Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A positive Christmas

Christmas 2010.

This will be my 1st Christmas as a person living with HIV (PLWHIV). So much has happened from last March 26 when I came out reactive in a rapid test to April 12 when I got my confirmation and up to this day - two days before Christmas.

Early March - I contracted pneumonia and was hospitalized for five days. This was what finally prompted me to take the HIV test.
Early to late May - I suffered from fever and allergies caused by the ARV I first took.
June to early December - I occasionally sustain moderate hair follicle infections (folliculitis) as my body started adjusting to the ARVs and also due to stress.

On a positive note though,I see Christmas this year in a different light. My previous Christmases was just a season of parties, fun, camaraderie and bonding with my family, partner and friends. Christmas 2010 something I should treasure a lot and be very thankful for that I am still celebrating it because my bout with pneumonia last March could have ended my life back then.

I hope to see more Christmases ahead despite my medical condition. :)

Happy Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Thank you G. Till we meet again....

I woke up very early Monday morning and read a text message from a pozzie friend asking if it was true that G, a common friend of many pozzie friends of mine since he is a strong and reliable supporter of the HIV-positive community even if he is negative of the virus, was killed late Sunday night. I replied and said I would find out and I did.

Another poz friend of mine called me up to break the news. What happened was that G's brother was ganged upon and when G fought back, he got stabbed twice - one in the chest near the heart and at the back. He was rushed to the hospital but efforts to revive him failed. I wept after the call. My partner, who was asleep, woke up and I relayed the news and hugged me. He knows G.

G was one of the few people I met when I went to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) the first time to have my first CD4 count and for my profiling last April 16. He was such a jolly guy and very friendly. He made me feel at ease. The next time G and I bumped into each other was at the lounge for pozzies during one of my visits at RITM, and then at the birthday of Doctor Ditangco held in her resthouse in Tagaytay sometime last June. We shared a lot of good moments and so many laughs during our overnight celebration of Doctora D's birthday. That was last time I saw him since I got busy at work and whenever I'd go to RITM, I don't get to catch G there anymore. He did invite me and other pozzies to visit his barbershop in Las Pinas but I never got the chance...

G, wherever you are right now, rest in peace and i love you, my dear friend. I will be missing you a lot but we will surely meet again in the afterlife. Godspeed...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Unsolicited advice

For those who are immuno-compromised like me, being depressed, stressed out and even bitter or negative about life and love can wreak havoc on our immune system so as much as possible, we need to be happy often and maintain a positive attitude.

It is just sad to note that there are some HIV-positive individuals who are bitter, engage in gossip, spread rumors, malign other people, and cast unfair or uncalled for remarks.

How I wish they'd realize the folly of their actions.

So here's my unsolicited advice: We all have a choice. Either have a cheerful disposition as much as possible and live life to the fullest or stay sad, depressed and bitter/negative, which will get you nowhere and not help you at all.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Pride March and my plan to 'come out'

Last Saturday's Gay Pride March held in Tomas Morato in Quezon City was a first for me. Participation-wise. In last year's march held in Malate, my partner and I were just in the sidelines as we both watched the parade start from Remedios Circle. We later walked along the parade route and sometime during the parade, we joined our friend who were part of the Out Philippines contingent.

When Bruce Amoroto of TeamPilipinas advertised about the parade this year and he was seeking volunteers to help carry the 40-meter rainbow flag, I immediately wrote to Bruce early last November and told him I want to be one of the flag bearers and so we met over at Starbucks in Shangri-La Mall, where Bruce interviewed me and briefed me on what will we do. Another meeting was set last November 27, a week before the march to discuss details of the activity.

Pride March came and went and it very tiring but still fun and liberating nonetheless. However, a side story to this is that 2 days before the march, I had planned to come out in public regarding my HIV status since this year's march had HIV and Aids awareness as a theme. I planned to ask the emcees of the program that would follow the march for permission to speak to everyone and then come out regarding my status to put a new face to the health problem and perhaps, the audience will learn a lesson or two from my experience that I was going to share. I also wanted to call the government's attention to the growing HIV and Aids problem in the country as the number of new cases has increased tremendously this year. I thought long and hard about what I was planning to do and weighed the pros and cons.

I consulted 2 close friends in the poz community, my partner, and my elder sister about what I was planning to do. I told them about the pros and cons. The cons however outnumbered the pros. I risk getting terminated from my job and getting kicked out of my boarding house if I came out in public despite the law (Republic Act 8504) protecting HIV-positive individuals in the country against discriminatory acts. I would also be putting myself, my family, and my partner at risk also to discrimination and stigma. Since my partner and I work in the same company, I might jeopardize my partner's continued employment in our company since they see us always together. We are not out as a couple in our place of work but I guess our fellow employees have a suspicion that we are partners.

Anyway, to cut the long story short and following the advice of my elder sister, I decided not to push through with my "coming out" last Saturday. It proved to be a wise decision because the march and the program held after the event were happy occasions and my coming out would have dampened the celebratory mood.

To quote my elder sister, she said it is best that I do not come out in public - for now. The right opportunity will come and I will just have to wait.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Another moving story - a pozzie's tale

I would like to share with everyone another moving story - this time from a pozzie. After he read the letter from the mother of a person living with HIV (PLWHIV) that I posted here in my blog, he decided to share his tale - one that I can describe as a miracle.

I am also posting my reply to his letter. Read on. :)


Hi Juan dela Cruz,

Greetings! I am a huge fan of your blog and have been reading your entries religiously, seeing i've contracted the virus a few months back. I got touched by one of your latest entries, from the concerned mom who wrote about her experience with her son.

In the spirit of Christmas and sharing, I hope you can post my letter as well. I would like to share my own story, from a son's perspective.

See, I grew up detached from my family; my family had rules, strict rules (we were a conservative bunch- curfews even when i was already working, no going out on Saturdays and Sundays, no friends at home, etc. etc.), that i had a lot of problems with. i became detached and independent, and grew up spending my life locked inside my room, and then later on to my own place. i distanced myself from them ON PURPOSE because i couldnt take the rules, i couldnt take living with them.

We never were a close family, no matter how each of us tried. we were never the share-stuff-about-your-life family who laughs during dinner and watches dvds after. we never talked about stuff, rarely shared jokes.

but since i found out about my test results, things turned. miraculously. seeing that i am not close to my parents, imagine my apprehension about telling them. they are conservative, very strict, and yes again, conservative. i could not reiterate enough how conservative they are. i felt that my sexuality would be one topic that they might not be supportive of, so how then can i tell them i have a virus i got through (irresponsible) sex?

so after a night of drinking, i mustered enough strength (or hello, tipsiness) to spill the bad beans. And boy was i surprised and surprisingly relieved. I was sobbing the entire time and my mom was listening very intently. i was expecting her to cry and to shout and to scream, to react violently to the news, but no. she was very receptive, in control. Was this my mom i was talking to? from then on, a huge burden was lifted from me. i felt relieved.

the next few days were a whirlwind of change. we talked, we conferred. i opened up with them, and to my surprise, they opened up with me as well. i felt a flurry of love and support from them. they began texting me almost every day, and checked up on me. we began to talk about sex, joke about sex, i even began joking with my dad, and even got away calling him gay (as a joke!)

i guess the whole point(s) of this quite lengthy letter is to 1.) thank my parents for being highly loving, despite our family history and 2.) to tell your readers who are too afraid to tell the people in their lives, that there are still miracles, and that mine (for this year, i think) is my parents' love, that no matter what happens, there will be people out there that will support you and love you unconditionally, that the first step is always the scariest, that once you've taken that leap, someone(s) will be there to catch you.

This will be my Christmas gift to myself as well as to my parents, Juan dela Cruz. I hope you can publish this for me.

Thank you and more power to you,
Nondescript_333

---------------------------------------------------------

Hello there Nondescript_333!

Thank you for taking time to read my blog and being an avid fan. I feel like a celebrity. Haha!

I am very happy that I have also touched and inspired you and several others who follow my blog. I am sorry though if I don't get to update it as often as before either because I don't have anything in mind to write about or I am busy with work.

Your moving story is nothing short of a miracle. You are very lucky to have experienced such. This goes to show that miracles still happen in what seems to be impossible circumstances.

I salute you for having the guts to tell your family of your status and I take my hat off to them for dealing with it very well. I also greatly admire your family for the change in attitude toward you. I wish all families of all persons living with HIV (PLWHIV) are the same as yours. You are truly blessed to have them.

I strongly agree with what you said -- "that no matter what happens, there will be people out there who will support you and love you unconditionally, that the first step is always the scariest, that once you've taken that leap, someone will be there to catch you."

Anyway, stay healthy and Godbless you and your family. Mabuhay kayong lahat! :)

Juan dela Cruz

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happy World Aids Day!

I was nonchalant about World Aids Day celebrations year in and year out but not this year. This is the first time I am marking the occasion as a pozzie.

Unlike the previous years when I lacked knowledge about HIV and Aids, now I can say that I have learned so much about it. It is actually a complex issue and not just about how NOT to get it and having safe sex.

And I am now involved in organizations that cater to and support persons living with HIV (PLHIV) aside from raising public awareness about HIV and Aids. I will continue with this advocacy for as long as I can.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A very touching letter

As my usual routine, I check my emails when I get to the office. In my email account that is linked to this blog, I received a very touching letter from a mother of a young man, who has been recently diagnosed with HIV. I was teary-eyed after reading her letter because it reminded me so much of my late mother. I am happy that my blog is serving as a source of inspiration and strength not only for HIV-positive individuals but for their family members as well.

I am reprinting her letter here and my reply.

