527,040 minutes (Seasons of Love)
Guest post from Ako Poz, the pen name of a young man from Manila in the Philipinnes about how he came to learn he was HIV-positive just a year ago - and what has happened since.
Rent is one of my favorite musicals of all-time. I've been listening to its music from time to time. And of course, who doesn't know its most popular song, “Seasons of Love”? It's very catchy and has a very clear message, "How do you measure a year?"
This song has had a huge impact on me. Exactly a year ago, five hundred twenty seven and forty minutes (it's a leap year), I got my confirmatory result.
I had received a text message from the QC Bernardo Social Hygiene Clinic telling me that my confirmatory result was ready and I could come to the clinic anytime to claim it. I immediately texted my four of my friends. I decided to go the next day before I went to work. Two of them came with me since we live near each others' places.
We got to the clinic around 8am. We sat in the reception area to wait for the doictor. People were starting to arrive. Most of them were women, but there were about five men. All were working in local clubs and bars. An attendant started to call them and asked them to sit in front of a television. A presenter was showing a video and talking about sexual health while one by one they were being called to the lab for their check-up.
Then the doctor. arrived. I approached the nurse's table and asked if I could see the doctor to get my results. She entered the doctor’s room and asked me to come in. I went inside with my friends. The doctor.asked if I wanted them to be there. I simply said yes.
She pulled-out a stack of envelopes. There were about fifty or more. While searching for mine, she told us, "Tignan niyo to. Ang dami nang nakatambak dito na mga result. Hindi nila kinukuha. Halos araw-araw ko na sila itext. (Look at these. There are a lot of unclaimed results. I remind them almost everyday about it.) I was just silent. I was nervous about mine, plus I'm thinking why are they not claiming their results and what's happening with them right now?
Then she handed me a white envelope from San Lazaro with a code number. I opened it and began reading it. There were terms I couldn't understand. But what I understood from the entire paper was the one word written at the bottom, POSITIVE. I just looked at my friends and frowned. There were no tears falling from my eyes, maybe because I'd prepared myself for this moment in the three weeks of waiting for it.
I looked at the doctor and asked what I needed to do next. She told me that I need choose a treatment hub. She suggested PGH, RITM or San Lazaro since these are the hubs located in the Metro. There are also two private hospitals but these might be costly in the long run. She said that it's good that I already knew my status as early as now so I could take actions to take care of myself. She also told me to strengthen my immune system by having good rest, lessen stress, eat healthier foods, avoid alcohol and smoking, etc.
But what made me feel at ease was when she told me that I wasn't going to die. Contrary to what the majority thinks, there are people with HIV for 10-20 years still living normally and very productively. As long as I take care of myself, I'll be OK. Stories we’ve heard of people who've died early are due to late detection or neglecting to live a healthy lifestyle.
People are scared of HIV because they think they will die immediately. But not me. I am not afraid of HIV's attack on my body. I choose to live longer and healthier. I will fight it for my family, friends, loved ones, myself and my dreams.
A year after my confirmatory test result, I can say that I'm still fighting. I've lessened my nights out. And if I do go out, I come home by 12am or 1am. I haven't smelled cigarette smoke for months now because I'm avoiding people who smoke and my friends who are smokers move away at least ten metres from me. I stopped drinking - or I just take a couple of sips every 2-3 months. I've been eating home-cooked and healthy foods. Seldom do I do fast food. I've been regularly taking my daily dose of vitamins. I've been sleeping 6-8 hours a day on weekdays and 8-10 hours on weekends.
I never forget to be thankful for all my blessings. I've appreciated my life and other people more. I've never felt healthier, happier, more loved and more blessed. So many things have happened in one year and I consider this one of the best years of my life. No tears have fallen out of my eyes since my initial testing. Maybe because I've learned to make my positive status a motivation to see life positively and to make the most out of it, be an inspiration for others not lto ose hope in their struggles, and to live life with love in my heart.
This post originally appeared in Me, My Life and HIV, The Curious Adventures of a Filipino PLHIV, here.
About the author: Ako (not his real name), born and raised in Manila, Philippines, has been battling HIV for a year now with love from friends and family, and a positive outlook in life. He has started to get involved with local HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaigns and activities ever since to serve as an inspiration, guide and hope to fellow MSMs and PLHIVs.