I was tested for HIV today.
I did not realize until this morning that I had in fact never been tested before. How is it possible not to "realize" this? I always "knew" my status. In the US, we are simultaneously privileged and naive, and though HIV/AIDS is still prevalent in our communities, it is in different ways. In different quantities, to start. I bet most people I know would say they have never met anyone who was HIV positive. I also believe they would be wrong, but would instead believe that most people have never met anyone who told them they were HIV positive. So they never knew; the face of a person who is HIV+ is not different from the face of a person who tests negative. I know this first hand, I have been surprised on many occassions to learn colleagues or friends back in the US were HIV+. and I won't lie: its scary to find this out. Fear, though we know better, can overcome you. Fear of getting it. Fear of losing your friend. Fear of stigmas. Fear! Fear. fear. why are we a people who are so afraid?
As I sat in the VCT clinic with my students filling out forms to be tested, I got an unexpected knot in my stomach. The fear was setting in. "What if..." - a powerful question, isn't it? Nearly all of the students (voluntarily) got tested, including some who had never been tested before. I was encouraged and anxious - the "what if" question was not just for me, but also for the 13 students I had with me on this particular day...
I went last. The sight of a needle to pierce my skin made me squirm. I hardly felt the poke through my finger for the blood... but the waiting! oh, the waiting how that 60 seconds can be so difficult - so full of anxiety and fear over something I "knew" only an hour before! "What if..." The question had to be asked... "What if..."
As the clock ticked and I waited for results, I thought of the many who had sat in this chair before me, and the many who would follow after. We share this seat. We share the prick into our finger. We share the fear and anxiety as we watch the blood slowly make its way down the test tube...
We share important questions... "What if..."
It is probably good this test is so quick. All of this emotion, all of these questions, all of this fear - and the entire test from the nurse walking in the door to when I knew my results, probably took about 4 minutes. Tops.
Yet in that 4 minutes, I discovered an abundance of questions that begin with, "what if..."
And as I prepared to leave with the students on to our next visit (home based care visit with HIV+ clients in a neighboring township), I realized that these are questions that need addressed.
If we can ask these questions in the fear, anxiety, or reality of testing positive, then we must also ask ourselves how we would want them answered. As caregivers, it is our responsibility to find the most honest, comforting, helpful answers to these questions for those we are surrounded by every day.
What if I test positive? Then I can still live a healthy life.
What if I get sick? Then my community will care for me.
What if I need ARVs? Then the local clinic or hospital will get them to me at no cost.
What if I am malnourished? Then my community will help teach me to eat better.
What if I feel down or depressed? Then my community will support, visit, and pray with and for me.
Then my community will.....
We are the community. What are we doing to help respond to these questions?
HIV has changed all of our lives. We are either infected, affected, or both. What are you choosing to do about it?