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.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Going Down with the Ship

I’ll have a lot more time for reading. I’ll have a lot more time for sleeping. I won’t exactly have a lot more room in my closet. But I can now stay out all night long if I feel like it. IF I feel like it. That’s still one big if.

It’s official. I’m out of a job. I’m now unemployed.

It was in the last quarter of last year that things began to get fishy at work. Certain people were pulled aside, with whom something serious was discussed. The next thing we knew, that same day was to be their last day. They were to be retrenched.

Nope, I wasn’t exactly heaving sighs of relief. Now that was an absolutely demoralizing thing, even for the rest of us who were spared. And deep inside, no pep talk from management could stop us from wondering when the next cut would be, and who would be the next victim.

During the following months, people began resigning one after the other, and for one reason or another. But I’m pretty sure the uncertain future of the company was a factor.

Again, it was difficult working through all the turmoil. And it wasn’t hard to notice how the management wasn’t even trying to replace those who were leaving. This wasn’t just about thinking positive. It was about whether or not we were blind… or even stupid. Still, some of us stood strong - I’d like to believe I was one of them - keeping focus on the tasks at hand, carrying on carrying on.

And then it happened. Apparently, before New Year, the owners decided that was it. They would cease operations. The ship was going down.

I found out unofficially in the first week of January, having had to be told only because it was detrimental to how we would be dealing with existing and potential accounts. It’s just really beyond me as to why they didn’t just spell it all out the first working day of January. Must our agony be delayed? Will it make it easier? Not at all.

Some people who did know about the pending fate of the company became so different at the time. They were less personable, more uncomfortable, not even being able to look into our eyes. Some made themselves less conspicuous in the office, transferring almost altogether to the other side, the sister company. It was funny, it felt like the captain and his staff abandoned ship, but sadly, leaving some of us behind and in the dark, and taking all the lifeboats along with them.

Finally, the second Monday of January, they made the announcement. It was a brief pep talk, but really, not brief enough. At that point, all I really needed to hear was “We’re closing by so-and-so, and we will need everyone to so-and-so before that.”

Slowly, things became clearer. It was our department, the Creatives, which housed the accounts, writers and designers, that was really getting the brunt. And tenure with the company apparently made you even more of a target. Hmm.

I hate that I understand a bit of the business, admin and human resource side of things. That it’s not that easy to close a company. That it’s odd for people being retrenched to be asked to resign. That thirty-days-notice is an absolute number, either it is or it isn’t. That all this could’ve been handled in a better way.

So for the weeks that followed, we were counting down the days. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t demoralizing for me. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel any negativity. I did, I did. But I hope I kept those feelings to myself successfully. As proudly and professionally as I believe anyone could ever manage to, we trudged along, keeping up the level of service to our clients, all while watching the end of an era approach.

And by Friday, the 28th of January, after one last client meeting, we headed back to the office and three of us colleagues, three of us friends, began cleaning out our drawers. No sadness, really. We knew we did our jobs. In fact, that evening, we had a little reunion, where 10 people, who had at one time or another become colleagues at the company, got together again to catch up, this latest milestone as stimulus. A great night of chatting and drinking in the cool breeze and under the night sky.

It was not a bad year-and-a-half to sum up. It was an opportunity that came, enticing enough to draw me away from a previous job I was in for a good five years. It was an almost alien field to start with, and people from whom I learned a lot.

It was the first place where I really saw how one's HIV-status need not be detrimental to one's career. It was an unusual environment, where I may have unexpectedly just met the best straight guy friend I’ll ever have... nope, no sexual tension at all, just a lot of respect regardless of my seemingly differing sexual orientation and HIV-status, all of which he accepted, and despite which, we clicked and made a great team at that.

So for now, with this turn of events, is it an unknown future for me? Not exactly. Uncertain, maybe, but not bleak at all. It’s not like I’m going to go hungry in a day or two. Fortunately, I’m not the type to live a hand-to-mouth existence. I guess my biggest worry, once again, would be the potentially huge change. I still hate change. But then, as long as it’s something I can even try to handle, as much as I tried with this HIV thing, then bring it on.

For now, I’m just hoping I spare my mom of any worries. I actually just told her the story of what happened yesterday. A bit late, I know, but as usual, I was just handling things by myself as much as I could.

