It has been a difficult journey to get to the point where I am now; Six years on I’ve come to terms with my diagnosis and I’ve met a wonderful partner.
Hi, I’m Tim and I wanted to share my story with you. About six years ago I was admitted to hospital with a horrible flu-like illness. I’d been off work for a couple of days with a sore throat, fever and headaches. I’m originally from Lincolnshire, so a typical ‘northern’ spirit takes over when it comes to calling the doctor; you don’t go unless your head’s hanging off!
This was one of the few occasions since being a child that I actually felt so unwell I needed to see the doctor. The surgery was closed so I went to the emergency out of hours service in Nottingham, where I was living at the time.
The doctor I saw admitted me to hospital for further tests and monitoring. I was in hospital for 10 days in all! My temperature peaked at almost 41 degrees and my white blood cell count was incredibly low. I remember one of the doctors asking me what seemed like a really bizarre couple of questions – “have you had intercourse with anyone from abroad or have you paid for sex in the last six weeks?” The answer to both of these questions was ‘no’ and I didn’t really understand what he was trying to get at. I now know he was trying to establish whether I was at risk of HIV infection.
Eventually my body got my temperature under control and I was discharged from the hospital with a sick note for a further two weeks and a follow-up appointment at the Infectious Diseases (ID) clinic as an outpatient. This still seemed quite odd as I’d not been given a diagnosis, only that it must be a very bad infection.
I went along to the ID outpatients appointment and was asked a series of questions about my health and sexual contact, much like they ask in a sexual health clinic. The doctor said they would run a series of blood tests and one of them would be for HIV. It then dawned on me what had happened and what the doctors thought was wrong. They thought I was HIV+. I was told the results would be back in a week and a further follow up appointment was booked.
This week was pretty much a week of hell for me. I was frightened and unsure what was going on; I was still feeling weak after my body had taken such a hit from the infection which caused the hospitalisation and whatever had caused it. I laid awake thinking what would happen if the result came back as positive. Or what if I’d got something else? There were signs up in the clinic for TB, different types of cancer, heart problems; all manner of things! This fear of the unknown got me reading. I logged on to several websites and read and read about HIV among other illnesses, then it clicked. My body had been going through a process of seroconversion. It dawned on me that the result would be positive so I reached for a bottle of wine, put on a playlist of sad songs and started crying. I didn’t want to tell anyone and felt alone.
The rest of the week went by and the same routine went on everyday; I would get up, have a shower, go to the shop for a few bottles of wine and put the same playlist on; over and over.
When the appointment finally arrived I was in a room with two nurses and a doctor who gave me my diagnosis. It didn’t come as a shock and I just felt numb. A further blood test was done to check the first diagnosis in case it was a false positive and to check how my immune system was; they started talking about CD4 counts and Viral Loads and how it was important for them to keep an eye on them. I just wanted to get out of there and get home.
I found the diagnosis made me depressed; it made relationships difficult and I was scared to tell work. I knew that I would have to tell them due to the need for time off for appointments and to prevent disciplinary action being taken for the time I’d had off. My manager at the time as nothing but supportive and very accommodating of the need for ‘reasonable adjustments’.
With support from the mental health nurse at my GP surgery and from being quite open with my true friends I started to realise that maybe things weren’t all that bad and life would go on as it did before; the HIV would just be there in the background.
A few guys that I went on dates with couldn’t handle the diagnosis and I can only put this down to their own ignorance of the condition and the stigma there is attached to HIV, particularly within the gay community. If I’d had £1 for every gay dating profile I’d seen stating that the person was ‘clean’ ie – was HIV Negative and that they will only ‘play’ with others who are ‘clean’ then I’d be a very rich guy! The truth is having HIV does not make you dirty or unclean.
Six years on, I can safely say I’ve come to terms with my diagnosis. I’ve met a wonderful partner and we’ve been together for three years. My HIV status is not an issue in our relationship, nor is it an issue for any of our friends.
Yes, it has been a difficult journey to get to the point where I am now; last year I had a major grievance against my employer due to discrimination and this was a very stressful experience. After investigation the actual root-cause was ignorance on the part of my then manager. These issues have been resolved and I was given a sincere apology. It’s difficult to think that so many years after the initial discovery of HIV there is still so little useful information available for employers and the wider general public.
I can honestly say I’ve never been happier and very rarely think about my HIV status. Yes, it does affect my daily life but it doesn’t alter who I am. I still do the same things I would do had I not had that diagnosis, if not more! HIV is a manageable chronic illness, not a death sentence you may think it is after being newly diagnosed.