I dare you to protect yourself.
I dare you to use a condom.
I dare you to save your life.
I dare you to party for charity... Do you dare?
Nope, I’m not directly going to be benefitting from this project, it being that I’m registered with the RITM. It is the aim of the PGH to be able to catch up to and stand alongside its fellow treatment hubs, the RITM and the San Lazaro Hospital. And with that, the PGH will be the recipient of a CD4 machine from the Red Party project of Australia, and will be seeking to fund one other important diagnostic tool, a Viral Load machine, through their own initiatives and projects.
The Philippine Red Party is a benefit rock concert organized by Dr. Edsel Salvana of the Infectious Diseases Section of the Philippine General Hospital, along with his fellows-in-training, Dr. Kate Leyritana, Dr. Dessi Roman, Dr. Eva Roxas, Dr. Ann Peñamora, and Dr. Alex Bello.
Proceeds from this event will help procure a Viral Load Machine to service the HIV & AIDS patients of the Philippine General Hospital. All you need to do is party the night away.
Do you dare?
- 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 29, 2009
I dare you to protect yourself.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
It was a weekday. A workday. I went through my usual morning routine. This was going to be one of those regular days. I get up. I eat breakfast. I shower. I dress up. I leave for the trip to work. A trike and a jeep to the MRT station. As usual, a wave of people waiting at the door of the train, pushing, pushing, pushing, and eventually I’d get into the train whether I liked it or not. And then my supposedly regular day ended there.
The next thing I knew, I found myself sprawled on the floor of the MRT coach, with what seemed like thousands of feet rushing past me. I swear, I must’ve looked like Dyesebel without the fish tail. I wanted to cry, but I knew it would be fruitless. There’d be no one to console me or condole with me. I was pissed, of course. I pitied myself. But I found it funny noticing how those who got startled by my fall were staring at me, while those who were probably guilty of pushing me were looking the other way, trying to act like nothing had happened.
Okay, fine. I picked myself up off the floor. What else was I supposed to do? But I think I was only able to pick my physical self up. I may just have left my ego still battered and bruised where my body used to lie. What was everyone to think of a grown man stumbling his way into the MRT, getting intimate with the ground? What the hell. I didn’t know anyone there. And I probably wasn’t going to see any of these people again anyways. So I just walked away with whatever self-esteem I had left, and braced myself for the ride standing where I thought I would be safest.
I swear, during much of the MRT ride, my knees and arms were still trembling from what happened. I tried to feel if I suffered any scratches or bruises. But other than the dirt I had on my right hand, everything seemed alright. I did notice I had dirtied the hem of my pants so early in the morning, to think I decided to wear slacks today because I felt like dressing up a bit. And my shoes, I ruined my shoes. What used to be my only perfectly good pair of shoes, is now chipped and dingy, with its sole now starting to separate from the leather. Sigh. I need to have it fixed sometime soon.
Fortunately, I got to work with no other mishaps. But it wasn’t until I sat down at my desk that I was able to tune in to my body and realize that my finger hurt, and that I felt pain and swelling near my shin. I wasn’t limping or anything. It just hurt. I was just hoping I didn’t scrape it or anything. It just shouldn’t hurt more than my ego.
So what the hell am I supposed to do to avoid something like this again? I could opt to pass on the MRT and just go back to riding the bus every morning. Imagine the heaven of not having to share your own personal breathing space with at least ten people, comfortably sitting the whole way. But then I’d just be subjecting myself to the hands of fate and luck when it comes to EDSA traffic.
Or, assuming that most people are misinformed about HIV, I could just warn everyone around me beforehand that I had it. Maybe I could even feign a sneeze or a cough to just drive my point through. Just like one bad fart load. That should keep them away from me, right? Hmm, interesting.
Or I could actually use my HIV thing and claim disability so I could ride from the platform where only the pregnant, the elderly and the disabled are allowed, and in the special coach for women, children, the elderly, and the disabled. Very tempting.