HI Juan dela Cruz!
I would like to tell you that I, as a mother, am very happy and inspired by your blog. The reason I got to your blog page was because I was googling SACCL to find out their confidentiality clause (if they have one). The reason being that my son has recently gone thru a test and he only told us about this 2 months after he was carrying the burden of knowing he was positive. Anyways, to cut the long story short, we are now cooperating and helping each other try to live a normal life, but this is all new to us and when I saw that there was a number after SACCL, I got to thinking: secret kaya ito o baka mamya naka-post na pala ang name ng anak ko sa airport, or kung saan man?
To which I was searching and found you. Ano ba ang ibig sabihin kapag na-register ang result sa SACCL? (Had I known he was going to have a test done, I could have taught him to use an alias.)
I hope you can help me with this. Kse this is all new to us and of course, I cannot blame my son if he went to have the test alone. It's not easy to be in his shoes, altho we have tried so hard to show him how we've become open to his sexuality over the years, I can understand he has his inhibitions. Anyway, anjan na. Ngayon we are going to fight this together and we are praying for good things to come. We just had our CD4 test done a few days ago and still waiting for the results. Bakit pala yun sa yo kaagad mo nalaman while we have to wait for 2 weeks pa yata?
Juan, how old are you na ba? You are a very good young man in doing this blog and reaching out to others by joining organizations. How are your parents dealing with it? You are a very brave young man, and I am happy that you look at life in a different light now. My son is still new to the idea but he has shown us that he is OK with and he's the one pa telling us na OK lang yan mom and dad. He explained to us what the doctor told him. He seems fine with it and you know what, yun din ang nagpapalakas ng loob ko, na nakikita kong ok sya. Since he was young naman he was always accepting of any given situation. Mabait na bata kasi tong anak ko. Ako, I try not to think about it too much because I don't wanna show him I am saddened by it. Sino ba ang matutuwa diba? But after talking to his Dr (sya din ang kumuha ng Dr nya), naliwanagan naman ako at naintidihan ko na wala pa pala akong dapat ika-bahala. Every person really needs to be educated kse tayong mga Pinoy esp kaming mga nanay, exag kami e. Kaya nga siguro my son was apprehensive in telling me. Anyways....Good luck to you Juan and best regards to your parents, bec kung ako nga na stranger, na-a-amaze sa katapangan mo, ano pa kaya ang mga magulang mo? God bless... at salamat sa pagbasa mo nito at sa pag-sagot (if ever).
Pasensha ka na sa akin, nag kwento na ako sa yo...Ikaw kasi ang unang blog na nakita ko. (hehe) More power sa mga adhikain mo Juan, and I shall be one with in prayers. Sana kami din idamay mo sa prayers mo. =)
--Mother--


My reply:

Hello there!

First of all, I was very touched by your letter and you are the first mother of a person living with HIV (PLWHIV) who has written to me. The acronym PLWHIV is the official term for those like me and your son who have this medical condition. I am happy that my blog has inspired you in some way.

I was teary-eyed after reading your letter because it reminded me so much of my late mother. Naisip ko nga na if my Mom was still alive, she could have written the same letter. She passed away already in 2001 because of complications from brain tumor. My dad and mom are separated, by the way. Namatay na rin dad ko nun 1997 of lung cancer in Hawaii. He was then living with another family.

Before I proceed, Juan dela Cruz is just an alias and soon enough, I will reveal to you my real name. This email account is one of four I have kept for a long time already. Nung nalaman ko HIV status ko, ginawa kong active ulit itong email account na to kasi medyo naging inactive ito. I am 43 years old, originally from Cebu, and I live and work in Makati as a night shift supervisor in a software development company. May 2 akong kapatid na babae and alam nila status ko. Nalungkot ang mga kapatid ko nung nalaman nila kalagayan ko pero we have agreed to move on and continue fighting this challenge in our family together. I am in a same-sex relationship for two years and almost 3 months now. Ang partner ko ay negative sa HIV and nagpapasalamat ako na negative pa rin sya hanggang ngayon.

Now, about your son being registered at SACCL, it means that your son has been officially recorded as a PLWHIV and that San Lazaro is his treatment hub. Ang treatment hub ko ay ang Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) sa Alabang, Muntinlupa. Rest assured po, ang records ng anak nyo ay strictly confidential and there is a law - Republic Act 8504 - that mandates confidentiality of all records of a PLWHIV.

To be honest, I don't know why it would take two weeks bago malaman CD4 count ng anak nyo kasi in my case, I had my CD4 count in the morning sa RITM tapos tinatawagan ko ang in-charge ng clinic for PLWHIVs at sinasabi na sakin ang result. Ang nagcoconduct kasi ng CD4 count ay tumatawag sa clinic at nirereport na ang results ng CD4 counts conducted for the day pero ang official document/report as sinasubmit after a week yet.

Regarding sa blog ko, I decided to create it as a way of helping me cope with the emotional turmoil I underwent nung bago ko lang nalaman status ko. Kahit na andyan ang 2 sisters ko, partner ko and some friends who continue to give their utmost support and love, iba pa rin ang nagagawa ng pagsusulat ng mga damdamin sa isang blog. It helps a lot when I put into writing my thoughts and feelings. Ang blog ko rin as isang paraan ko to reach out to others with HIV and help raise awareness of HIV and AIDS. Naging advocacy ko na ang pagtulong sa mga kapwa kong merong HIV after ko malaman status ko.

Totoo ang sinabi ng duktor sa inyo na wala kayong dapat ikabahala with regard sa status ng anak nyo. May mga gamot na tinatawag na antiretrovirals na kinokontrol ang epekto ng virus sa katawan. I am taking ARVs already kasi nung first CD4 ko, below na ako sa threshold na 350. Na mention ko yon sa blog ko.

Life still goes on and kami mga PLWHIV can still live a productive and normal life provided na inaalagaan namin mabuti ang kalusugan namin, nagtetake na ARV on time kung naka ARV na ang isang PLWHIV, and sinusunod namin ang medical regimen na bigay ng duktor.

I am happy that you are accepting of your son's sexuality and more so of his condition. He needs all the support and of course all the love you can give at this time and with his status. No one is prepared for anything like this to happen to one's son or daughter or brother or sister so full support and love should be given to a PLWHIV.

A lot still has to be desired when it comes to educating Filipinos about HIV kasi ang problemang kinakaharap naming mga PLWHIV ay ang stigma at discrimination. Hopefully, mas magiging malawak ang kaalaman ng publiko when it comes to HIV para ma lessen ang stigma and discrimination of PLWHIV.

Mabuhay po kayo and Godbless. Thanks for the prayers and I will also pray for you, your son and your entire family. Hugs.

Juan

Monday, November 15, 2010

Linkages

I got to realize one of my goals that I set after I learned that I was HIV-positive early this year. That is, to be part of a poz organization that would cater to and assist HIV-positive individuals.

After initial discussions with the famous dyingyoung, who heads Youth Aids Filipinas Alliance (Yafa), I am now one of their consultants/advisers. I will advise them on media relations, care and support.

Yafa caters primarily to HIV-positive youths aged 29 and below. To know more about Yafa, you can visit their website at http://www.youthaidsfilipinas.org or look up their Facebook site by typing yafa in the search bar of that social networking website.

My first interaction with the group's leader and some officers was last October 31 when they had their Halloween party in their office at 2040 Rizal Avenue, Sta. Cruz, Manila. It was a small party but it was fun!

Dyingyoung and I had discussed the terms of reference to cover my consultancy job with the group and to formalize my affiliation with Yafa.

Aside from Yafa, I have also been in touch since last August with the current head of Pinoy Plus Association, the pioneer organization of people living with HIV (PLWHIVs) in the country, and have visited their office in Sta. Cruz, Manila also. I have been briefed about their office's goals and projects and soon, I will be participating in the association's activities.

Pinoy Plus has been in existence for 15 years and the group will be marking its 16th anniversary this month. It is composed of PLHIVs and renders services and support to fellow PLHIVs, aside from engaging in HIV and Aids awareness projects.

I am very happy that I have established linkages with these groups and grateful for their welcome. This shows that when one is HIV-positive, he or she can still be a productive member of the poz community and of society as a whole.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Confidentiality of HIV status

For a person who is HIV-positive like me, disclosing one's status to the immediate family and even to friends can be such an emotional, even psychological burden, because you can never tell how they will take it. Will they still accept you? Will they disown you? Will they shy away from you or be scared of you? One also has to consider the effect it will have on a family member who has frail health - whether young or old - if you disclose your HIV status. There are many things to think about before disclosing it.

So, it really pains and angers me when I hear of someone who carelessly tells someone else the HIV-positive status of a person, regardless of the intentions. And with what has happened, the damage has been done to the HIV-positive individual concerned and you can never take back or erase what you said like it written on a blackboard. Careless disclosure of a person's HIV-positive status may even have far-reaching consequences not only on him/her but on that person's family also. The privacy of the HIV-positive person should be respected and upheld.

Section 3 (b) (2) of Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine Aids Prevention and Control Act of 1998 provides that the right to privacy of individuals with HIV/Aids shall be guaranteed by the state. But let me stress that this does not only cover the state or the government but everyone as well.

It pays to be really careful and think many, many times before telling a friend about your HIV-positive status. Is this friend really trustworthy or is he/she be a blabbermouth?

For those who have been told by a person that he/she is HIV-positive, respecting the confidential nature of the status of a person living with HIV (PLHIV) can help unload in some way the emotional and/or psychological burden of the individual concerned instead of making things bad for him/her.

A very serious matter

I am reposting here what I had posted in two threads on HIV/Aids:



I just want to share this information to show how bad the HIV/Aids situation in the country is becoming.

As of September 2010, the HIV/Aids registry has recorded 153 new cases of HIV infection in the Philippines, and 4 out 5 of the new cases are men having sex with men (MSM). This was a 50 percent increase from the previous month (108 in August) and a 173 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

For more details, click on this link ---->> http://www.scribd.com/full/40147179?...hzcdy17l7ceb8g

Let's all do our part to actively promote safe sex and spread awareness of HIV/Aids and other sexually-transmitted infections (STIs).

