Well, alot to catch up on, but I was distracted by my recent biannual std/hiv testing. Last week I summoned the psychic energy and went to the clinic for my routine test.
It was a surprisingly smooth morning; I checked in and was there was only one other guy ahead of me. I barely had time to open and start reading the paper before my number was called. And, the nurse practioner, was an Ethiopian guy who I'd worked with last time and he recognized me, was pleasant and it was all very relaxed. He drew blood, performed an oral swab, and took a urine sample. All standard and good. He filled out paperwork and indicated we needed to wait.
As usual, I asked if I could also have a rapid test before I left, as the the definitive tests required waiting a week and two weeks respectively. So, I was led in to meet with a young practioner. He seemed pretty cool and hip and I was checking out his taut body and wondering if he was a cyclist and possibly gay. He was actually somewhat manic but nice.
He began by asking me if I was willing to try out some new more comprehensive rapid test that he announced was very prevalent outside the US (e.g Europe, so "of course" it would need to be more helpful, right...?). He indicated if I agreed he had to pay me $20. I didn't want the money, but I thought if it was going to be more comprehensive and definitive it was stupid to say no.
Well it involved pricking four fingers/I was okay with that. So he did so, set up the two vials, something that looked like a giant blister, and sucked up a "line" of my blood into a straw like device and then injected it into a credit card sized piece of paper.
So it was a waiting game; he was manically chatty and I was playing along, but found it really tedious and insipid when he asked me "what do you think the results will be?" I responded I wouldn't guess what they would be but I knew what I hoped they were.
Well he directed my attention to the blister like device and indicated that it already indicated a negative result and then started to chirp about how while it usually involved 30 minutes that if someone was neg that you usually had a pretty clear idea early on. The two vials with swabs of my blood were awaiting the alarm going off but looked fine. Then he looked at the credit card sized device with my blood and got visibly alarmed. He was pretty demonstrative and said "I've never seen that before!" (the other devices reading negative and the card device reading positive.) He was freaking out and said, it was indicating positive though the other measures were indicating negative. So he asked to prick another of my fingers and repeated the test. Again, my blood resulted in the operative lines being crossed. He got very visibly upset and called in other clinicians.
A cool gay dude, frankly pretty bitchy, came in and was very matter a fact about that fact that it indicated I was poz. They started to both ask me "are you okay?" I indicated I was just trying to wrap my head around the fact that 2/3 of the test indicated I was negative and that one third indicated positive and said "I am not trying to be in denial but is there any possibility that this isn't reading right?" Well they wanted to make sure that I realized they thought the results we pretty seriously indicating a certainty of positive and that I'd probably become poz in the last couple of weeks and that it was a remarkably early diagnosis. They kept pressing me about how I felt and I said "listen, if I am poz then it is what it is and I have to deal with it. I just want to get a definitive answer here." I spoke to the bitchy one and said "I can deal with reality here, but have you ever had such a test read incorrectly?" He responded "yes, I've had other false positives." But they made it clear to me that they didn't think this was the case. In a human moment he did acknowledge that this was the possibility that all of us who have sex with other men entertain (apparently his effort to be comforting was to confirm that he, too, likes to suck cock and, perhaps, more...) Departing he admonished me to refrain from sex or to at least wear a condom till the final results came back (talk about condescending.) But he also said "don't call past partners until you've gotten the final results in case we are wrong." I thought "don't allow yourself false hope here" but also, how could I allow my recent partners to keep fucking with other guys?
Another clinician was called in; a woman. She seemed convinced the result was definitive. She asked me "have you had flu like symptoms?" No. "A rash?" No. "Night sweats?" No. She seemed disappointed but without doubt that I was surely poz.
Next they called in another, older guy. He didn't remember me but he'd administered my last rapid test and after 15 minutes said "this is a negative result, there's no point in your waiting." He was pretty cool and the least emotive of the group. They then decided to draw more blood from my arm so that they could later meet with me to advise me of what strain of hiv and then the further actions that would be recommended "meds/etc. etc."