Did you know that having HIV is actually considered a disability worthy of a monthly pension from the Social Security System? That is, if you’re ready to practically disclose and expose yourself. So I’m guessing, armed with a medical certificate, similar to or more worthy than what some women playing pregnant do, I should get some perks too. But then, the proud pusit in me says, Hey, I’m not that disabled. Plus, considering it’s usually the women who push the hardest and are the most ruthless at the MRT, this disability thing might not put me in a better position after all.
And without any apparent solution, I have no other choice. I could just be more careful next time.
So there, that’s how much of a jungle the MRT can be. Hell on wheels. So far, this has been my worst MRT experience yet. Was it traumatic? A bit, honestly. At least I didn’t feel the need to ice myself after. Plus I still found myself on the MRT the next day. So I guess it wasn’t bad enough to put this guy down permanently.
Let’s just look at the bright side. At least that day of mine couldn’t get any worse, right?
Sunday, August 23, 2009
From the way I shared it, you’d think my last cd4 count was just like any other. But it sort of wasn’t.
Certainly, the big difference was that I was not at liberty to be shy that day. I wasn't going alone.
I was goin' a-hubbin'.
I was going to be taking two newbies and introducing them to the RITM. They were actually about to embark on their own HIV journeys. Yep, two new HIV-positive guys. And nope, I had nothing to do with their becoming HIV-positive.
One of them found me online, through this blog if I recall right. I’d been talking with him through instant and text messaging since that time, and we’d met up and had lunch one weekend before. He’s actually taking his new status with a pretty level head, as he manages to laugh and joke with me about everything. And that’s a good thing, of course.
The other sent a 911 message through the Tiya Posit section of Positivism saying he had just tested positive, and was at a loss what to do next. But with the sense of urgency which came with the letter, as the resident pusit I took it upon myself to get in touch with the guy. He was in a panic, it being less than a week since being told his results. Problem was, the private clinic where he was diagnosed didn’t want to give him his results, and oddly, their protocol didn’t allow him to consult with the RITM on his own. So I’d been talking with him through phone and text, and also managed to meet with him as well one evening after work. He just really needed reassurance that he’d be okay. But the mere fact that he reached out to ask for help was a huge step towards acceptance, I believe.
So the day was already shaped to be unlike my usual anti-social self. I was tasked to make sure they had a good start to their HIV journeys. I had to try hard not to be shy. I was to play kuya to these two guys. And getting to the RITM, I found so many other reasons to be more sociable. Ate was there, of course, along with Shola, both of whom I hadn’t seen in a while. Plus my friend T was there too, himself also playing kuya to a handful of other newbies.
Plus, I got to see my favorite non-HIV-positive RITM-regular there. My Papi. I’d first encountered Papi at the RITM last year. He’s not HIV-positive, nor is he part of the staff of the RITM. He just likes hanging out there. I never really got to interact with him much at the start. The bubbly personality he sported and the way he seemed to know more people there than I did just intimidated the wallflower in me.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t until he was out of the country that we really got to know each other better. With YM as our medium, we found ourselves exchanging stories, sharing problems, and basically wondering why we hardly ever talked at the RITM. But now that he was back in the country, the friendship we’d built oceans apart was apparent this time, as we hugged tight and Papi planted a wet kiss on my oily cheek. I swear, you’d think we had a history. It was nice.
So there, just based on that, I was really out of my element that day – my element of solitude, that is. I was in the hub. I was in the hub. Hell, I was hubbin’! And the hubbin’ did not end there.
I hitched a ride with T coming back up north, along with three others. No biggie, supposedly. Not until someone asked if he could touch my calves. Say what?! Are you kidding? Was this some conspiracy with TristanTales? Yes, fine, it was my fault that I was in shorts as usual, but never in my entire life has anyone asked permission to touch my calves. It was odd. Odd, but not bad. Surprising. Of course, the pleaser in me said Sure, go ahead. But I was honestly pleased myself.