Friday, October 15, 2010

479; 137!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had second CD4 count yesterday (Friday) after my 1st one last April. It was also time to have my CBC because I had been having low hemoglobin count since last June.

I got home at 6.30 a.m. yesterday from work, took a quick nap and went off at 7.45 a.m. to my treatment hub - Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Alabang. I was nervous during the bus ride because I wasn't sure of what my new CD4 count and CBC results would be. The slow traffic at Edsa near the Magallanes interchange and at the Sucat intersection on Osmena highway added to my anxiety. I had to be at RITM before 9 a.m. because CD4 counts there are only done up to 10 a.m. I reached the Alabang area past 8.30 a.m. and arrived at RITM a few minutes before 9 a.m. I dropped by the clinic for pozzies to get my prescription notes for my CD4 and CBC, rushed to the laboratory and had them before 9.45 a.m. since there were also some other pozzies ahead of me who were scheduled to have their CD4 count too.

As a backgrounder, a CD4 count is done for HIV-positive individuals and it determines the remaining CD4 or t-helper cells in the body. When one has HIV, the virus depletes the body of CD4 or t-helper cells, whose primary function is to fight viruses and bacteria in the body. When something is not done to slow down the virus from depleting the body of CD4 or t-helper cells, it makes the person prone to all sorts of ailments.

After I had my tests, I went to the lounge for pozzies to relax and wait for the results, bonded with the lounge staff and other pozzies who were there, had lunch at the RITM cafeteria and was called to the clinic at past 2 p.m. My CBC results were in and my hemoglobin count went up from 135 last month to 137! Yey! I hope it is a precursor of my CD4 count results, which were not in yet and would be know later yet. My hemoglobin count was being monitored because from 153 in April, it went down to the 120s range starting last June, a side effect of one of the antiretrovirals (ARVs) I was taking. So, I was prescribed ferrous sulfate and told to eat green, leafy veggies and cooked animal liver (eww).

I got home past 4 p.m., so sleepy but anxious to know my CD4 count so I called up Ate Ana of the RITM clinic and she relayed to me the good news. My CD4 count has gone up! It's now 479! My first CD4 count last April was 315. I was ecstatic and said a prayer of thanks.

I wasn't really optimistic of getting a high CD4 count because even if I was already taking ARVs and living a healthy lifestyle (eating well, getting enough sleep, taking vitamins daily, etc.), I had been depressed and under quite heavy stress from work and after learning of my status last April. Depression and stress can wreak havoc on one's immune system so for an immuno-compromised person, he or she has to manage it well. So it was really a big relief when I learned that my CD4 had gone up and my hemoglobin count was on its way to recovery.

I slept with a smile and fitfully at that last night. Thanks to the good news I got. :)

Good news - UNAIDS welcomes US$11.B commitment by donors to the Global Fund

Reposted from blogger I am HIV positive. Now, this is positive news (pardon the pun)!

Juan


UNAIDS welcomes US$11.B commitment by donors to the Global Fund

GENEVA, 5 October 2010 –– The UNAIDS welcomes commitments made by donors at the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria’s replenishment conference in New York, which was chaired this year by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The United States led the donations—pledging the largest ever financial commitment to the Global Fund, US$4 billion over three years––a 38 percent increase over the preceding three year period. More than 40 countries, including countries with emerging economies, private foundations and corporations committed more than US$11.7 billion for the next three years to fund health programs for the three diseases.

“These pledges come at a critical time. We are just starting to see returns on investments with new infections coming down in most high-burden countries and more people than ever on antiretroviral treatment,” said Michel SidibĂ©, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “This is a significant and necessary first milestone, but insufficient to meet aspirations. Public and private donors must continue to mobilize resources in order to secure future progress in the AIDS response.”

Despite the record pledges to the Global Fund there is still an overall funding shortfall for the AIDS response. For the first time in 15 years, overall AIDS funding has flat lined. This raises serious concerns on future progress as a slowing in investments will negatively impact the AIDS response.

It is estimated that nearly 2.8 million people are accessing treatment through financing provided by the Global Fund, more than half of the people on treatment today. However there are nearly 10 million people living with HIV who urgently need treatment. Five people are newly infected with HIV for every two people who start treatment.

Large scale investments in the AIDS response have produced encouraging results. At the MDG summit in New York two weeks ago, UNAIDS revealed new data showing that HIV infections have declined by more than 25% in 22 countries most affected by AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa; and with nearly 5.2 million people on antiretroviral therapy, AIDS related deaths have fallen.

Source: http://unaidstoday.org/

Monday, October 11, 2010

Anxious

Come Friday will be my 2nd CD4 count. Along with it, I will also have my CBC since my hemoglobin count had been low last May, June and July - it was in the 120s range. Thankfully, my CBC went up last month to 135.

What is CD4 anyway and what role does it play in the body? About.com defines CD4 cells as cells that have molecules called CD4 on its surface. The same website also says CD4 cells, otherwise known as "helper" cells, initiate the body's response to invading micro-organisms such as viruses.

From my first CD4 count of 315, I am keeping my fingers crossed that my CD4 has gone up. ChemistryGuy told me that efavirenz, one of the antiretrovirals that I am taking, helps boost the CD4 count. Well, I hope so but I also learned that there has to be some effort also on the part of the pozzie to help it go up e.g., getting enough sleep, taking vitamins, evading too much stress, and eating well.

I see to it that I get enough sleep, I eat well and take vitamins. However, my work sked (I am on night shift) might affect my CD4 count. And I haven't been exactly free from stress and emotional turmoil the past few months.

Well, let's wait and see. And if my CD4 count has fallen, I am confident of the intervention that the doctor would prescribe for me to help it go up before my 3rd CD4 count scheduled in April next year.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

When forgetting can be a good thing

It was on March 26 or six months and one and a half weeks ago when I learned that I had this nasty virus in my system and for the next several weeks after that fateful day, I went through a range of emotions - grief, anger, guilt, self-pity, numbness....been there, done that, so to speak.

Even if I had been counseled and briefed by the nurse who talked to me after I was told of the reactive result of the rapid test, I was scared shit of what's in store for me. Will I live a "normal" life from then on? Am I going to die anytime soon? What will my family and friends say if they knew? How could I have allowed this to happen? So many questions in my mind that needed answers. Good thing my partner was there to comfort me as he continuously assured me that nothing has changed and he is standing by me despite my medical condition.

But everything just fell in the right places and at the right time. I was living a "normal" life again by seeing to it that I adhere to my medical regimen and to a healthy lifestyle. There were minor setbacks but I overcame them. Circumstances happened that allowed me to come out to my family and to selected friends in and out of the gay community and in return, I got so much love and support from them. I have embarked and continue to carry out my personal advocacy for HIV/Aids awareness in my own little way. It warms my heart whenever I am told or when I receive email from pozzies and those who are negative of the virus how much I inspire them after reading my blog. Being able to assist pozzies, especially the new ones who need advice, guidance, assurance and encouragement, makes me happy and bring a smile to my face.

Right now, I can say I have happily embraced my health status. The proof of it is that there are times I even forget that I am HIV-positive. This is one instance when forgetting can be a good thing. It is the minor ailments related to my medical condition and scheduled visits to my treatment hub that remind me of it - that "bring me back to earth."

The bottom-line is that inspite of this challenge, I am moving on with life.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Petition to replenish the Global Fund

Reposted from fellow poz bloggers

If you are taking advantage of the free antiretrovirals (ARVs) in the Philippines or would like to take advantage of it when your CD4 falls below 500, then we need your help.

World leaders are meeting up in New York, USA on October 4 and 5, 2010 to announce their financial contributions to the Global Fund to fight Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Aids), tuberculosis and malaria for the next three years.

in order to maintain, accelerate and effectively implement its programs, Global Fund needs US$20 billion.

We need to ensure that the world leaders uphold their promises to provide treatment and care to the millions living with and/or affected by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and Aids, tuberculosis and malaria. Let them know that we are watching them. Let us demand that they commit the US$20 billion needed by Global Fund.

Show them that we care for the millions who will die without the Global Fund programs. Do this by following the link and signing the petition.

www.globalfundreplenishment.org/sign-on-letter/

Please send it to your friends, families, colleagues and networks and encourage them to sign up too.

500,000 signatures are need by Thursday, September 30, 2010!

The petition will be delivered to world leaders at the Replenishment Meeting, and is one of a number of actions that will be occurring around the world in the lead-up to the meeting.

For more information on how your participation will make a difference, go to www.globalfundreplenishment.org.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Alarming

I had a recent conversation with the top honcho of Pinoy Plus, a non-government organization (NGO) that caters to and supports people living with HIV (PLHIV) or pozzies, if you may.

He revealed that this year, the country registered the highest increase of HIV cases on a per day basis. I repeat, per day not per month. And whereas migrant workers was the sector where most HIV cases were recorded in the past, it has now shifted to the MSM or men who have sex with men group. Not only that, transmission has become more localized.

He also said that in previous years, the country would only have one case of HIV recorded a day. It became two cases a day starting early this year and then last May, it jumped to five cases per day. New infections make up most of the new cases while the rest are long-time carriers of the virus who only knew about their status recently when they decided to take a HIV test after becoming more aware of the need to know their status.

If it is any consolation, he added, the Philippines still has one of the lowest prevalence rate of HIV/Aids cases in the world.

Much really needs to be done to stem the continuing rise of HIV cases in the country. This can be done through an aggressive promotion of the awareness of HIV/Aids in the country by the public and private sectors. We should all act now lest we see a HIV/Aids epidemic blow up in our faces in the near future.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Unexpected

What I thought was going to be an uneventful evening at work turned out otherwise. The surprise that left me speechless for several seconds wasn't even work-related but involved coming out regarding my medical condition to my 19-year-old nephew.

First off, let me say that this nephew of mine is my godchild. He is the eldest of my younger sister's two kids. He WAS a black sheep in our family, so much so that he gave his mother, stepfather, us - his uncle and aunt, and younger brother heartaches and headache. I say WAS because we've noticed a welcome change in his behavior and his dealings with us recently.

