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


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.