“The persistent cough had lasted weeks; I’d already been to the GP a couple of times with no joy, I decided to get a test to rule out HIV and put my mind at ease. It came back positive. It wasn’t easy to start with but in time I accepted that I was healthy, fit and could have a normal life with the virus, especially as I was able to start treatment. It made me a stronger and more confident person.
Five years later and I’m returning from the holiday of a lifetime to Australia, HIV hasn’t destroyed my body and I won’t let it spoil my dreams. Thank God I got tested when I did, it was scary finding out but I know it’s been the best thing for me in the long run. I have a future I can look forward to.”
”The persistent cough had lasted weeks; I was worried about what it could mean but just ignored it. It probably wasn’t serious, these things never are, it’s not dramatic like the movies: I just had a bug. Why would I need a HIV test? That sort of thing wouldn’t happen to someone like me, I didn’t consider myself at risk, I wasn’t the village bike, and the people I slept with all looked healthy.
Five years later and I’m in hospital with a serious chest infection, they ran a lot of tests and it turns out I’m HIV positive. They say my immune system is badly compromised and I’ve probably had it for a long time. All I can think about is how many other guys I might have passed this on too. What’s going to happen to me now?”
I’m tired and jet lagged in my room which means this post is guaranteed full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, but also that the first narrative is true and the second is a could-have-been that, thankfully, never happened. My holiday to Aus is over, we’re approaching the end of National HIV Testing Week 2014 and I’ve been reflecting on the messages I’ve read over the past few days and what having that test five years ago has meant for me.
I would do anything at this moment in time to feel the golden sand between my toes again, hear the waves break on the shore and feel the warmth of the sun’s rays on my skin. Instead I’m gazing over a grey (but at least sunny) Salford, the trees have lost all their leaves and instead of the sea and parakeets I can only hear the traffic of Manchester’s ring road. But I’m lucky and extremely grateful to have been on an amazing trip to the other side of the globe, because it could have been very different.
Instead of walking on those beaches I could have been burying my head in sand, that guy who was fine for a few years but then out of the blue became seriously ill, or maybe not even unwell, just slowly deteriorating inside without a clue. I could be struggling now, finding it hard to cope with work, the decision to tell my family and friends could have been taken out my hands, I was afraid when I found out, but how terrified would I have been if I had been told whilst lying on a hospital ward?
If you’re in doubt take a test. If you’re sexually active take a test. If you’re not worried and you always use protection, still take a test. If you think it’s inevitable, then definitely take a test. Most of you will receive a negative result, some of you won’t, but you will only have to change your life significantly if you put it off and leave it too late.
Taking a test won’t shatter your dreams. Avoiding one might just be the start of a nightmare.