I was online at Facebook when a chat window popped up. It was my nephew. Right after the hi's and hellos, he told me straight-up that his stepfather revealed my medical status to him. I was shocked and I didn't reply for almost a minute. I didn't know what to say. I was unsure how he would take it if I confirmed that I was positive for HIV, emotional and easily impressionable as he was at his age, and I was also afraid that I would lose his respect for me. I also didn't know the level of knowledge he had about HIV.

My nephew said his stepfather had to tell him my status after he insisted on knowing what it was when his stepdad committed a slip of the tongue and mentioned that I was ill. Bothered by what his stepdad said, he pestered his stepfather for days about what exactly I was ill of.

My nephew told me he felt bad with me, his mom and stepdad because we did not tell him about it right away. I had to explain to him that I had left it to his mother and stepdad the decision whether or not to tell him and his brother about my medical condition and it wasn't that easy to reveal.

I apologized that we had to keep it a secret from his at first and he understood. But what touched me the most was when he said he has been praying for me. I was teary-eyed.

I tried to gauge his level of knowledge about HIV and I could say he knows relatively well about it, presumably because he had been briefed by his stepdad about it. He only asked about the antiretrovirals that I was taking and what was it for.

Our conversation ended on a nice note and on hindsight, I was relieved that my nephew took it well and I have his love and support.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Life is a..... beach

Two weekends ago, my partner and I were resting on White Beach in Boracay. As I gazed at the horizon, I could not help but be thankful for that travel opportunity that I initially thought had fizzled after I learned that I was HIV-positive because of the uncertainty of the times that lay ahead. We had planned this trip last year yet to coincide with our second anniversary as a couple and during the long weekend as a result of National Heroes Day falling on a Monday.

But last June, my partner decided to work on that travel plan when my health checkups had stabilized. It was going to be his first time in Boracay while it was going to be my second visit. I first stepped on the white fine sand of White Beach in 2007 and I was alone on that trip. It was supposed to be a trip for me and partner that year but we broke up before the trip so I had to go alone. In a way, the Boracay sojourn then served as healing time for me.

Anyway, last August 27, my partner and I were all packed and ready to go. I was groggy from the ARVs I took and I haven't slept yet as I had come from work the previous night. We brought along our "child", a stuffed tiger toy we named Pepeton (he looks like Tigger in Winnie the Pooh). We got at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) 3 three hours ahead of our flight time (11:30 a.m.) so we had snacks at the mezzanine lounge. We checked in our luggage, had snacks again and then waited for our flight. We left Naia 3 on time and landed almost an hour after at Caticlan. We were met by the land transfer representative and then checked into the hotel. After dumping our bags, we both proceeded to White Beach and walked from D'Mall area in Station 2 to the end of Station 3 and back. We went back to the hotel where I slept while my partner took photos of the beach and of Pepeton on the beach as well. Cute. :)

The next day, our second anniversary, we walked from D'Mall up to the grotto in Station 1 and back. Went for a swim, had lunch, went to the hotel for a nap and to cap off the evening, we had dinner in Aria, one of the fancy Italian restoes there and a night cap in Juice Bar.

August 29, we swam again, had lunch and then attended Holy Mass. The day ended with the both of us tired from going around but happy.

We left Boracay with a somewhat heavy heart on August 30 and the weather, just like during our entire stay, was perfect and sunny. We wished we didn't have to go back to the urban jungles of Metro Manila but we had work ahead of us. We both decided we will go back in August next year, God-willing, to celebrate our third anniversary there. :)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Paranoia

Ever since I learned about my status more than four months ago, I've began reading up on materials on HIV and related topics to beef up whatever limited stock knowledge I have of the medical condition. I can say I have learned a lot but I am not yet an expert as I am still learning more and more about HIV.

Part of the reason why I decided to learn more about HIV is that I know how paranoia and even the lack of knowledge about the virus can affect me in more ways than one, even paralyze me in fear.

And I've encountered those whose paranoia have gotten to them.

Case # 1 - Pozzie A has two kids in the same house where he lives. They're actually children of his female housemate. He is scared that he might infect them by simply living with them.

Case # 2 - OFW has had as many HIV tests as he already had after an unprotected sex with a female sex worker. All test, done within the window period and even beyond, proved non-reactive but he is still worried that he has HIV because he does not trust the veracity of the test results and efficiency of the test kits. He has lost sleep, worrying over whether he is indeed non-reactive.

These are just two of the several cases of paranoid individuals that I've encountered.

One thing that is common among the stories I've come across is that the letter writers or concerned individuals resort to self-diagnosis or base their status on the symptoms they have even if the symptoms do not necessarily mean they are positive for HIV but for other ailments. They are scared of taking the test and with this, I encourage them to take it because that is the only way they would know what exactly are they sick of and their status.

Some take the test after much encouragement and gathering the guts to do so and they turn out non-reactive or negative for HIV. Whatever symptoms they had indicated other illnesses. Others are still scared of taking the test.

Paranoia won't get anybody anywhere and can even eat a person alive. The only way to address it or stop their fear is to know one's status so that whatever it is, he or she will be guided accordingly.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

It feels good

As soon as I settle down in my desk when I arrive in the office, I always check my emails first before I browse local and foreign news websites, Philippine-based forums, Facebook, and of course my blog. In one of my email accounts, it was a pleasant surprise to receive a letter from a new pozzie who had just read my blog.

It warmed my heart when he said he was inspired by my posts and somewhat found comfort as he comes to terms with his status.

As someone who has made it a personal mission to engage in HIV awareness in whatever way he can and help out other pozzies as well, especially newbies, it feels so good when you get to help those with the same medical condition grapple with it and try to move on with life even if it is difficult at first.

I also give out information on HIV and related issues when needed. I don't claim to be an expert on HIV as I am still learning new things about it day by day but whatever I learn, I share it.

It's been more than four months since I learned about my status. I still have moments of depression and I still suffer from minor ailments/setbacks either due to adjustment to the antiretrovirals or my CD4 may have dropped due to my work schedule. But I see to it that I get over my depression or get medical treatment when necessary. I get to encounter problems related to my medical condition but I get over them after awhile.

When those "bad times" strike, I remind myself of my advocacy to help others and how lucky I still am for having learned about my status early so whatever physical discomforts and problems I am going through will come to pass. Above all, I bask in the support and love of my family, partner, and friends, all of whom help me make it through whenever I am down.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fit for a movie

I was looking as far back in my life as I could remember when I realized that the experiences I had could make for a good movie script. I even wrote about it in my account in a social networking site and many of my friends commented on it. Some even wanting to be part of the film on my life - as if it was really going to happen. Haha.

But if it was going to be a movie, I really want Sid Lucero to play me. He is such a brilliant actor but so underrated.

There is a specific part of my life that I want to be made into a movie, it would have to be about my status. It would start off on how I got the virus, how did I learn about it, the hardships I experienced, the effect on my family, etc. The range of emotions is all there and it would be a great acting vehicle for any actor. The movie on my life can serve as a lesson to others - not to commit the same mistakes I did, much like previous movies on Aids victims Sarah Jane Salazar that starred Gelli de Belen and Dolzura Cortez starring Vilma Santos. The difference the movie on my life would be is that it involves a gay person living with HIV - his viewpoint, the difficulties he faces, experiences that are uniquely his.

A friend of mine told me to pen my life story and peddle it to the film studios. I don't have time for that but I would be open to an interview. Would a scriptwriter out there be interested in my story? Let's see.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Life can be so unfair

There are times when life can be unfair and one of those unfortunate moments happened last Monday.

It was just a few hours into my shift when I received a memorandum from my boss that contained a verbal warning for having incurred six absences without pay last May. In our company, we are only allowed to have three unpaid absences in a month. I was shocked at I felt the blood rush to my head in anger. What the fuck is this?!! I was so demoralized.

Those absences were adequately covered by 2 medical certificates and I incurred them because those were the days when I fell ill - fever and skin rashes - side effects of one of the antiretrovirals (ARVs) I was taking. I had myself checked by a doctor at RITM (Research Institute for Tropical Medicine) and I made sure that I had medical certificates to explain my absences incurred last May 5, 6, 7, 11, 13, 14. And because I was concerned over my absences and "for love of the company," I even forced myself to work on May 12, which wasn't a good idea because I was not in good shape.

I didn't sign the memorandum right away to acknowledge its receipt and texted our administrative supervisor to ask why did I get a memorandum when I was able to submit medical certificates for it. She said she will look into it.

The next day (Tuesday), I was told that my boss instructed our administrative supervisor to issue the memorandum to me DESPITE (!) the medical certificates I submitted. Wow! I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I didn't feel like going to work that night as I lapsed into depression and because of my anger, it caused a severe strain on my relationship with my partner as a result of a quarrel I had with him over what happened at work and how unfair our boss was. He and I work in the same company and are under the same boss.

I still went to work and immediately wrote a letter to my boss, asking him to reconsider his decision to issue the memorandum and withdraw it as I explained that I submitted medical certificates to explain my absences and did so out of good faith. This, even if I know that my boss is not the kind of person who changes his mind and sticks to his decisions, even if they may be unreasonable.

Sometime during my shift, however, my elder sister chatted with me and I told her what happened. She explained to me that at the end of the day, it is really my boss's discretion to approve or disapprove leaves without pay even if they are covered by medical certificates and he was just implementing company rules. She prevailed upon me to take back my letter to my boss, which I did, after which I signed the memorandum. I told my elder sister that I still felt very aggrieved over what my boss did because I didn't want to get sick (who wants to get sick anyway?!!) and the fact remains that my absences were adequately explained by the medical certificates.