So for most of the ride back, I had someone’s hand caressing my calves. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but I have witnesses. And no, I’m still not used to the attention. I just appreciated the honesty with which the proposition was delivered, and thought that deserved some sort of reward. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it myself. And yes, I did make sure he had my number before we parted ways. Just in case. Fingers crossed. Fine, I’m a flirt.
So there, those are the rest of the juicy details of that more-than-just-a-cd4 day. Not a day that I’m going to be forgetting anytime soon. Not the hubbin', not the calves. Especially not with JinJin teasing me constantly about my calves. *Evil eyes*
Sunday, August 16, 2009
As someone currently living with HIV, it’s standard that I get my cd4 count measured every six months. I last had it done in February, when I went with O, and so August signaled it was time again to get my cd4 count.
Was I excited? Hardly.
A cd4 count is a measure of cd4+ t-cells in my blood, which tells me how my immune system is doing. Because the lifecycle of the HIV virus involves it using these t-cells to multiply, killing them off eventually, the higher the cd4 count the better.
A normal person – someone without HIV – should have a cd4 count of 500 to over a thousand. The critical point for someone with HIV is a cd4 count of below 200, meaning his or her immune system has deteriorated significantly. This is the point at which he or she is said to categorically have AIDS. It is also at this point that a person is expected to be extremely susceptible to opportunistic infections, like tuberculosis, pneumonia, meningitis and others.
Cd4 counts still aren’t sure signs though of the condition your body should be in. I’ve met some people who have cd4 counts in mere double-digits already, but who are still in good physical states externally. I guess it’s pretty consistent with HIV itself, in that you can’t tell unless you get tested.
Not to fret though. A cd4 count of below 200 doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. There are ways which allow the cd4 count to recover, and among them are ARVs or anti-retrovirals. ARVs are medicines usually given in cocktails or combinations which are able to interfere with the process of multiplication of the HIV virus, keeping it at bay, and allowing the immune system some leverage to recuperate.
I think the best case I’ve seen is a friend of mine in the US who reached the point of a cd4 count of zero – yes, absolute zero – but is now enjoying a 300+ cd4 count and living a normal, healthy and productive life. The only catch, I think, is that once you reach the AIDS-level of a cd4 count below 200, you categorically will never be removed from that classification, even if your cd4 count recovers to above 200. For me, HIV is HIV, no matter what the cd4 count. And AIDS is just a name, something for statistical purposes.
So anyway, back to me. Back in June 2008, if I remember right, I got my first cd4 count when I was still with the San Lazaro Hospital. It was 343. By August, I was able to transfer to the RITM, where they took new baseline data. My cd4 had gone down to 328. Down 15 points in just 2 months. I attribute that to the stress and anxiety brought about by the ultimatum presented to me at San Lazaro that I needed to tell someone in the family, before they started me on ARVs. Something I just wasn’t prepared to do. At that point, with the guidance of the doctor at the RITM, I decided I’d start on ARVs.
After six months on ARVs, I got another cd4 count in February of this year. My cd4 went up to 484 at that time. A 156 point increase, and I was amazed. It was unexpected, and I was ecstatic. Again, I didn’t know what things I was doing right, to which I could attribute the increase, but hell, whatever it was, I’d take it. I was convinced that the ARVs were indeed working for me.
And this past week, I was due again for another cd4 count. Would it be a reiteration of the powers of ARVs? Or would it be a wake up call that it’s not always going to be all good?
I actually brought a couple of guys along last Tuesday who were just about to start their own HIV journeys. Just preparing myself and them for the trip kept me busy, so it wasn’t really until I was on the MRT on the way to our meeting place that I was again reminded that I was going to face a needle again. Sigh. It still scares me, and I still can’t watch it being done, but I’m much, much better at dealing with it. I think.
So we got to the RITM, and a needle, some blood, and a lot of hanging out later, we left... nope I didn’t get my results just yet. Ate told me it would be available the following afternoon. I was anxious, honestly. I just couldn’t confidently say which way it was going to go.
Wednesday, I got a text from Shola, excitedly asking for a pa-cheeseburger. My cd4 was 493. Up nine points. Hmm. I had mixed feelings. Nine points? Nine measly points? Compared to 156 in the six-month period prior to this one? Hmm. Not something instantly impressive.
