So it has finally happened… I have had my first HIV test!
Why finally I hear you ask? Well as you may already know, if you have read my previous blog posts, my wife is HIV positive and seen as we have been living together for a while now, and have been in a relationship for just under two years, I really should have had around eight tests by now. However like most people when it comes to taking the test I admit that; 1. I was along the lines of so many people when it comes to HIV.. It can’t happen to me (stupid yes I know) and, 2. I was secretly worried what I would do if the test came back positive.
So a couple of days ago my wife had an appointment at with her HIV specialist and I tagged along to get out of the house for a while. We had talked a bit about me taking the test but in all honesty most of the conversation was me nodding and her doing all the talking as I half listened. However whilst we were there I did what I should have done ages ago and finally got up the courage to take the test.
Initially let me explain a bit about the kind of test I took. It’s called the Orasure Rapid HIV Test and the name really speaks for itself. You get handed a nice swab to rub around your gum line, after verifying that the packaging is intact and has not been tampered with, and then you sit back and wait for the results.
OK so this is how my experience went down. Before I could take the test in the clinic I was at I was required to go and talk to a social worker and have a nice chat about the test and my general (if not a tad in-depth) feelings about HIV, and how I would react if the test came back positive. The social worker was a really nice lady who wanted to help in any way she could and really helped to a degree to put my mind at ease. We chatted for ten minutes or so and once she was happy I was of sound mind and my cognitive functions were not impaired I was shown back to the waiting area to sit and wait for the lab to be free for me to go and take the test.
The test itself was painless and fast… Really fast! Check the packaging, rub the swab around your mouth and head back to the waiting area again for a 20 minute wait for the results.
Now 20 minutes does not sound like that long a period of time but when your future, both mental and physical, hinge on the results of the test it seems to take forever and a day to pass! Yes that statement may seem a bit hysterical but it is the way a lot of people probably look at it.
Eventually the social worker calls me back into her room and tells me to sit down. Now my heart is pounding and I am feeling sick with worry. Now I can understand why the test scares so many people into not taking it in the first place! The stress of the 20 minute wait and the long trek into the consultation room feels like my last waltz. However, with my heart pounding and my breath coming in short painful gasps I look worryingly at the councillor as very slowly a smile spreads across her face. Her next remark brings me back to earth with a bang.. a good bang though. She smiles again and says “as if you can’t tell by the smile on my face, your test result is negative”. Now relief plays over my body in a wave and I collapse back into the chair as my muscles relax once more.
Now the reason I am telling you all this is twofold. One, as well versed in HIV as I am and with living with a HIV positive partner I should not have been feeling so scared and two, looking back I call into question the social workers professionalism somewhat. Why the smile? What would have been the look on her face if the test had been positive? OK so I am not positive and that’s a good thing, but how many others before me have tested positive and I was left wondering how they must have felt and what her look would have been then.
So that’s it for me for another 3 months. Yes I will be getting tested more frequently now as there really is no excuse for me not to. The earlier I find out that I am positive (if I ever do test positive) the earlier I can get onto the medication I need and take that much better care of myself.
My closing thought: HIV testing is quick and we all bleat on about how important it is, but there are other things to consider too. People’s emotional responses to taking the test are going to be very much a considering factor as to whether they ever take it in the first place. Maybe, just maybe, we should look at ways we can provide emotional support for people who are thinking of taking the test before they go. It’s not always the result that is worrying!