My depression carried over the next day (Wednesday). I felt so low and was not feeling well that I called in sick at work. My relationship with my partner is still strained and I told him that I would prefer to be silent lest I do or say something that might only make matters worse between us. I can see that he is doing his darnest best to reach out to me but I'd want to have time to get over my depression and anger. The reality of my status, the hardships I went through and the unfair treatment I got from my boss caused me to question my faith and question God.

Hopefully, things will be okay soon.

Monday, June 28, 2010

CBC update and a long trip to Bulacan

June 25. After I got off from work at 6 a.m., I took a quick nap and left the house at past 10 a.m. I arrived at RITM past noon for my follow-up CBC as scheduled and proceeded to the lounge since I expected the clinic to be closed. I chanced upon the lounge staff having their lunch and gave them a box of donuts that I had bought as "pasalubong."

At 1 p.m., I went to the clinical laboratory for my blood extraction and after less than 2 minutes, I went back to the lounge to wait for the CBC results. I was optimistic that my hemoglobin count would be higher than then 123 that I registered in late May since I was already taking ferrous sulfate and eating as much green leafy veggies as well as bitter gourd (ampalaya).

When the results arrived at the clinic, Ate Ana called for me and the doctor told me that my hemoglobin count went down a notch. From 123, it now was 122. What?! Haaay. Anyway, the doctor said I will have to return to RITM next month for yet another CBC. The good news is my lami-zido has not been replaced. I also had to replenish my supply so I was given three months worth of ARVs.

I was through with what I needed to do in RITM at past 4 and I hitched a ride with AA. We picked up my partner at Festival Mall then off we went to pick up A in Manila, who asked AA if he could bring him to San Miguel, Bulacan to pick up a laptop, and then AA's partner, J, in Quezon City. We got to San Miguel, Bulacan at past 9 p.m. and since we were near Gapan, Nueva Ecija, we decided to go there for quick dinner at Jollibee. We arrived back in Manila past 12. T'was surely a tiring day.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Revelation and surprise

Just as I was thinking of something to blog about since I haven't updated this for quite sometime now, something came up. Talk about timing.

A friend of mine, who I've known way back 2001 or 2002 and who I had a short-lived romance, suddenly chatted with me in private over at Facebook and asked how I was. Let's call this friend of mine as "D". At first, I thought the conversation was just the usual "hey-how have you been-what's up with you" type of chat. It turned out otherwise.

D asked if I still frequented Morato where an ex of mine co-owns a bar. D and I chanced upon each other in my ex's bar sometime in 2007. I said not anymore, after that former lover and I broke up. The reason he asked me was because he wanted to talk to me and hoped that he and I could meet up. I told D we get to seldom meet and if ever we get to interact, it's through Facebook so I prodded him to tell me what he wanted to say.

Without any hesitation, he told me he was positive and he learned of his status in 2007. His partner, who is a friend of mine as well, is negative. He came out to me because he said he wanted to tell all his exes. Although he and I didn't have sex during our short-lived romance and the most we did was torrid kissing, he said he felt that he still had the obligation to tell me. It was a touching gesture on D's part and in return, I came out to him also. I also told him my partner is negative as well. He took it well and we shared experiences and the travails of being poz.

Anyway, aside from wanting to inform his exes about his status, D also said he came out to me after he met someone from a poz group in my home province and in the course of their conversation, D rattled off names of people he know who are in Manila now but are from my home province. When my name came up, that person reacted "oddly" as D described it. So D asked that person if I was poz. The person only told D to ask me. That person could have flatly said No and instead left doubts on D's mind. Sigh. Of all people who would implicitly reveal my status, it had to be someone from my home province instead of someone from here in Manila. To be honest about it, I already half expect my status to come out in the public sooner or later from someone here who knows about it. Maybe by accident or borne out of revenge.

Need I remind those in the poz community that Republic Act (RA) 8504 contains responsibilities for pozzies that include a prohibition against implicitly or explicitly revealing the HIV status of a person.

I hope to meet D again one day after a long time so we can catch up on each other's lives and perhaps he can remember who was that person who implicitly "outed" me. At the end of our chat, I thanked D for coming out to me and trusting me with his secret as I assured him that it is safe with me.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A double whammy

Nothing prepared for me for what happened last Monday, June 7. It was like being doused with ice-cold water - twice!

I went to RITM to have my infected acne (one on my chin and the other just below the left nostril) checked by the dermatologist and find out what were the marks I noticed and felt on the right side of my neck and nape that looked like allergy. I was really hoping it was not shingles.

I called up Dr. Ditangco's clinic early in the morning and informed them that I was coming for a checkup and so they can ready my records. I was told the dermatologist was available at 3 p.m. yet afternoon yet so I dropped by the clinic first where I found Zairah and a new pozzie getting up from bed, visibly ill and suffering from rashes due to the ARVs he was taking. He was accompanied by his elder brother. We proceeded to the lounge where I found Dr. Ditangco, the staff and 2 other pozzies there. The new pozzie went to the small room cum kitchen to rest and I took my place at the sofa to watch TV. Lunch (chicken afritada) cooked by Ate Ellen was served and I talked to the brother of the new pozzie. Since I was inspired and "renewed" after I had attended the self-empowerment seminar conducted by Dr. Ditangco's sister, Dra. Rita, over the weekend at the Citystate Tower Hotel in Ermita, Manila, I provided support and advice to the pozzie's brother and told him that the fever and rashes that his brother is experiencing are just temporary. I shared how I dealt with the side effects of the ARVs. After awhile, the pozzie and his brother had to go to the clinic because the doctor on duty was already there.

At 3 p.m., Ate Ellen accompanied me to the dermatologist. After the standard interview and physical examination, my worst fear was confirmed - I had herpes zoster or shingles. What??!! Where did I get this?! The docs who attended to me explained that low resistance and stress may have caused it. Shingles, I was also told, is a recurrence of the chickenpox I suffered from when I was a kid. I was asked if I had chickenpox before but told the doctors I don't remember. Anyway, I was prescribed medicines for the shingles and for my infected acne. I informed Dr. Ditangco and the other staffers what I had and then went to the clinic to find out if any of the prescribed medicines were available. I went to the pharmacy and had an unpleasant run-in with one of the employees there when I checked with them if they had the prescribed medicines. Luckily, they had most of it.

I went back to the clinic with my medicines from the pharmacy, and got the biggest shock of the day. When I entered the clinic, I saw Dr. C., a very good friend of mine, who I found out worked at the RITM as a consultant. He was visibly shocked to see me there and asked what was I doing in the clinic? I panicked and said I was following up something. Dr. C had to leave the clinic because he had a patient to attend to. I was so affected by what happened up until I got home. I mustered enough guts to call Dr. C and came out to him about my status. He said he wasn't surprised since those who would go to Dr Ditangco's clinic were pozzies. I related all the events prior to my taking the HIV test and how I am dealing with my status. He told me not to be surprised if I find other people I know (close or acquaintances) having a checkup at RITM. I didn't ask who was he referring to. Dr. C told me to take it easy and to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I heaved a sigh of relief after the call.

Two shockers in one day was enough to rattle me and I hope it doesn't happen again. As for my shingles, I am recovering just fine and I hope they don't leave any scars.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Getting there...slowly but surely

I will never forget the month of May this year. The month when I fell very ill - side effects of the ARVs I am taking. It started with fever then I had two waves of skin rashes. On top of that, I had allergy from the salted fish I had for breakfast one time. I should really be careful of what I eat while my body is adjusting to the ARVs.

As a result, I incurred several days of absences from work and deductions from my salary because I ran out of paid leaves already. Sigh.

As of today, May 31, I still haven't gotten back my strength and appetite completely but I hope to do so in the weeks to come after getting as much rest and taking multivitamins to compensate for the lack of nourishment.

One thing is for sure, I am recovering well....slowly but surely.

Friday, May 28, 2010

I can't thank you enough

To my Significant Other,

It has been 21 months since we decided to get into a commitment. And I am happy that we are still together up to now because to be frank about it, I wasn't expecting it since we met through a defunct gay website that was known to be a venue to cruise for casual sex. But we've managed to hurdle all sorts of challenges.

Let me thank you for being there for me, for not leaving me despite the many times I was difficult to deal with. It was August of last year when I fell gravely ill and I remembered how you cried because you were afraid you lost me. But I survived it. Little did we know that it was the start of our Calvary.

Then March came, I got hospitalized for pneumonia, something we both were wondering how did I contract it. Then we decided to take the rapid HIV antibody test upon the prodding of a friend because pneumonia is an opportunistic infection that can strike down a HIV-positive individual. I was supposed to take the test only but you decided to take it as well. You came out non-reactive but it was the opposite for me. Our world crashed. I could only cry on your shoulder as we held hands tightly. On our way out of the clinic, you hugged me and I had to stop myself from bawling my heart out, ashamed of people who might see us. We went to Greenbelt chapel where I prayed hard and sought God's forgiveness. We also talked things over and what really tugged my heart was when you said you would not leave me, no matter what, and that you still love me as much as the first time. Then we both broke down. At home, we were locked in a tight embrace in bed as tears continued to flow. We will manage and ride through the crisis, you'd tell me over and over again.

No words are really enough to express my gratitude to you for not giving up on me, for telling me to hang on several times even if I so much wanted to give up because I couldn't stand anymore the pain and discomfort I was going through.

I love you. So much. Happy monthsary.

*Juan*

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I need iron!

I went to RITM early Tuesday morning for my scheduled complete blood count (CBC) to find out if the Lamivudine + Zidovudine, one of the ARVs I am taking, has not depleted or reduced my hemoglobin level. It has been known to have that side effect. Aside from my scheduled CBC, I also had to get a fresh supply of ARVs since I was running out of stock.

But first, what is hemoglobin? Medicinenet.com defines hemoglobin "as the protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body's tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs. It is made up of four protein molecules (globulin chains) that are connected together. Each globulin chain contains an important central structure called the heme molecule. Embedded within the heme molecule is iron that transports the oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood. The iron contained in hemoglobin is also responsible for the red color of blood."