I did keep the hubby in the loop the whole while, and he’s been very supportive, and an ear to rant to, but I still hate how he promises he’d take care of me, no matter what, because he loves me. Sorry, I’m too proud to take any glimmer of charity just like that. But I love the guy and confess that I was touched when he said that. Gah. Cheesy.

Oh, well. I guess, it was all fate. It was written in the cards. Just like the HIV-positive chapter of my life.

If at least, this has kept me on my toes. If at least, it has become a time for me to evaluate exactly what I am capable of doing, what I want to do, and what is available. If at least, it has brought the realization that I’m actually quite fortunate to have options. If at least, this has reminded me how friends should hang in there for each other through thick and thin. If at least, this has taught me to take all the Feng Shui hullabaloo with a grain of salt... quit relying on burning and incense, and just do your job, will you. If at least, this has shown me that going down with the ship ain’t nothing at all to be ashamed of.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Meds, Grants & Insurance

PhilHealthSo as I mentioned in the story of my last trip to RITM, aside from getting my ARV refill, I ended up accomplishing something else, which was to submit partially to the RITM personnel the required documents regarding my PhilHealth. PhilHealth is the Philippine government’s health insurance system. Why is it just now that I’ve needed to submit stuff regarding my health insurance information to my HIV treatment hub?
Okay, here’s the deal. The Philippines’ ARV supply is currently supported by Global Fund grants, Global Fund being an international funding agency that somewhat focuses on HIV and AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. And the Philippines is and has been a beneficiary for the past few years for HIV and AIDS, and Tuberculosis.

Naturally, that’s how funding works, right? You take out a grant for a project, towards certain goals for a certain time period. As that period draws to a close, the beneficiary is expected to furnish the benefactor the proper documentation to show where the funds went and how the funds were used. Causes or projects that are able to prove themselves trustworthy of funds can then usually easily apply for a new round of grants.

As such, the Philippines has been a beneficiary of the Global Fund for some time now. It is shouldering the cost of ARVs and some aspects of care and treatment such as medical consultations and laboratory tests. But at this point, a wave of anxiety and an unsure future is spreading through the whole positive community as it is being revealed that funding will cease by 2012.

Gasp! How cruel, how cruel! But is it really merely cruelty at all?

The first problem is that, from way back to my 2009 Funder Blunder entry, one of the non-government organizations, the Tropical Disease Foundation or TDF, that had served as a primary recipient for Global Fund grants, has failed to properly account for I-don’t-know-how-many millions of US dollars in grants, which the Global Fund itself has evaluated as “unauthorized expenditures“.

As a result of that, the Global Fund suspended for some time further funding of new beneficiaries, or new pusits. It was actually a relief that, later on, the funding was reinstated to the Philippines, with the Department of Health or DOH taking over the role that TDF was playing. So we all breathed sighs of relief. I’m quite uncertain though if TDF was able to fix the controversy it got into. Millions of dollars? I doubt.

The second problem is that the grant that is being enacted today, specifically for the care and treatment of HIV and AIDS, was really only meant to last until the year 2012. Meaning, 2012 marked the end of the period covered by the grant, and a new round of grants would need to be applied for beyond 2012. Simple, supposedly. But apparently, the country’s application for a new grant beyond 2012 didn’t make the deadline. Seriously? We missed a deadline?!

So who was supposed to do that on behalf of the country? The Philippine National AIDS Council, or PNAC. I’ve seen certain persons from the HIV organizations in online discussions blaming PNAC. HIV positives blaming PNAC for the oversight may be expected, of course, we are the ones who are directly affected, right?

But I must amusingly point out that these very HIV organizations are supposed to be members of, and be representing the positive community in PNAC, alongside government agencies like the DOH, DOLE, DOJ, and DSWD, and other non-government organizations. So wouldn’t their finger-pointing towards PNAC just ricochet back to their own organizations? Hmmm.

It’s just funny that, back in the day when we, the first positive bloggers, were making our voices heard, it was people from these very groups that were trying to take us down. And even more funny was that even as we were just putting together Positivism, they had tried to defame us, probably because they saw us as rivals for funding.

