Life changes in 25 minutes during HIV test

By Sahil Makkar, IANS

Barely a few days ago, being a journalist and monitoring HIV/AIDS-related developments in the capital off and on, I had absolutely no doubt of my supreme knowledge over the subject until a visit to a small care and support centre in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh.

Support TwoCircles

I along with four other journalists from Delhi, the elderly Sirappa – a state appointed coordinator on HIV/AIDS, and some activists landed just past noon at the care and support centre, a small but special HIV/AIDS hospital in Batalapalle village. Upon seeing us, around 50 HIV patients and their escorts sitting outside the counselling and medicine windows got up from their seats to greet their anonymous visitors.

After a short brief about our visit to the hospital, Sirappa showed us various well-cleaned rooms where patients were being treated or counselled. Soon we crossed two aisles to reach the hospital’s laboratory, where a lab technician in his white coat was already waiting for us. He swiftly opened the half transparent wooden door and warmly greeted us in Telugu, though we could not understand his words. We just smiled.

Wasting no time, Sirappa pointed his finger towards the Rs.10 million apparatus used in conducting HIV tests. He explained a bit about all of it, stressing that people were allowed to undergo HIV tests only after being correctly counselled.

This was the time when I first decided to get myself tested, probably thinking I should not waste this opportunity after travelling so far. I politely volunteered, without giving a second thought to what would happen if the results were not in my favour.

I was taken aback when Sirappa, adjusting his square spectacles, bluntly refused and that too in front of others. He said I would have to follow some mandatory procedures first. For a few seconds I thought he was being rude and that was how they treated patients here.

Soon we moved out to the ICU room where I came across some serious patients who probably knew they didn’t have long to live. I felt pity for an elderly lady whose mouth was sealed with white bandages and it was quite evident that she was dying of the disease.

I remained there for a few minutes before moving to the mortuary where our guide was already answering my colleagues’ questions. He said the bodies were first washed here by the staff with all due care and only after two hours were they handed over to the respective families. He said that virus dies with the patient. Now we moved to the general ward, where around 60-70 patients were getting some treatment and relief.

I was meeting people and taking notes, but I could not ignore the question buzzing in my mind – whether or not I should take the test. I finally resolved that it was time, so I asked Sirappa again and somehow bagged his consent. Without giving a hint to the others, he took me to the laboratory and asked the lab technician to perform his daily job.

The tall technician with his smiling face drew my blood into a syringe and asked me to wait outside for 25 minutes (repeat 25 minutes).

I had never imagined that those 25 minutes would drag so much and weigh so heavily on me. I was sitting on a bench surrounded by patients, but realize that only now only in flashback. All I could do was try to recall incidents and accidents that I had gone through in my life.

After struggling with my past for five long minutes I finally ended up remembering one accident, when a doctor had operated on my leg and the procedure had required boiled syringes. The memory of that accident was enough to make me regret taking the test. I did not even have the courage to ask someone if boiled syringes were safe. (They were.)

Fixing my eyes over a small girl playing close to my legs, I for a moment wondered if society would accept me and what I would tell my family and what their reaction would be – in case I was declared infected with HIV.

Would I fall victim to the same kind of discrimination that so many HIV/AIDS victims suffer? Would I quit the job? Would I be doing endless hospital rounds? Would I continue to stay with my family and most of all how long would I survive? The wrinkled face of the old lady whom I had encountered barely half an hour earlier hovered in front of my eyes. I could clearly imagine myself in her place.

These questions kept haunting me till I heard Sirappa’s voice. He had called me thrice before I actually heard and swung into action.

He didn’t announce the test result outright and I vividly remember his words: “Sahil, can you please come inside,” making me more nervous than ever. I thought there was something serious. I crossed the threshold and moved inside.

The lab technician hurriedly drew my attention to a small white kit, which had my blood over it. He then exhibited similar kits of others who had taken the test. He told me that I was O+. I realised he was telling me my blood group and not the result.

I was at that point sure that I was HIV positive and they were unwilling to share this information with me as I had not undergone the ‘mandatory’ counselling. I don’t know why I got angry, lost control over my nerves and forcefully asked them to tell me what result they had in store for me. The lab technician snapped, “Na na na…” What did this “na na” mean, I thought. Before I could say anything, however, he finally said, “You are HIV negative.”

I was so relieved that I couldn’t resist breaking this news to others. They didn’t first understand what I was saying, but Sirappa narrated the complete tale to them. They were bewildered but eventually congratulated me for my bold step. I was so delighted that I even called a friend in Hyderabad to share the experience.

Now I was looking at the HIV issue with a new perspective. I had developed empathy for the HIV victims. I could now clearly sense and feel the apathy, agony and discrimination they have been facing.

In my opinion you should not delay this test. See for yourself how life can change in just those 25 minutes. All the best!

(Sahil Makkar is a reporter with IANS. He can be contacted at [email protected])