After taking a nap for an hour at home after getting off from work at 6 a.m., I went to RITM and arrived there past 9 a.m. I proceeded to the clinical lab so a blood sample can be extracted from me for the CBC and then I went to the patient's lounge to await the results.

During the wait, I began to itch on my arms and legs and saw red patches appear on the underside of my arms. Oh not, not again! Let this not be a third wave of rashes from the Nevirapine I used to take. I realized later that I was having allergic reaction to the dried fish I had for breakfast earlier. Sigh.

Six hours later, Ate Ana called for me and the doctor on duty informed me that my hemoglogin level has dropped from a little over 150 to the 120s range (the same level as that of a female's!). Tsk tsk. So I was prescribed ferrous sulfate and told to eat green, leafy veggies and animal liver to boost my hemoglobin level. I could take the veggies but not animal liver. Yuck! I also consulted her about my allergy and was prescribed antihistamines.

AA, a fellow pozzie who accompanied a newbie to RITM, told me that my allergy and immune systems are very sensitive and will continue to be that way for the next six months as my blood undergoes reconstitution with the ARVs I am taking so I have to watch carefully what I eat.

The doc said I have to stay away from salty food, poultry, fish, peanuts, milk in the meantime.

My next CBC will be on June 25 and by then, the ferrous sulfate and veggies have worked wonders for my hemoglobin so that my ARV does not have to be replaced by another medicine. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Appalling

About 2 months ago, I signed up as a member of a Philippine-based forum and have been posting items on the Aids/HIV thread as part of my personal advocacy to increase awareness of the health issue. I have come out in that thread as a HIV-positive individual and for self protection, I use a codename only.

I have received quite a number of personal messages of encouragement, support and inquiries but what appalled me is the amount of misinformation about HIV/Aids and how it breeds so much baseless anxiety.

Let me cite two personal messages I received.

One from a married guy who suspects he has HIV simply because he noticed a drastic change in his build and stamina compared to his younger years. He didn't mention any symptom of HIV infection. He also said he is afraid that if he turns out positive of HIV, he would lose his job and thus his family would suffer and that he would be "herded by the health department into a facility for HIV-positive individuals and kept there for the rest of his life." To be honest, I found it funny and felt sorry for the guy.

The second personal message was from someone (I wasn't sure if the letter-sender was male or female), who revealed that their housemate turned out HIV-positive when the latter underwent a test as part of pre-employment requirements for a job abroad. The letter-sender asked for advice on what to do and was fearful of contracting HIV from their housemate.

In response to the first letter, I asked the guy if he has any physical symptoms of HIV infection aside from a drastic change in his body build. I recommended that the guy undergo a medical checkup to find out what's really wrong with him and take a HIV test as well to determine his status. I also said HIV-positive individuals are NOT herded into a facility and imprisoned there. I likewise told him that HIV-positive individuals are protected by a law against discrimination (including termination from one's job because of one's HIV status) and they can still lead healthy and productive lives as long as they live healthy, eat healthy, and take their prescribed medicines religiously. As for the second letter, I assured the letter-sender that he or she need not fear getting infected by their housemate through a mere handshake, use of the same comfort room, staying in the same room, sharing of utensils, among others because HIV is not an airborne virus and can only be transmitted mainly through unprotected sex and sharing of needles (among drug addicts).

In their respective replies, they thanked me for clarifying matters and allaying their fears.

This goes to show how some people still need to be taught adequately about Aids and HIV because really, the lack of information can result in unjustified fear.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Missing my Mom

As I usually do, I scan web videos while at work, a privilege I enjoy since I don't have that much to do in the office especially during the wee hours of the morning. Mind you, these are wholesome videos I watch at Youtube, Facebook and the Ellen Degeneres Show website. In the latter, it featured videos of the 80th birthday celebration of Ellen's mom. As I was watching the videos, I was overcome by emotion. It's been 9 years since Mom passed away but her absence still tugs at my heart every now and then.

I thought -- would things have turned out differently if my mother was still alive today? If she was still around, would I have remained "clean?". I believe that if my Mom was still alive today, I would not have gone astray in terms of my sexual behavior and remained focused on giving her as much a comfortable life that she deserved.

I am sure Mom knows what I am going through right now and that she watching over me, praying for me perhaps, as I overcome the hardships that come with my health status.

I love you Mom and I miss you.

One lucky guy

I was reading blogs by fellow pozzies when I came across an article in www.positivism.ph that made me realize just how lucky I really am to have survived a bout with pneumonia last March. As I mentioned in my previous blogs, my bout with pneumonia was what prompted me to take an initial HIV test and also upon the prodding of a friend. In that test and in a subsequent confirmatory test, I discovered that I was HIV-positive.

Here's the link to that article ----> http://www.positivism.ph/main.php?cid=160. If you can't access it from here, go to the website itself. The article is actually a letter lifted from Pure Advocacy by Brian Gorrell. The letter mentioned about a guy who died of pneumonia in a local hospital despite potent antibiotics administered to the patient. At first, doctors were perplexed by the patient's condition until they privately told the patient to go through an HIV test. The patient consented but he died without knowing the results of the test - he was reactive or positive for HIV. Prior to that case, another guy who was unaware of his HIV status died of tuberculosis despite aggressive life-saving measures.

Looking back when I was confined for pneumonia, I was still unaware of my status then and the attending doctors told me what was ailing me. Where the heck did I get this pneumonia?! The doctors were hazy about it. Anyway, it was really a good thing I responded well to the antibiotics prescribed for me. I shudder at the thought of what could have happened had my body didn't respond to the medicines and my condition worsened.

But I survived and later on, I got to know the real reason why I got sick.

As it is right now, my body is still adjusting to the ARVs I am taking and it is no joke. The itching, pain, lethargy, fever and loss of appetite is taxing me physically, psychologically, emotionally and financially. But I am thankful that my partner, my family and fellow pozzies are there to encourage me to hang on and not give up, to bear with the discomfort because it is just temporary and it will soon be over, and to cheer me up even if it is hard to even smile through the pain. I am particularly grateful to my partner who I know is extending his patience for me despite my irritability and temper.

There is this text message from a AA, poz-friend, that struck me as I go through this adjustment phase. It lifted my spirit. He said "malakas na class of drugs kasi ang ARVs. They primarily tax our liver, which happens to be the same organ responsible for energy (metabolism). Good sign na medyo nanghihina tayo sa initial doses ng ARVs, it means na nakakapag-adjust ang liver natin. Tiyaga lang ******* (my name), kain ng healthy at pahinga lang para makabawi. Think of what's happening now as 'preparation/training' time ng system natin for our limited number of soldiers to become better fighters of invaders. Ginagawang ninja ng droga natin ang kakarampot nating mga CD4 cells!. :-)" To you, AA, maraming salamat. I owe you and the other pozzies a lot. Soon, I will pay forward to others what you've done for me.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Wishful thinking

If only I had been careful. If only I had put my mind over my dick and not give it to my lust for unprotected sex, then I would not be going through this really rough period as my body gets adjusted to the ARVs I am taking.

I am very tired most of the time, itching all over and nearly my entire body has skin rashes, making it difficult for me to get a good sleep.

When oh when will this end?! Oh God, please help me. I don't think I can handle much more any longer.

I wish my sufferings would end tomorrow. I wish I won't be itching all over anymore. I wish my skin rashes would disappear altogether in one instant. I wish I didn't have this virus in me but that's wishful thinking indeed because the reality is, I have it and it's with me for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Battle-weary

It's 1:50 a.m. and I write this while I am at work, trying so hard to fight off the lethargy while suffering from lower back pain. On top of that, I am dizzy and depressed.

It's been almost 2 weeks since I lasted posted a blog, the main reason for which is fever (as a side effect of the ARVs I began taking) struck me down. It was after breakfast last May 4 at the Batangas resort where we had our company outing that I suddenly felt ill. I decided to take a nap and woke up feeling fine. On the road back to Manila, the sick feeling began creeping in again. I tried to shrug it off. When I got home, I was so beat that I could went straight to bed after taking my clothes off. Then fever set it. I texted Ate Ana and informed her of my condition, while updating her on my temperature. I also stopped taking Nevirapine and did not take paracetamol as instructed. I was also itching all over so badly, I couldn't sleep. My partner accompanied me to RITM on May 7 where the doctor took a look at me and prescribed another ARV - Efavirenz. I was forewarned to expect skin rashes to appear after the fever and to go back to RITM IF THE SKIN RASHES get worse. The next day, May 8, the skin rashes appeared.... they were a few at first on my neck and arms but as the day progressed, it grew in number. Oh God, I prayed, please don't let this spread all over my face as well. It didn't, thank God!

The itchiness, lethargy and fever made me stay in bed the whole day of Saturday until Sunday. I barely slept for 2 days because I was rubbing my skin most of the time to ease the itch. I broke down while watching the Sunday Mass on TV. I couldn't handle this any longer, I told myself. I texted J and D. I told them how the rashes are making me depressed when I look at it and when I look at myself in the mirror. The reality of my status struck me harder than ever with the rashes I see on my body. They told me to cheer up and assured me that it will be all over soon.

Monday, election day, came and the itchiness had stopped but I was weak and had barely enough appetite to eat. The elections kept my mind preoccupied for the most part of the day. I was in bed most of the day on Tuesday like the previous day. Wednesday came and I texted P to ask how he was while letting out my angst. I saw to it that I got as much rest as I could for the night's work. Usually, it took me less than 15 minutes to walk from the house to the office but because I was dizzy and weak, it took longer. I took small steps and walked slowly...

I am weary to the bone. It isn't even the middle of the year yet but things have already been physically and emotionally taxing for me. From getting confined to pneumonia last March to knowing my status that same month and now I am going through the adverse side effects of the ARVs.