And now, we have them there on online discussions trying to rally us, the positive troops, around the issue, and even going as far as criticizing as being negligent of duty, anyone who is any ounce short of participating. Where the hell is all this negativity coming from? Heaven knows. Perhaps if certain people realized that snuffing positive voices and killing new advocacy groups was not part of their duty, then they could have fulfilled their responsibility to be representatives of the positive community.

Anyway, back to the problem of grants. So as a backup plan for persons living with HIV, should the time come that grants from Global Fund cease, Philhealth may shoulder the medical tests and services needed, and subsidize the cost of ARVs. So I had to leave photocopies of my Philhealth ID and my ARV regimen booklet, submit a copy of my Philhealth Member Data Record or MDR, as well as accomplished Philhealth Claim Forms 1 & 2. Just a few more things I need from my employer.

Since I’m currently employed, membership in PhilHealth is mandatory, so I get part of the premiums deducted from my salary automatically every month, while my employer is obliged to pay for another part. For those unemployed or who have never signed up for PhilHealth, there is an option of voluntary membership, which I think costs PhP200.00 or so a month.

So there. If at least, the Philippines is on the road to becoming less reliant on external funding to fulfill everyone’s, us HIV-positives in this case, basic right to healthcare.

Considering that voices from the grapevine say ARVs may still cost us around PhP3,000 a month even with PhilHealth subsidy, I think the ones who will be most affected by any interruption of Global Fund grants would be those who aren’t working. But then, having HIV is NOT an excuse to stop working, right? Not unless you’re paralyzed from the neck down or in a coma, which is hardly the case.

Some may think it’s easy for me to say that, since I’m currently employed and working right now. But then it is the truth. Having HIV is NOT an excuse to stop being productive. I’m not in a particularly secure situation myself right now... I’ll tell you about it later... but I’d still vouch for it.

But anyway, I’m not panicking about the funding issue. Stressing out about it this early just may affect my health, won’t it? And worrying about the future just ruins what you have today. We still have hope. No reason to stop hoping. Things will happen if they’re meant to happen. Que sera sera. For now, I still have the rest of my life to deal with. To infinity and beyond.


Sunday, January 09, 2011

Honeymoon + Wedding

The year 2010 wasn’t so bad. Status quo, I think. As 2010 slipped away, it left me wondering how 2011 would fare. Or more like how I’d fare in 2011. Hmm. Aside from the usual family thing we have on January 1st every year, I started the year of with a planned trip to Tagaytay, primarily for our Yogi Babe’s wedding, but at the same time an out-of-town trip with the Hubby. A wedding and a honeymoon. A honeymoon and a wedding.

Sunday morning, I was lugging my backpack, a shoe bag and my yoga mat, on my way to Greenhills to meet the Hubby. I waited outside a Starbucks. In almost perfect timing, he passed by after a couple of minutes, had me load my stuff in the trunk, and hop in as we proceeded to the parking area. From there we walked back to Starbucks and chatted over drinks.

Why Greenhills? Hubby and I were going to mass. It was a Sunday, after all. He had invited me before to attend mass with him so I could see him play, but I’d never gotten the chance to. I knew it was important for him, so even if I’m not really a staunch churchgoer, I was there. Watching him on the organ while the choir sang was entertaining. If not for the couple of cute boys on the choir, just seeing him move, a la Cecile Licad at that. And he was so proud. I was happy he wanted to share that experience with me.

After the mass, around noon, we forewent lunch to get on our road trip. A stopover along SLEX to buy ice and reload the toll thingy, and we were off. Traffic wasn’t bad, considering most were going the opposite direction, on their way back to Manila. The next stop we made was at Paseo de Sta. Rosa for lunch. Poquitomas, not a very attractive name, but the food not bad at all. After a go at the buffet, we took a little stroll around the picturesque grounds. And full with gastric and scenic delights, we resumed our trip.

I think it was about 2:00 pm when we got to the house in Tagaytay. It was his aunt’s place, which he borrows sometimes. We’d actually spent a weekend there together already once last year. Our little love shack, if I may say. We unloaded our stuff, and settled in. We were both tired from the trip, but after a while just laying in bed, talking, tired but unable to doze off, we decided we’d just head on out and take in the town.

