lazaro is better apparently, since it’s a government hospital, providing most services for free. But I’ve been told that RITM does the next best thing, which is provide a 75% discount to HIV patients, should they need to be confined. I’m not sure if that covers rooms and/or services, but it’s significant enough either way. ARV medication is still free of course.

One other thing I’ve heard is that the atmosphere is better. You’ve heard me rant before about how depressing the conditions were at the H4 ward of San Lazaro Hospital. Apparently, things are more decent at the RITM.

I’ve mentioned before how I enjoyed immersing, or more like fading into the poz crowd during those big Thusdays I’ve spent at San Lazaro. I still do. It’s still an eye opener. But the contrast of that against the atmosphere at the RITM is… intriguing. Apparently, there, there are no crowds, no fiesta-like Thursdays, and as I’ve been told, it would be very rare for poz patients to bump into each other. Extreme, isn’t it? I’m told it’s a good thing, because there’s less politics involved. Politics? Hmmm, considering that we are a society amongst ourselves, politics shouldn’t be too surprising. But as I’m really a loner to begin with, the novelty of the H4 social experience might just wear off eventually. Either way, good for me.

So far, nothing really convincing for me to transfer to the RITM, right? So here comes my compelling reason.

Now you know how I’ve been ranting about the ultimatum that I had been given at San Lazaro, right? About how they let me off last time I was there, telling me I needed to start on ARVs, but that I should come back when I had family, or at least close friends with me for support? It was like the ball was in my court, only to find out I didn’t know the rules.

Granted, I acknowledge the urgency to start on ARVs. Ok, maybe some people would rant back that I’ve taken long enough and should tell my family, or friends at least. But it’s just not the right time just yet. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, but haven’t convinced myself to do it. I can’t explain it, but it’s not that easy.

Now the RITM looks like it will be the answer to my problem. One of my “friends” who has become my insider into the RITM referred my problem to them. I didn’t ask him to, but he cared enough to take initiative. Their response? They’d welcome me with open arms. Apparently, I wouldn’t need a support system if I didn’t have it. The important thing was that I get started on ARVs. Furthermore, initial stages of ARV medication could be taken at home, unlike at San Lazaro where they require a two week confinement there when starting on ARVs. I was shocked. Was this for real?!

Okay, the down side is that I’d have to go through the process all over again. The forms, the interrogations, the pity, the stares, and the least I’m looking forward to, the blood tests. Arghhh. I’m still not over my fear of needles, but I guess I’m less stressed about it. I’m particularly looking forward to having my CD4 count tested again, to see how I’m doing so far, after over two months of no ARV medication, relying just on multivitamins and some old-fashioned virgin coconut oil. Wow, I never realized it's been two months. This will be interesting.

So there, I’ve stated my case. And as you may have guessed by now, I’m practically convinced that the RITM is the answer to my problems. I plan to go there next week for my profiling, or what I refer to more as a re-baptism or conversion. And even have a couple of offers from my fellow pozzies to accompany me there. I’ve been so blessed.

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