But considering this six-month period involved some failed attempts at affection, fallouts with friends, leaving the comfort zone of my old job, delving into a new profession, wrestling with the longer daily commute, a grave ARV overdose mistake, and so many other possibly distressing situations... suddenly, nine points up doesn’t sound so bad. At least it didn’t go down, right? So there. I’m happy.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Monday rush hour. Braving the rain, armed with my trusty umbrella, I took a jeep to the MRT station. Jam-packed and with the plastic sheets pulled down over the windows, yes, I was kept dry, but I suddenly felt my claustrophobia creeping in. Logically, my eyes went to the rear of the jeep, hoping to at least see some air. But no, someone was hanging off the back of the jeep, blocking that view as well. But against what little light there was, I felt the man’s eyes looking at me. Was he smiling? At me?
I checked him out a bit. He was probably in his mid-20s, tall, fair-skinned, dressed in just jeans, a shirt and a cap, and good looking, I thought. I remember wondering if it was someone or something else he was looking at. But I still felt it was me he was looking at. I shrugged it off. He got down ahead of me, and I eventually lost sight of him.
Making it up to the MRT platform, I stood at my usual place, the middle door of the third coach. Waiting for the next train to come, I couldn’t help but look around. I was surprised to spot the same guy standing just two meters to my left... and still looking at me... this time, from head to toe. I was now sure he was checking me out, complete with an impish smile on his face. I busied myself looking around, panicking, honestly. I regret trying to check on him with my peripheral vision, only to realize he now stood right beside to me. Oh, fuck.
When the train finally came by, everyone seemed to get sucked into its open doors. Rushing in, I felt a hand wrapping around mine... yes, it was him. I couldn’t help myself. The next thing I knew, my hand had betrayed me and clasped back, revealing my interest in him, too. Inside, he made sure to stand next to me. It seemed he still wasn’t convinced that I was interested, and still made little efforts of looking my way, rubbing elbows, and finally holding my hand as he concealed it with his bag. I looked back, rubbed back and held back. That’s what he was waiting for.
He soon struck up a conversation of whispers. We introduced ourselves and found out I lived near his brother’s place, where he stays on weekends. He asked if he could drop by sometime... I said maybe. I was getting off ahead of him, so before we got there, he asked for my number and saved it on his phone. He rang me up to make sure I got his number, too. It was time for me to get off... the train, that is. And with that, I fell in love with the MRT.
I just felt so good about myself. It was such an ego boost. He was just... so... interested! I couldn’t believe how aggressive this younger guy was. Or maybe he just judged my age wrong. I’d blush if that was the case. But honestly, it was so extremely flattering. His moves gave me the kiligs.
We were texting a bit during the following hours, and establishing our preferred roles in bed, it was clear he was after sex. And we were a perfect match. I jokingly guessed that he had a relationship, which he confirmed... he had a girlfriend. Okay, I can deal with that. And so it was set, we were to meet the following Saturday. He was to come to my place... honestly, I was excited. But then my dilemma of revealing my secret came with the excitement.
During the following days, I tried not to worry too much. It was my hormones that were taking control. I cleaned my room and changed the beddings, and even replenished my supply of prophylactics. It should’ve been so simple, but not for me. I knew I was worried, because I found myself asking a number of my friends whether I should tell this guy about my HIV or not. Opinions varied, and I was still at a loss. The decision would still be mine to make.
Well, it was more like I knew what was right, but didn’t want to take the risk of “losing” this guy. I didn’t want to make the decision. So Saturday crept up slowly and the time to decide was looming. He just couldn’t wait. Friday night, he sent a message asking if we could meet already. This was it.
I was in a jeep when I replied, finally revealing my little secret. I told him I was bothered about not telling him about it, and mentioned that it was my way giving him the chance to change his mind. Honestly, I was expecting the worst, but really hoping for the best. I stuffed my phone back into my pocket as soon as it was sent, anxious of what reply I was going to get.