We headed off to find dinner, ending up in a quaint restaurant called Greek Taverna. Just two tables were occupied, again perhaps because everyone had left the little vacation town as the holidays drew to a close, and were on their way back to the real world already. But we appreciated the quiet. We ordered some pasta, lamb and skewers, all the while taking snapshots of ourselves documenting our little meal.

We went to get coffee at the nearest Starbucks, but the lines were too long. We did however chance upon a holiday bazaar, where we each bought a warm and fluffy animal cap - him a pig, since he was born in the Year of the Pig, and me, a goat, only because there was no horse, and not even for an Arian, which I am not. It wasn’t too late yet, so we thought we’d visit the wedding venue, an ocular of sorts, armed with a printout of a map, just so we could study the route which at that point we were both unfamiliar with.

I admit, we made stopovers on the way, at a drugstore and a couple of convenience stores. We looking for... lube. We were on a honeymoon, weren’t we?! Depressing how the drugstore and the first convenience store didn’t have any water-based lubricant, so much so that I actually felt I had to buy out the stocks of the second convenience store just to make sure. Supply and demand. Supply and demand. I demanded.

Anyhoo, we didn’t actually make it to the wedding venue that evening. We didn’t get lost, but we gave up. The only resolve was realizing that it was much farther away than the map suggested. Oh, well. We’ll find it tomorrow. We went home, washed up, relaxed, and put the condoms we brought and lubricant we bought to good use. Mmm.

Come morning, I awoke first and started preparing early. It was the wedding day itself, but I was dressed down in shorts and a sleeveless shirt. Nope, not for the wedding just yet, but for yoga. Yep, Yoga was part of the wedding itinerary.

Hubby dropped me off at Hacienda Isabella, where the wedding and all the other activities were to be held. Yep, he just dropped me off. Even with the other Yoga for Lifers there, he drove off without even getting introduced to them. He’s shy. Discreet somehow about what we have. Truth be told, of all my friends, he’s only ever managed to agree to BFF to meet us as a couple.

So with the Yoga for Lifers, we walked in and took in the sights. From what areas we had access to, it was amazing. Sprawling lawns with flourishing trees and charming structures all around. And to realize we were going to do yoga outdoors on the grass in the morning sun and cool breeze was amazing. It was an exhilarating practice, along with some of the other wedding guests, about twelve of us if I’m not mistaken, that left us energized for the day ahead, and the bride de-stressed hopefully from the wedding jitters.

Feasting on a well-deserved breakfast of eggs Benedict, I hitched out with the Yoga for Lifers, and got dropped off at the house where Hubby was waiting. He had had breakfast as well on his own. I showered and rested a bit, after which we hit the road again, to get some Good Shepherd products for him to take home, and have a hearty lunch of kare-kare at Sanctuario.

Back home, we laid in bed a bit. As in, a bit. It was twenty minutes, maybe, before I realized I had to start preparing for the wedding ceremony. I needed to shower, dress up, and pack the rest of my stuff so everything would be ready, as we planned to head back to Manila right after the wedding dinner. Nope, Hubby wasn’t coming with me to the wedding. He’s shy, remember? He was just really there to spend the rest of the time with me.

So I hitched to the wedding with one of the Yoga for Lifers, just to save Hubby from the long drive so he could just relax at the house. Now the wedding was to die for. The ceremony itself was heavenly, less religious than usual, but solemn and romantic nonetheless. Perfect. Simply perfect.

Drinks and finger food by the pool, a raid of the photo booth, and a hangout at the wish quilt, and I got a text. Hubby was in the parking area. I rushed over to keep him company, but he ushered me back in, saying that he’d just hang out and wait. How could I? He wasn’t there just to be my driver, ya know. But he convinced me he was okay waiting, and I hesitantly headed back in already planning my early exit.

I tried to enjoy dinner as much as I could, and the great food made that easy. The guests all sat at long tables dining on pasta, skewers and veggies, capped off by a slew of desserts, from fruit salad to strawberry crepes. But then I really couldn’t get away from the fact that someone was waiting for me in the parking lot. Mmm.

The programme started, and as much I would have wanted to go up to the couple and thank them for the wonderful evening, they were too enthralled in each other and in the speeches their families and friends were giving, that I decided against it. So I sought permission to go from the Yoga for Lifers instead, as BFF volunteered to accompany me to the car. Again, BFF is so far the only one privileged to see us as a couple. A hug and a kiss goodbye, I packed myself into the car and we drove off.

