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Test Run

by Nina Hastie / Illustration by Alastair Laird / 01.12.2011

It’s the morning after the night before; you’re on your way to order the biggest glass of crème soda and whatever prefab drive-through meal you can get your hands on. You’re on the phone to your best friend, and your voice sounds like a bad text-to-movie clip, but you have to talk because your eyes are still dilated, and you can’t sms, or send a bbm at this god-awful time of the morning… You’re thinking to yourself: “Why are there so many cars on the road, don’t these people have lives?” You find yourself swearing at a Prius in front of you just because you resent the owner’s sense of responsibility. God damn hippies! And then you utter those six little words you’ve heard so many people say, well seven if you include the profanity. “Fuck, I really need to get tested”. I mean the sex was great, and I think we used a condom… well we started off using a condom, I think it broke, I don’t know, I was so drunk, awww… but he was just so hot, it was so hot. I mean, he said he was negative, he just got tested for his new job and stuff, or some insurance thing. But I don’t know where I stand, I mean I should be fine, I think I am. No, I’m sure I’m cool. I’m definitely cool. Why am I stressing? I really should get tested though.”

“Regular or supersize ma’am?”

“Supersize!”

Of course. And life goes on, and after a couple of months, you start to think again… “I really really must get tested.”

I’ve found that bringing up the HIV subject into any conversation with anyone, has one of two results. One: it’s a conversation killer or, two: it serves its purpose as a litmus test for ignorance; that is ignorance in general, not just of one’s status. I have heard the most ridiculous responses. I had one friend say:
“Well, have you had the dream yet?”
“No?”
“Well then you should be fine, you haven’t had the dream, you’re gonna be fine.”
Really? And this came from a highly educated, senior manager at one of our country’s largest law firms.

Truth is, I was scared. So I did some background research into the possible symptoms, in the hope of avoiding the dreaded AIDS TEST. Thinking, that, perhaps, I could convince myself that I didn’t need it. Of course I googled HIV. I found out that the initial symptoms are flu-like. Of course I then developed a headache and started coughing and by the next day I was in bed with flu. I recovered after about two or three days, after taking viral and immune supplements… now this is where it gets tricky… I took a double the dose of the immune boosting vitamins, and I didn’t even pee yellow! Obviously I must have full blown AIDS. So, I went back online, and did more research – this time with images. I was exposed to galleries swollen glands and facial rashes. It didn’t even take 24 hours, by the afternoon I had developed golf-ball sized glands and tonsils, as well as a rash on both sides of my face, and that night I had a dream. It was a nightmare; I was tossing and turning, and sweating and freaking out, there were rats and water and tsunamis and earthquakes. I woke up shaking. I also had a Freddy Mercury song in my head. I was thinking to myself, ok girly, its tickets for you. You should have been nicer to people, and yourself maybe… but you’re done for, finished, a goner, china bean. I burst into tears, and told my uncle/therapist that I think I have AIDS, and I need to get tested. Half an hour later he drove me to the hospital to get a free HIV test.

I walked sheepishly through the refreshingly clean, and reasonably well-maintained hospital corridors, to the designated testing area. The nurse took me into the testing room, and asked me to sit down. She didn’t offer much counselling, despite the fact that I was shaking like a leaf. I guess she was saving it til afterwards. I sat down, she asked for my hand, and she then pricked my finger. She took the drops of blood that came out and put them onto this little litmus test, it looks like a pregnancy test. It looks very Mickey Mouse for something that will determine your future on the planet. You almost wonder if this could possibly be an accurate? Maybe it’s a conspiracy…

At this stage your head is running full steam to crazy town. But do not fear, invariably you’ll be sat next to some nutjob lady in a horrible navy blue uniform that will keep you occupied with some story about how her bag was stolen at the ATM, and how you should always take care when withdrawing money. And in 15 minutes, PING! You have your result.

So I do not have AIDS, I am HIV negative, but I must go back in 3 months for the window period check-up. It takes up to 3 months for the HIV antibodies to show up in your system, which is what they test for and how come you can do a quick litmus test. Those antibodies are either present or absent. I think I should be fine. I’m going to stop self-diagnosing, and am looking forward to grown up, consensual, sober sex in a controlled environment. It’s just not worth all that stress otherwise. I don’t care how hot he/she is.

And despite me wanting to run around the streets screaming, “I’M KINDA HORNY ‘CAUSE I DON’T HAVE AIDS” Not every story ends up with a negative result… And for that, I don’t have the answer. I still live in fear of myself, in fear of death, in fear of loss… All I can say or do is live in the now. Be present. Acknowledge what is. That is all you have. It is what it is.

*Today is World Aids Day. Go get tested. Helen Zille may even give you some bucks.

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RESPONSES (6)
  1. Poster says:

    I gotta go for one, too. Scary shit. Kinda makes you wanna say “fuck sex”, altogether.

    But on the other hand we need to stop making it sound like a death sentence. This is what adds to the stigma that keeps it as strong as it is over here.

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  2. Oldie says:

    Been for a few in my time, and your ‘inner-bargaining’ kicks in with each one – ‘if I’m ok this time I’ll be more careful, abstain, chop my dick off etc etc’

    After years of engagement and marriage I had one the other day, and that same old fear took hold of my innards. A bit ludicrous but you know. There are tragic stories every day – we’re just the lucky ones.

    (and a Prius is not responsible – making the thing damages the planet far more than a regular car!)

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  3. Lizzy says:

    Good for you, Mahala, it seems like most people are ignoring AIDS day this year… and please people, use a condom! the number of people (many of whom are supposedly educated) who dont seem to think this rule applies to them is frightening. Its not just AIDS you can catch, there are lots of fun STDs floating around too… (yay!)

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  4. cnut says:

    And to think some lambast the Zulu President…

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  5. Anonymous says:

    helen zille is a chop
    nice article.

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  6. wallflower says:

    I too was trapped in that ‘wanting to know but too scared to know’ limbo for years.
    Getting the test was definitely one of the most frightening experiences of my life, but the relief of finally KNOWING was worth it. Luckily for me it was negative…I will treat this precious gift with utmost care from now on.

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