I am on the verge of surrendering... of giving up the fight against this virus and let it take its course. I don't want to be lethargic anymore, I don't want to be dizzy and nauseous anymore, I don't want to have fever again. I can't take seeing these spots on my body. I want to be free from the discomfort and pain....I want to rest...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Bonding

It was one of the most fun days I've had after a very long time.

I'm talking about the lunch get-together of pozzies at the RITM held yesterday (Friday). The pozzies "enrolled" at RITM gather every 30th of the month to celebrate the current month's birthday celebrants. And since it was my birthday last April 10, I had to go of course. My partner also came along. It was also going to be our 1st time to attend the get-together. I was excited, mainly because I was going to meet more pozzies, including those I have been keeping in touch with through Facebook, YM and text.

At RITM, we first dropped by the clinic to say hi to Miss Ana and introduce my partner to her then we went to the so-called "lounge" where Ate Ellen entertained us. One by one, other pozzies and volunteers from support groups for HIV-positive persons arrived. Sister Amy also came. She has got to be the friendliest nun I've ever encountered in my life. Really!

Looking at the other pozzies, you could never tell they are HIV positive. They looked healthy and happy. They were fun to be with and rowdy. Hahahaha. I appreciated it that all those in the get-together sincerely welcomed me and my partner.

I am looking forward to joining the next get-together. :)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

And so it begins

Today marks the start of my medication that will be for a lifetime. Yes, I've been prescribed antiretrovirals (ARVs) already since my CD4 count is below the threshold and when you begin taking ARVs, you are going to take it forever and on time always so the virus won't get resistant to it. :(

I was at RITM this morning so that Dr. E can discuss with me the results of the tests I underwent during my 1st visit last April 16. So far, so good. I have no TB and Hepa B. Thank goodness for that!

Dr. E told me that, yes my 1st CD4 count is 315 - which is below the 350-1215 range that it should be for someone my age. After briefing me on ARVs and what time I should take it, she issued a prescription, which I gave to Ms. Ana. I went to the pharmacy and while waiting for my meds, the reality of my status and taking medicines forever hit me hard like a slap on my face that I felt like crying. I snapped out of it and went back to the clinic where Ana briefed me some more on ARVS, the possible side effects, and what I should do and not do if and when the side effects manifest.

On my way home from RITM, I set the alarm on my cellphones to remind me to take my meds because I didn't want to rely on my memory alone. My memory has been failing a bit the past weeks.

Come to think of it, pozzies now are luckier compared to those who got hit by HIV in the 80s and early 90s when there were no ARVs yet. So thanks to ARVS, they will put this virus in me under control so it won't wreak any more havoc on my immune system.

As I gulp down my meds, let me say: Cheers!

Monday, April 26, 2010

To come out or not, that is the question

I have been toying with the idea of coming out in public regarding my status.

And the main reason is because I want to be an advocate on the HIV/Aids issue, aside from wanting to be a peer educator. I want people to learn a lesson from what happened to me.

But the more I think about it, the more I become hesitant to carry it out because of the risks involved, not to mention the stigma and discrimination that my loved ones and I will face. At RITM, the doctors discourage against coming out in public.

What are your thoughts about this?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Touching base

In the first few days after I learned that I was "poz", I wanted to meet other "pozzies" to share my thoughts and feelings and learn a thing or two about the virus in me and how to live with it. I was impatient, almost desperate to bond with those from the "poz" community.

When I went to RITM for my 1st visit last April 16 with O of Pinoy Plus (considered as my "adoptive mother" since he was the one who accompanied me there, I met fellow "pozzies" Shola, M, J and G (who I learned much, much later wasn't 'poz' at all - he just liked staying in RITM and bonding with the 'pozzies'). After April 16, I wasn't able to meet other "pozzies" much as I wanted to. They were either busy or our schedules won't meet since I work at night so I had to contend with exchanging messages with them over at Facebook or through email and SMS.

Today (Sunday) afforded an opportunity for me to meet fellow blogger Lucky Trese or D, who I have been exchanging texts the previous days. My partner and I met D for coffee in Seattle's Best at the Mall of Asia (MOA) at 3 p.m. Such a nice guy, fun to be with. The conversation my partner and I had with D was very enlightening. Time flew so fast that it was almost dinnertime. J, who I already met at RITM, later joined us. Inside MOA, we bumped into H, JS (a fellow pozzie from Cebu) and G. I had been wanting to meet H so it was a pleasant surprise to finally do so today.

D, J, my partner and I decided to have dinner in Super Bowl, after which we decided to call it a day

It was a very nice day today. Not only did I get to meet D but I got to bond anew with J and was able to meet H and JS. I am looking forward to meeting other "pozzies" in the weeks to come. :)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Instant road trip

I rushed home when I got off from work at 6 a.m. today (Thursday) because I am supposed to get my initial screening results from the RITM this morning. So, after taking a shower and a quick breakfast, my partner and I took a cab to Edsa then rode a bus to Alabang. It was the first time by the way for my partner to come with me to RITM.

When we got to RITM, we went straight to Dr. Diytangco's clinic and inquired from the male staffer on duty if my lab test results have arrived because I was told to go back today. I was anxious to know what it would show because I have been quite paranoid about my health lately. My heart sank when I was told that my results were not yet available and that I should have called first to check before I went to RITM so that our efforts in going there would not be wasted. SIGH. Yeah, stupid me.

We spent barely 5 minutes in RITM and left. On our way back to the Alabang bus station to take a ride going back to Makati, I told my partner "it's like we just took a road trip to and from Alabang. Hehe."

Lesson of the story: Call first to know if you're going to RITM or not.

Monday, April 19, 2010

So alone

I woke up early Monday to go to RITM. Since it was the first day of the workweek, traffic from my place to SM Makati was quite heavy. The bus trip from Edsa to Alabang however was fast and smooth so that I reached Alabang in less than 45 minutes, mainly because I was not going with the rush hour traffic to Makati.

Upon arriving at RITM, I went to straight to the pulmonary clinic and looked for Ana, who was on day-off however so I asked the male staffer who was on duty to check my PPD skin test shot and I was negative of any pulmonary disease, notably TB. Whew! I proceeded to the clinical laboratory to submit my stool sample then left RITM. I informed Ana through text that I already submitted my stool sample and had my PPD shot checked. I had to be back home as early as I can so I could get enough sleep since I had work Monday night.

During the ride back to Makati, I suddenly felt lonely, alone in my misery. The bus was packed with passengers but I felt as if I was the only person in it. The fact that I am HIV positive hit me hard again.

Even if I enjoy the continued love and support of my partner, my family and friends after they learned of my condition, for which I am very thankful for, I would want to talk and bond with my fellow pozzies to share experiences, to learn a thing or two from them. It's a comfort when you get to bond with someone in the same situation as you are, especially for those like me who have been newly-diagnosed as positive. I am in the dark about a lot of things related to living with HIV and I don't know what norms are there among the "pozzies", if there are.

I wish there was a support group of "pozzies" that regularly meets, on a weekend perhaps because there's no work. I think that is what is lacking in the "poz" community.

Oh well...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Unburdened

When I was diagnosed as HIV positive, the first thing that crossed my mind was when and how do I tell my 2 sisters - the two remaining members of my immediate family - about it. And if I do get to disclose my status, I was afraid that I would not be able to keep my emotions in check. I would keep rehearsing in my mind what I would say and picture the scene. I wanted to break the news to them as gently as I can. I prayed fervently for guidance and strength.

But things fell in the right places as the situations that allowed me to tell my sisters my condition presented themselves without my effort.

The first to know was my elder sister early Saturday morning (April 17) as my shift was nearing its end. My sister and I would sometimes chat on YM while we are both at work to catch up on each other's lives and ask how each of us was doing. That morning, she messaged me first and asked if my work schedule has changed since she noticed that I was offline for most part of the week. I told her that I was pretty busy so I was either absent or on half-day. "Busy with work?" she asked. I was evasive. Then I asked her if she and I and our younger sister, who was due to arrive here in Manila the following day (April 18) from Cebu with her hubby and two sons for a vacation, would have time to talk because I wanted to consult the both of them on "my future plans." She said of course then asked what plans are those exactly and she was persistent in knowing. So, I took it as a cue for me to tell her, especially since I already have the results of my confirmatory test.

"Ate, remember when I was down with pneumonia last month and I got confined?" I said.

"Yes, why?", she said.

"It was a manifestation of something else - another illness," I replied, my hands were shaking as I typed away. "I am positive for HIV," I continued.

"I am heartbroken," she said, so I decided to call her up and she was already crying when she answered my call. She managed to compose herself and assured me of her love and support. I apologized to her for what happened but shrugged it off saying I don't have to apologize.

We talked about how we were going to tell our younger sister and ended our phone conversation.

Sunday morning came and I was anxious already at the start of the day because my younger sister was due to arrive. My partner and I went to my elder sister's place in Las Pinas because that where my younger sister and her family would be staying while on vacation here. Upon arriving, my partner and I had lunch first and then I bonded with my younger sister and her family. Then, it was time to tell my younger sister.

Me, my two sisters and my brother-in-law gathered in the guest room in the elder sister's place where I broke the news to my younger sister. She broke down and sobbed uncontrollably as she hugged me. It was such a heart-wrenching moment but I controlled my emotions. My elder sister spoke up and said we will all ride this through and that I will have to be very careful about my health now. My younger sister and brother-in-law assured me that they still love me no matter what and will be behind me all the way. I was teary-eyed. So that I won't break down, I gave them a mini-lecture on HIV, the tests I need to undergo, the medication I will take to boost my CD4 count, what I need to do and avoid eating, and what my plans are. Our family talk ended with a group hug.

It was truly an emotional weekend for me and my family and this crisis has brought us much closer now to each other.

With God's guidance, I was able to unburden myself and can now sleep soundly...

Friday, April 16, 2010

A not-so-good start

I went to the Department of Health-Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (DOH-RITM) in Alabang, Muntinlupa City for my first visit, profiling and have my CD4 count. I was accompanied by "O" of Pinoy Plus and with us also was fellow pozzie, whose codename I forgot though (pardon the memory lapse), who was going to have his CD4 count at RITM.