In the car, I did get the vibe that he wasn’t totally okay just waiting it out in a parked car. But he did know he made that decision. Besides, he was able to go for a spa day while I was at the wedding. So after a while, we were all good again.

We had dinner again along the SLEX, but still, in a whiff, thanks to the traffic-less streets, we were home around 11:00 pm. What a way to end the holidays, and start the New Year. It was a tiring trip, but I dare to speak for both of us when I say that we had a lot of fun. Enough warmth to cut through the Tagaytay chill. A honeymoon and a wedding. Not bad. We haven’t gotten a lot of opportunities to go out of town together, so to start the year off with this one should make the rest of 2011 one hell of an adventure.


Friday, January 07, 2011

Shooting Stars

Okay, fine, so maybe I'm not shooting stars... or any heavenly body for that matter. But how about the Philippine Star? Hmmm, why not?

So Yoga for Life has once again made the pages of a national broadsheet, the Philippine Star specifically. And I sort of got quoted. Not mentioned, but quoted. Considering my last mention was in Abante, I'll take this one.

Yoga for Life, and Living for Yoga
by Audrey N. Carpio

On the first day back from the holidays, my yoga class was expectedly full with new people and their steely resolve to get on the fitness track. As we stretched out our creaky bones, saturated with Christmas fat, and sweated out the hangovers, I once again thought about what it was about yoga that has made me keep coming back to it throughout the years. I was always a nerd, unathletic and gawky, and in high school I would skip PE classes by managing to always have my period. The competitiveness of team sports didn’t appeal to me, and running like a hamster in the gym was boring and tedious. Discovering yoga was somewhat of a breakthrough in my physical routine, mainly because it wasn’t all about the physical. There was a mind-body connection that appealed to my intellectual and spiritual side while also creating a stronger, more toned body. After the last minutes of savasana I would always feel centered and peaceful, free of toxins both physical and emotional. So I wasn’t surprised when I came across yoga for people living with HIV. As a practice with proven physiological and psychological benefits for almost any type of body, it makes perfect sense.

Yoga for Life, a community-based yoga series created by Charmaine Cu-Unjieng, a Yale-educated HIV specialist, and Paulo Leonido, a fitness expert and personal trainer, came together when the two met during yoga teacher training under Roland dela Cruz of Bliss Yoga. Call it dharma. “We were together six days a week for two months. We’re both passionate about HIV. We even have the same birthday,” Charmaine says. “I always wanted to merge the work I had been doing with yoga, and meeting Paolo catalyzed it.”

With her contacts at Echo Yoga, a group that offers alternative classes to niche groups like overweight and older people, and his contacts at Philippine General Hospital and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, Charmaine and Paulo developed an Iyengar-based yoga program designed for the needs of people living with HIV and AIDS. Worldwide, yoga is being recognized as an important complementary therapy for immunosuppressed patients. “I have friends living with HIV. I had always wondered, what happens next?” Paulo says. “So we came up with Yoga for Life, which is a non-strenuous, holistic approach to wellness.”

The first couple of months of classes were not so easy, as newcomers had many fears to overcome and needed to grow more comfortable about opening up and talking about HIV. “We didn’t know at first whether to focus on people with HIV, or make it an advocacy against stigma and discrimination, open to everyone. We were also concerned about confidentiality,” says Charmaine. But it has become a safe space: there is no requirement to disclose one’s status, and the classes are indeed open to people with HIV and those who support people with HIV. Ninety percent of the students are gay men, and half of them are estimated to be HIV positive.

In Ayurvedic philosophy, specific poses like inversions are beneficial to the immune system, while backbends stimulate thymus activity and forward bends detoxify the liver. B.K.S. Iyengar, the founder of Iyengar Yoga, outlined a sequence of poses that encourage proper blood circulation and activate glands that are known to regulate the production of T-cells, the body’s army against infections. For people living with HIV, yoga alleviates stress and depression. For those on ARV drugs, yoga helps detoxify their system. After an hour and 15 minutes of asana practice, the students are guided through meditation and breathing techniques, and it is in these moments that yoga becomes its most medicinal. “Our approach is to bring back the inner peace, self love, self empowerment and happiness. You don’t have to be reminded about your sickness,” Charmaine explains.