After five minutes, I checked for a reply. Nothing. Another five minutes. Still nothing. Maybe he was busy. Maybe he was thinking about it. For the next hour, I was flipping my phone every five minutes... and the realization that he was no longer interested was hitting me again and again and again. I felt sad. Sad that I was reduced to an HIV-status. Sad that it tipped the scales against me.
Do I regret telling him? Well, the sex in me says “Sayang!”... but my consuelo-de-bobo would be that hopefully he realizes that you can’t tell one’s HIV-status just based on looks alone. Hopefully, he’ll play safe from now on. But damn! I really, really wanted him!
So there, I chose to do the right thing, but ended up with nothing. I guess the worst part about it is that he completely lost interest, not even considering the option of being friends at least... he just didn’t want to have anything to do with me. Ouch.
But you know what? I can’t blame him. That was just the harsh reality of things... for now. I took another risk, and lost again. Nope, I gotta convince myself that it’s his loss, not mine. No more use crying over spilt milk. After all, I could always spill my own milk... by myself.
As of Saturday afternoon, he sent me a text message asking how I was and if what I had confessed was true. I just said it would be such a bad joke to tell. He admitted doubting its truth, and I ended up lecturing him about the fact that you can’t tell one’s HIV-status based on looks alone. Nothing again after that. Sigh.
Friday, August 07, 2009
I loved that it was a holiday yesterday. I was able to rest, to do some errands around the house, but really, I spent most of the day watching the funeral of former Philippine president Cory Aquino. But after it all, I was left with just one conclusion...
I hate Cory.
In the wake of her death, Cory has been the headline of every news broadcast lately... quite expected, really, considering she was the eleventh president of our beloved republic.
I confess, I’ve been relegated to such a schmuck with it all. Seeing all the news about her, all the memories of her, all the tears shed for her... it all touches me. Although I do acknowledge she was one hell of a woman who showed what one seemingly lowly housewife could do to change and inspire a whole nation, I’m not necessarily a big Cory fan or anything. But still, seeing how her life is now being celebrated brings a tear to my eye.
If I had things my way, I’d be sobbing my heart out every time I’d watch something about her on TV. Yeah, yeah, call me a faggot, but it’s so damned touching! But, of course, that is not the case. Having my mom beside me forces me to be... discreet. I don’t want her to see me crying.
So what triggers all my emotion? I was just eight years old when the EDSA revolution that won her the presidency took place, so certainly I can hardly relate to the democracy thing that she brought at the time. Certainly, Cory had encountered the "STD" notion during her lifetime, but I seriously doubt if it was as close an encounter as mine. And though the fact that she looks just like my lola could play a part in it all, considering that I may have been the least favorite grandchild of that lola of mine just rips that theory apart.
If it is one particular thing, it’s the death that bothers me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not afraid of dying. I’ve always been ready to go. It just seems that the heavens aren’t ready to take me. Not to mention that I’m not dying just yet either. It’s the prospect of dying alone that saddens me. I’ve always feared dying alone. That I’ll bravely admit.
Even before, I’ve dreamt of it more than a handful of times. Seeing myself lying in a wooden box in an empty church. No one grieving, no one missing me, no one caring, no one even noticing that I’m gone. I hate waking up sobbing like a baby whenever that happens.
One’s family should be there, right? But I seriously doubt I’m going to be anyone’s husband or father. I am a son, a brother, a nephew and a friend... but will they be too ashamed to admit that? I always said I was a loner. I am. But in death, I tend to wonder... will I still be alone?
Cory... she had it all. Children, siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, friends... A husband saying he fell in love with her three times... Not to mention a whole nation regarding her as their mother. Will I have anything like that when the lights dim on me?
People thanking her. People missing her. People crying for her. People celebrating her life... even after her death. It was just one hell of a way to go.
She was missed. She was thanked. She loved and was loved. She nurtured. She inspired. I can only wish I had such a legacy to leave when my time comes.
I hate Cory because I can only dream of being like her. But I can try. I can certainly try.