Do sane people ever walk themselves to a clinic to test for HIV? That was the question that crossed my mind yesterday as I sat opposite a female counselor at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) Ikeja to conduct a Voluntary HIV Counseling and Test (VCT). I had walked in confidently thinking I owed it to the world to know my HIV status. It wasn’t long into the conversation with the counselor that I began to think I might have made a mistake after all.
She had begun by asking what I knew about HIV. It sounded like a joke and I had proceeded to try and impress her.
“Oh well”, I coughed. “HIV is Human Immunodeficiency Virus”, I said smiling. She nodded her head. I felt she was impressed about my awareness. But who wouldn’t know what HIV means in this time and age when the media is awash with the message? Then she further.
“Can you tell me how it is contacted?” I felt this was an easy one and smiled. Then I tried to show off again.
“You see, I’ve known about HIV since secondary school in the early 90s”, I said.
“Please tell me how it is passed on”, she responded unimpressed.
“Through unprotected sex and sharing of sharp objects that could have been tainted with blood”, I replied, now more conscious of the fact that she was really serious.
She looks at me, eyeball to eyeball; “When you say through sex, do you know that you can have unprotected sex and not contact HIV?
“If you stick to an uninfected partner and have unprotected sex with her you won’t have HIV”, she told.
I was caught. My ignorance was exposed. “Oh yes, that’s true”, I tried to make up. “It only just escaped me”, I responded.
Then she went on about how the sharing of sharp objects could actually make one vulnerable. She talked of hair clippers, combs, razor blades, etc. But my mind suddenly went blank. I was no longer listening to her lecture. My mind then began to wander back into the past.
Suddenly I went down the lanes of my sex life. Every tiny detail flashed across my mind’s eye. Every time I had done the act without protection. The names, the time, the deed. There it was mocking me. And it was then I realized I had made a grave mistake coming to test for HIV. For nobody had forced my legs. I wasn’t referred by a doctor. It was just me that out of curiosity carried my bottom go there.
And then she asked; “What will you do if you turn out positive?”
I looked bewildered. For I had not thought about it before. For me, it had been an innocent act. It suddenly dawned on me that the test could go any way. Not because I have been very careless with my life but because I just realized how helpless my situation was. One could be infected by so many things not just by sex.
So she asked me again.
“I don’t know what I’ll do I”, I replied.
“Will you make it known to other people?” she asked.
“Can we just not talk about it again”, I begged.
“I understand how you feel”, she replied. “So many people come in here every day and don’t know what to expect.” Then she proceeded to lecture me on the several ways in which one can manage the disease these days without it affecting one’s regular lifestyle and job. She spoke of several bank managers and upwardly mobile people who are living with HIV though anonymously. She told me that the drugs were even now given to people free of charge!
So I signed the form empowering the hospital to test me for HIV even though my hands were shaking. Then I went for the test.
A male nurse used a needle to prick my right thumb. Bright red blood flowed. I couldn’t imagine the thought of HIV flowing in me. The nurse took a tiny sample and placed some wool against my thumb to stop the flow. He asked me to sit awhile that the result will some be out. I pick a seat alongside other anxious patients. Opposite us sat a group of patients who had come to receive their anti-retroviral drugs from the hospital. One man was narrating to the others how a local herbalist had tried to cheat him of some money with promise of a cure. He told them he has been feeling better since he started taking the drugs administered by the hospital.
The air conditioner blew cold air into the room. I waited. The batch before mine was called to get their results. One guy comes out clutching a piece of paper and crosses himself.
Moments later my batch is called in. We enter one after the other. I’m the first to enter and a new lady is in the counseling room.
“Are you Ololade Adewuyi?” she asks. I nod my head. I can’t speak; my tongue is, well, I’m tongue-tied.
“What happens if I’m positive”, I inquire mustering braveness into my voice.
“Wait till you get your result”, she replies.
She shuffles some papers on her desk, pulls out a rectangular paper the colour of pink. She looks at it and looks at me. My heartbeat races, I bow down my head.
“You’re negative”, she says.
I grab my result and walk out smiling. I cross myself. Then I do a little waltz. Then I notice it is sunny and bright outside the hospital.