Feedback and results from students have been encouraging. One student, with a dangerously low CD4 count of 7 (HIV-negative people normally would have 700-1,000 T-cells) was getting sick with opportunistic infections. The doctor advised him to stop exercising. Charmaine and Paulo put him in relaxing poses. He stopped getting fever every day, and started gaining weight and getting stronger. His new CD4 count is unknown, but one can surmise that his stabilized health reflects a higher number of T-cells. Paulo shares that other students are starting to practice on their own, even employing breathing techniques inside taxis when they need to calm down.

With Paulo as a great motivator for the students, keeping in touch with inspirational texts, Yoga for Life has become more than just a place for a judgment-free work out. “Yoga for Life has proven itself to be a real community,” blogged one practitioner who had been living with HIV for three years. “Being with the Yoga for Life community turned out to be the best way to celebrate World AIDS Day. Yes, I dare to use the word ‘celebrate.’ Because gone are the days of World AIDS Day being a commemoration of the lives that had been lost to AIDS. Rather, we should be celebrating. Celebrating life going on in spite of the virus.”

For the new year, Paulo and Charmaine are hoping to scale up their program, introduce fun safer-sex campaigns to spread the message of positive prevention, and find more yoga teachers. As they run it on a volunteer basis and only ask for a suggested donation of P200 per class, the sustainability of Yoga for Life still looms as an issue. But with the energy they give out in service to others, the universe is sure to respond in manifold.

* * *

Yoga for Life is held on Wednesdays, 7 p.m. at 28th Floor Conference Room, Medical Plaza Ortigas Building, San Miguel Avenue, Ortigas, Pasig City, and on Saturdays, 2 p.m. at Echo Yoga Community Center, 9th Floor Penthouse, Century Plaza Building, Perea Street, Legazpi Village, Makati.


Saturday, January 01, 2011

Holiday Count Down

The eve of Christmas, mass and dinner with my mom’s side of the family. And on Christmas itself, home recovering from the holiday stress. And then back to work for the few days before the turn of the year. That’s how it’s been in previous years. But this year was quite different. Good or bad? Let’s see.

The eve of Christmas was still marked off for the family. But more than my being stranded between the generations, this year I’d be the star. Oh wait, more like I’d have the star. The Li’l Bastard was to make his first appearance as the family’s new bunso at his first Christmas. He was dressed in a little grey shirt with blue piping that matched my own outfit. New places and new faces, kept him quite overwhelmed.

I successfully weaseled out of mass since pets aren’t allowed in the chapel. So we walked around the village to while away the time. Then it was time for a change of costume, as Santa Paws of course! Yes, the Li’l Bastard loves to dress up. And naturally, he became center of attention, the fashionable little whiny pup that always had his left paw up like a limp-wristed twink. Hahaha. Oh well. Mana mana.

By the end of the evening, I was just glad Christmas only happens once a year. Oi, pardon me for thinking that way as early as Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day, I had planned to stay home. But no. I had find internet access because I had work to do. Work?! I knowwwww! Work! So I spent the morning in a coffee shop at the mall, stalling enough through my iced mocha to get everything done. And then I headed back in time for lunch and to spend some home time.

The 26th and 27th continued in the same fashion. No plans, just rest. I did go out for a while to bump into a former college professor of mine to catch up on stuff over a couple of beers, but that was it. Recharge. Recharge.

I had the 28th planned out. I badly needed to go to RITM for med refill… as in two weeks ago. I had already borrowed a month’s supply of ARVs from W, with whom I share the same combination. So like a workday, I left the house at 7:00 am, but this time braved the MRT. Thankfully, it wasn’t as jam-packed as the usual workday rush hour. I actually got to RITM in under an hour, which I found amazing.

There, I texted an online friend. We were eyeballing. Meeting was easy since there were just two of us there at the clinic that early. We talked a bit. He told me about deciding to get tested after noticing he was getting sick a lot, and because he had come from a relationship with a particularly promiscuous guy. I found that amazing that he instantly thought HIV may be the culprit, not your normal reaction. He was barely a month on ARVs, and was there to complete some other baseline tests.