We then proceeded to Dr. Diytangco's clinic where I met Ate Ana, who welcomed me and her friendly demeanor made me feel so much at ease. The other clinic staff and doctors were also so friendly. So were those in the back office otherwise called as "the lounge."

I was actually excited to have my CD4 count because I was optimistic that I was above the threshold. So after paying the fees and going through the laboratory tests, it was time time for my profiling and I was given verbal instructions on what to do next until my return to RITM on Monday and Thursday next week.

I also met fellow pozzies, who I am unsure if I should name, and they invited me and "O" to have lunch with them at the RITM canteen. After lunch, "O" and I left the RITM and I got home past 2 p.m. I took a shower after enduring the heat outside, prayed the rosary, then slept at past 3 p.m. I woke up at 4:15 p.m. to text Ana for the result of my CD4 count and decided to call her at RITM after awhile, hoping to hear good news. But I was taken aback. My CD4 count is 315, which is below the 350-1215 threshold. So, I have to be on antiretrovirals (ARVs) starting next week. Ana assured me that my CD4 count can go up when I take the ARVs so no worries and I should not become depressed by it. I asked what I should do between now and until next week when I begin taking my ARVs, to which she replied that I should take extra caution in order not to get sick. Eat healthy and GET ENOUGH SLEEP. After our phone conversation, I had difficulty going back to sleep until my partner got home past 6 p.m. I informed him of my CD4 count results and what I need to do.

I decided to go half-day at work and went to the office before 12 midnight. I began researching on ARVs and its adverse side effects to prepare myself for it but I hope I won't experience them.

I hope that my next CD4 count after a few months would have better results.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sometimes it is difficult to be optimistic...

I was going through my mailman bag last night to get my the laboratory test results I got earlier during the day so that I can put it in order when I saw my confirmatory test results again. I stared at it and then sadness enveloped me like a heavy blanket. I wanted to cry but found it hard to let it out.

The results showing that I am HIV positive has apparently not sunk in completely yet.

I am angry at myself for letting this happen. Because I threw caution to the wind and let my want for sex get the better of me, I got infected and it has turned my life upside down.

And the hard part still has to come -- informing my two sisters (the only remaining members of my immediate family since our parents have passed) about my status.
The news will surely be a very difficult one for them to receive and I hope to keep my emotions in check when I tell them.

I have to move on with life and not get mired in depression lest it weakens my immune system but there are moments when it takes an effort to be optimistic about things. Sigh

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

An impossible mission

Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral had been quoted in newspaper reports as saying during last Monday's HIV summit held in a hotel in Manila that "we need to show we're serious in our aim to bring down (HIV-Aids cases here)".

I don't know if she gave it a lot of thought first before issuing the statement because I believe that you cannot stop the number of HIV-Aids from rising. One of the reasons why the country is experiencing a spike in the HIV-Aids cases is because more and more people are having themselves tested if they have the virus that destroys one's immune system unlike before when individuals who engaged in high-risk activities like unprotected sex and sharing of needles were scared of getting tested for fear of stigma if they prove positive of HIV or there were no adequate counseling services available back then.

The country's small number of HIV-Aids cases in the past was actually "just the tip of the iceberg". There were many unreported cases, I am sure, which included persons who didn't even know they had HIV because they did not get tested.

But now, since adequate counseling is available before and after a HIV test and with government protection and services for HIV-positive persons provided under Republic Act 8504, we now see many getting themselves tested.

I see the continued rise in HIV-Aids cases in the country and for Secretary Cabral to say they want to bring it down is like saying you want to stop the sun from shining.

The other side of positive

This just crossed my mind awhile ago so I decided to blog about it. When we hear or think of the word "positive", generally it means something good or it connotes happiness. But not if we talk about HIV because the word "positive" means infection of the virus that destroys one's immune system. And with that, it brings fear, uncertainty and depression. It's ironic how one word can have both a good and a bad meaning.

However, I'd rather dwell on the good side of the word "positive." Yes, I have HIV but that should not stop me from moving on and start living a "new life". I bawled my heart out and was depressed when was told I was reactive in the rapid HIV antibody test I took. I was scared also of what the future holds me someone like me. But I snapped out of it because staying depressed would only weaken my immune system, which I should be strengthening instead. It was no use crying over spilled milk, so to speak. I also didn't bother wracking my brains to find out who could have infected me. What for? I already have the virus and it won't make it disappear if I find out who gave it to me.

And with the "new life" I have, I decided to make this blog to serve as an outlet for me and so that I can go back to one of the many things I like doing the most - writing. Expect more blogs from me in the days and weeks to come. :)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Let the race, I mean, tests begin!

Still groggy after having had a few hours of sleep only since I came home from work past 1 a.m, I woke up five minutes before 5:45 a.m. today to get ready to go to the Manila Public Health Department infront of San Lazaro Hospital to undergo several laboratory tests to check my blood composition and for any viral ailments I may have and I do hope I don't have any.

Ate Lucy of the Manila Social Hygiene Clinic had told me yesterday to be at the health department before 7:30 a.m. so I won't be caught by the rush of people. Good thing there were just a few people ahead of me and had picked up a priority number when I arrived. In less than an hour, about 50 other people came after me and the place became stiflingly hot so I decided to wait outside. In my mind, I was hoping that this won't be the situation I would encounter every ime I needed to undergo certain tests.

After paying for the laboratory tests, off I went to the laboratory where a blood sample was taken from me. I also submitted a urine sample for their analysis. The test results will be available tomorrow. However, since not all tests that I had to undergo were not available at the health department, I was referred to a private clinic where still another blood sample was taken from me and I can pick up the results tomorrow as well. And I was done for the day.

Famished from having no food or liquid since 12 midnight last night since I was required to fast prior to the laboratory tests, I went to a nearby fastfood outlet and gorged on as much food as I could take. I looked as if I haven't eaten for days. Haha.

So tomorrow, I will be referred to the Department of Health's Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Alabang where I will submit the laboratory test results. I hope to meet other "pozzies" (slang for HIV positive individuals) there. I may undergo counselling there and more lab tests, if needed. More tests, you ask?!! Yeah! Bring it on! :)

A new life

So much has happened today... and I have come up with a new goal in life - now that I have been diagnosed as positive for the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV.

Let me relate the events that transpired before what happened today.

It was past 10 p.m. on March 2 and I was at work (I am on night shift) when I felt stabbing pain on my torso's upper left side. Thinking that maybe it was because of the electric fan at my back, I turned the thing off but the pain didn't subside. The pain only moved from the upper left side to the upper left part of my chest and then it would go to my upper left back. I decided to go on half-day and then went home. I told my partner to massage the part which hurt and it somewhat subsided but later on, I had fever. The next day, March 3, I had a massage as suggested by my landlady. The pain went away after a few hours, only to recur with greater intensity. I first observed if the pain would subside but when it didn't, I decided to go to a hospital where I eventually got confined. My attending physicians ruled that I had pneumonia so I was prescribed antibiotics and paracetamol for my fever, which at one point, reached 41.0. I was discharged from the hospital on March 8. In the meantime, a friend of mine suggested that I get tested for HIV since pneumonia is an opportunistic infection that can befall a "pozzie." He knew what my sexlife was because I was that open to him and I admit I've engaged in unprotected sex before I met my partner.

So, off we went - my partner and I - to the Manila Social Hygiene Clinic infront of the San Lazaro Hospital early morning of March 26. I wasn't nervous at all prior to taking the test. The personnel were friendly and accommodating. My partner and I each filled out a form, counseled separately by Ate Lucy and then blood was extracted from us for the rapid HIV antibody test. After a few minutes, the results came in. My partner was called first by Ate Lucy and in less than three minutes, he came out of the counseling room and then it was my turn. Ate Lucy informed me that i was reactive while my partner was non-reactive. Reactive meant that I MAY have HIV antibodies in my blood so I need to give another blood sample for confirmatory tests. The results will be released after a week or two. I was dumbfounded. I could hear Ate Lucy still telling me things but I wasn't paying any attention to her. I asked Ate Lucy to inform my partner about my results. It was then I broke down and I couldn't stop crying even after we left the clinic.

From the clinic, my partner and I went to Greenbelt chapel where I poured my heart out to God and then had confession. But never did I blame God for what happened or entertained thoughts of exacting revenge. I didn't even bother to recall who infected me. What for? My partner broke down as well during our talk in the chapel. If there is anything I am thankful for is that he is sticking it out with me, no matter what, and he still loves me as much as before. I am also thankful he was non-reactive but then again, he is not exactly out of the woods, so to speak, as he has to go back to the clinic in June for another test.

So, for the days and weeks that followed until today, I went through a gamut of emotions - from denial to self-pity and then to acceptance.

Last April 8, my partner informed me that my confirmatory test results have arrived at the social hygiene clinic but since it was already evening and the next day was a holiday, I will get to read it on Monday. Oh well, since I was able to wait for more than 2 weeks, three more days of waiting won't be much. But mind you, I was getting apprehensive already. And then Monday came. I was nervous on our way to the clinic. The clinic staff gave me my results in a sealed envelope, which I opened when I was inside the counseling room. The EIA and Western Blot tests showed that I was positive for HIV. Surprisingly, I was calm and collected when I read the results. So was my partner. I didn't even cry. Perhaps because I already psyched myself to prepare for the worst while still hoping for the best. But I was sad and I was quiet for the most part of the trip to Greenbelt chapel and to home. I was also pondering on how to break the news to my sisters - the remaining members of my immediate family after our parents already passed away.

With this, I have resolved to be an advocate for safe sex and on HIV/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Aids).

Call it a coincidence but the day's Gospel was about Jesus talking about being born again. And for me, knowing my status is a rebirth as it came two days after my 43rd birthday. I have a new life to live. There will be challenges along the way but I know I can handle them.