I wrote this about two years ago—below, I cite a disheartening statistic that 500 new HIV cases are reported in a month. As of December 2016, that figure is now up to 750 or 24 new cases a day. Get yourself tested and always practice safe sex.
PS: Of course, ang tagal ng na-break ang promise ko, haha.
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I was at low risk and still, I broke out in cold sweat. I was in a small receiving room along with another guy on one couch and a counselor on the other. The air-conditioning felt like it was at full blast—minutes later, I was shivering due to the low temperature, but also most likely due to my anxiety.
I was at LoveYourself in Shaw Boulevard for an HIV testing. I like the positivity that the name suggests though I wish it had been better: On my visit, I had an awkward exchange with the building’s security guard when he asked me for my business and I said, “Love yourself.”
I was there because of an encounter I had with a guy more than six months ago. There was no intercourse, but there was ‘frotting’ and then some. My research, aka Google, suggested the possibility of infection was next to none, but what drove me crazy was the fact there was a tiny percentage I may have gotten infected.
The very next week, I was down with fever, which was unusual for me since I started getting yearly flu shots. When I itch, I’d look closer at my skin and compare it to Google images of rashes on people with HIV. The symptoms listed for HIV infection did not help: fever, migraine, cold, rashes—I experience any of these on any given day, even all at the same time. However, since HIV tests are only reliable three to six months after infection, I could not do anything but wait even as I grew more and more paranoid.
So six months later, I arrived for my test at an otherwise nondescript building, save for its yellow color. On the third level, where the clinic is, the windows were all shut and there was not a single soul on the floor. It was a depressing sight—at least until I knocked on the door and led myself in.
Music was blaring in the reception room: when I entered, it was Beyoncé, later to be succeeded by Rihanna, Sia, and Nicki Minaj. The lobby was fully packed. The attendant, who will later turn out to be my counselor, immediately handed me a form—no inquisitions, except to ask if I had been tested before.
Filling out the form became my first emotional moment at the clinic: as I wrote my father’s and mother’s names, it pained me to imagine their reaction in case I had to tell them a bad news. (Though confidential, details are required to activate one’s Philhealth in case the result is positive, I was told.) Writing down my birthday made me think of my childhood years, when one of the most pressing problems I had was how to tell my mother I accidentally released the birthday balloons she gave me up in the air.
It was also then that I was assigned my ‘number’—a lengthy alphanumeric series which I figured would conceal my identity in case I am HIV positive. “This is it,” I thought. “I’m being reduced to anonymity.” Even before my visit, I’ve been aware of the strong HIV/AIDS stigma not only in the country but internationally.
There was a pre-counseling session where I found myself in the freezing room with another guy. The counselor had a pragmatic approach to the entire experience, which actually made me feel better: HIV is not a death sentence. You can die anytime, no matter how healthy or sickly you are. Being HIV positive (or reactive is how they put it) would require certain lifestyle changes, but in no way should it prevent you from enjoying a quality life.
The counselor left to arrange our blood test and one-on-one counseling. There was an awkward silence between me and the other guy so I asked him how worried he was. It turned out I opened a floodgate: he told me his story and his symptoms all under three minutes. I began to worry for him, too. It sounded like he’d be lucky if he didn’t turn out reactive.
The one-on-one session allows you to tell all. It’s like a confessional, albeit you reveal every juicy detail about your sex life. In my case, he confirmed that I truly was a low risk, but that unfortunately, I was still at risk. The counselor also helps plan for either reactive/non-reactive scenario by asking for my thoughts on both. If I were negative, I told him, I’m avoiding any sexual contact nevertheless. The counselor appealed in behalf of my libido: “You don’t have to swear it off completely,” he said. But the months-long stress I had been through wasn’t worth it. (It’s not just the HIV—one can get sexually transmitted diseases even through oral sex, no matter if you’re the giver or recipient.)
The result is known in two hours, which I imagined would be a hellish eternity. There’s a living room setup for those who prefer to wait in the clinic rather than leave and return for the result. I plopped myself on the sofa. On TV was The Time Traveler’s Wife, where Eric Bana kept leaping onscreen shirtless, his rippled body mocking the celibacy promise I made to myself minutes earlier.
People came in steadily, a mix of men and women. Some were hot. Others were extremely hot. A couple of days before, I read a report which said that new cases were up 500 that month.
My two hours, as it turned out, went by quickly—I’ve never been as comfortable in a clinic as in LoveYourself, and I’ve been to a few good hospitals. And it’s all free. It was literally a haven, especially for such an anxiety-ridden person like I was at the time.
When I was handed my envelope in a private room and saw my result, I said a prayer of thanks and ate my first proper meal in days. I cannot thank the founder/s and staff of LoveYourself enough.
LoveYourself has three testing locations. The one in Shaw Blvd is located at Anglo Building, near the Shaw flyover.
For more details, visit www.loveyourself.ph.