Ate came in and arranged for my refill. Leafing through my records, she pointed out some results. My viral load. The viral load is a quantitative measure of the HIV virus in the blood. The lower that is, the better. I’d never seen my results before. Apparently, my viral load, which is measured annually, has been UNDETECTABLE both in 2009 and 2010. I know I should’ve been jumping for joy, but I was probably in disbelief. Really?! Then my lifestyle, the medicines, and the yoga are working that well. Wow, well I’ll take that.

I left my new friend at the clinic while I went to the pharmacy. Mission accomplished. Ate also sent me to the back office, to submit some stuff for Philhealth. Oi, Philhealth is a long story...

So anyway, that done, I tagged along with my new friend for his errands. Back at the clinic, we caught the other nurse, Ate S. While figuring out my friend’s ARVs, she mentioned they’d started ARVs at the same time. Say what?! Sa kanya ako nahawa eh! I was aghast. Did they have unprotected sex? Did we have a pusit nurse all along?

Well, not quite. Apparently, Ate S suffered from an accidental needle prick injury while administering a PPD test to my friend on a previous visit. So however small the risk, she needed to have a prophylaxis, which meant a month of the very ARVs we‘re taking, just as a precaution. Talk about immersing yourself in the patient’s world, huh? A firsthand experience of ARVs. Not everyone can claim that. But she was in good spirits and was already joking about it.

Oh, and Ate S’ short stint with the RITM is about to end. She said she’d no longer be with us in 2011. Nope, nothing to do with the accident. She’s going to go to med school. I was saddened by the news a bit, she grew into such a competent nurse for us, but I know it’s for the best. You’ll never know, she might come back as our Doc S someday. Hmmm.

From there, we headed off and had lunch at the mall. An early lunch, he was, after all, coming from fasting for all his blood tests. From there, I headed back home to prepare to spend the afternoon with the hubby. Mmm.

Wednesday, the 29th, was Yoga for Life day as usual. But just after lunch, I was off on a mission in Manila. BFF and I met up and took the LRT to Tayuman. We walked a couple of blocks, and finally found our destination. YAFA. Youth AIDS Filipinas Alliance, an HIV advocacy group.

We found the address, but weren’t sure, since it didn’t look right. We knocked. The door was unlocked and opened up to a stairway. We walked up. Tao po? Someone walked out in just his underwear. Oh, welcoming committee? Hehe. Well, we seemed to catch them at the least perfect time. Let’s put things in context, they had scheduled a general cleaning that day, and there was a power interruption, thus, the outfit, or lack thereof.

As soon as they gathered their composure, we got the honor of sitting down with the famous DyingYoung. He told us all about YAFA, and BFF was able to ask his questions about one of their projects. It was actually very interesting, and reinforced the respect I have for YAFA. For such a young group, they’ve really been making waves.

From there, I got BFF to accompany me to the Manila Social Hygiene Clinic. It’s maybe been more than a year since I was last there. Nurse Malou Tan is no longer connected to the SHC. But I got to see Dra. Diana Mendoza, rebond and all. I don’t even think she remembered my name. I left some Positivism brochures with her and asked how the SHC was doing.

They still have free HIV rapid testing there at the Manila SHC, so she asked that we refer people to them for screening. They’re open Mondays to Thursdays, 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, and Friday mornings till noon.

And from there, we took the LRT-MRT route to Ortigas. After a quick snack in Shangrila, we headed to yoga early. Yoga was special today. A hundred and eight sun salutations. Yes, 108 forward bends, halfway lifts, pushups down, and upward- & downward-facing dogs. Was I confident I could do it? Not particularly. But I was going to try. And try I did.

After it all, up to today, two days after, biceps and triceps, quads and calves, back and chest, basically from the top of my neck to the soles of my feet, I’m sore. Sore in a good way. And the fulfillment of getting through the 108 sun salutations is phenomenal. Roarrrrr!

So that was my itinerary for the week leading up to the turn of the year. Sounds like a lot for just a week, especially for me. If that’s going to set the stage for 2011, then it’s going to be a busy one. Bring it on. Bring it on. With that, I hope everyone has all their fingers intact, and had a very Happy New Year. It's 1-1-11. Nagpaputok ka ba?