At that point I was kind of numb; there was no time for emotion. I like to remain discrete and keep my doctor and insurance out of such tests (I have NO confidence such information is kept confidential) but I was convinced at that point I'd bitten it and needed to think practically: serious diagnosis, expensive medications that I'd need my medical plan for, and a program of regular check ups. So I bared my soul, called my health care provider, gave them my patient number, all my information, etc. The time for discretion had apparently gone.
The young dude kept asking me if I was okay. I kept responding to him "listen, I need to be practical here; being emotional or dramatic isn't going to accomplish anything. If you indicated that I'd croak in a year or have an awful time getting there I'd be upset, but apparently there are ways for me to minimize the impact." He then proceeded to (finally) be reassuring talking about guys on meds becoming nondetectable, apparently one guy who'd gotten cured (?) and that I had a long life ahead of me and how lucky I actually was for a super early diagnosis. However, he pulled out his laptop and said that "false positives have occurred in the past for those with a fatty diet." Well, I have higher cholesterol, and I use alot of olive oil and dairy in cooking, so I don't know if that qualifies (he seemed to think it corresponded to alot of potato chips and Cheetos...)
In crises I just get super quiet and super focused as I need to exercise full concentration/this guy didn't seem to understand that. He wrote down his inside number, urged me to call him as soon as I got my results and looked like he was going to throw up on his shoes. I thanked him, tried to console him (geez) and left. Awkwardly he insisted on giving me $20 for participating in the same study and then when I went to check out all the fees had been waived.
Well there was alot to process, but I thought, well assume the worst and hope for the best. I drove away and after I was on to other things I got a call from the clinic/they'd fucked up address information and needed me to return, in person, to change and initial it all. I thought that I was having a major run of bad luck and was pissed but went back (it essentially required my returning, parking in the underground parking garage in one building, proceeding to another, proceeding to the 10th floor, yadda yaddda yadda, to in person just affirm some address information was correct. I was then back out the door.)
I was away on business and staying in a swank hotel and had had some fun the night before and was looking forward to more. On Growler I had this younger dude coming on to me and he was seriously hot. So not being a shit but still being a horn dog, I figured mutual oral wouldn't hurt him, and determined to wear a condom. It was pretty awesome (over an hour of delayed orgasms before I donned a condom) but otherwise I kept my gun in my holster the next two days. It was a drag as I'd really looked forward to the weekend and had a tentative date lined up with the macho stud I usually fuck while in town (he's married, and we fuck raw and there was no way I was going to jeopardize him by barebacking him and I didn't want to get into why I wanted to wear a condom so I had to cancel to our mutual disappointment.)
Well it was a thoughtful week. I pretty much reconciled myself to a whole new life, not being able to seeing regular fuck buddies ever again, and medications and regular doctor visits. I surprised myself by how stoic I was being about it, but my attitude was that I simply needed to deal with it. Where I live it is major allergy season, so I concluded that my sneezing, aching sinuses, aching joints, and any gi symptoms were all hiv related, which was making me depressed. I'd narrowed it down to two possible sources and was wondering how I'd deal with them when I got the final word.
Today was the day I needed to call for the first set of tests and I was preparing to do so after some meetings assuming this was the day to confirm the outcome and to plan how to proceed. However, just as I was about to enter a meeting my phone rang and I recognized the number as familiar. It was the clinician.
He asked me a series of questions to verify that I am who I am and then, after a seeming eternity said he wanted to call me right away as my results were brought to him today (apparently he pushed for them to be processed more quickly) and that actually I was found completely negative. He started to profusely apologize for what had happened and was yammering, but I had to go into a meeting and said "this is good news/is there anything else I need to know?" I advised him not to send the results to my primary physician and then thanked him and signed off. It was surrealistic.
I was working out of the office and had a long drive back to the office/it gave me some time to process the good information --and the rattling experience-- and I saw a plant nursery and being a passionate gardener stopped off and spent 40 minutes walking around and decompressing. These were all good guys; they all wanted the best for me; they do good work; it was a socially awkward moment for them and frankly they didn't handle it very well/however, if I'd been more fragile it could have been very messy and possibly could have hurt myself.
I'll keep getting tested, but in 14 years of regular testing this really fucked with my mind and shook my confidence in the results I might be given -- either favorable or unfavorable. I'll have to have faith in the favorable, but otherwise to demand a second test. All said, it was a sobering reality test.