10 Minutes.

I was tested for HIV last week. There was no specific reason that prompted me to be tested; it had been a year or so and I felt it was the right thing to do. I believe everyone should be tested on a regular basis, regardless of your sexual orientation or the type of activity you engage in. It’s probably easiest when the test is integrated into your yearly physical. This time mine was not.

When I was tested last year, the test was included in the blood tests associated with my physical. The doctor didn’t prompt me to be tested for HIV or anything so I specifically requested it because it had been a long time and while I don’t engage in any sort of dangerous sexual activity, I know in the back of my mind that sex isn’t the only way of contracting HIV. So my doctor included the test in the whole screening thing; I had blood drawn and then had to wait 10 days for the results. To obtain my status I had to report to the doctor’s office for the news. This is a customary procedure. It was much easier than the first time I was tested back in 1990. Then I had to wait three weeks for my results (and several hours in the waiting room at the Chautauqua County health clinic).

This time I decided to go to the local health clinic for my test. I hadn’t been to this county clinic for an HIV test since the mid 1990s but the procedure is somewhat the same: you walk in during a certain time frame on a certain day, take a number, speak to no one about anything and then sit in the waiting room amongst all the others that have just taken a number. There is a wide smattering of people usually found in the waiting room; this time there were people of varying races, colours, sexual orientations and one woman that was having difficulty reading the word “vaginal” from a pamphlet about STDs. She chose to sound the word out aloud by saying “vag”, “vajuh”, “vajunohl” and then she finally got it. I’m glad she did because I wanted to stand up and help her by yelling “vaginal”, “vaginal”, “it’s vaginal!” but I refrained from this. She was ticking off the STD tests she was going to get as if she was going through the drive-thru and yelling into a speaker. It was shortly afterwards that a woman came out of one of the exam rooms and barked my number: “5”!

I was asked why I was there and then shuffled to a counselor that specialises in HIV counseling and testing. She explained that the new test now takes just 10 minutes. She would prick my finger as if I were doing a daily diabetes/blood sugar test, put it on the special stick and then talk to me whilst we waited for the results. She would only do this if I signed a form stating that I would not commit suicide if the results were positive because if that were the case, they would then do the older style test with the tube of blood and send it off to the state for more testing. I signed the consent form, provided some further information and then she did the finger prick.

She talked about safer sex, I talked about safer sex and she seemed slightly uncomfortable with my frankness on the subject but remained entirely professional. She was only concerned about my sexual activity for the past six months so I couldn’t regale her with my colourful history of trapezes, summer breezes and other adventures from days gone by (sorry, Mom). Before I knew it she declared 10 minutes were up and gave me my results.

People may wonder why I am being tested for HIV or why I feel it’s an important thing for everyone to do. I have dear friends that I love and others folks that I know that are HIV positive and while they live a healthy existence courtesy of modern science and will most likely continue to do so, I can guarantee that they will tell you that their life is more complicated, more costly and that they would probably rather be HIV negative instead of HIV positive. Being HIV positive does not take the worry of unsafe sex practices away. I knew a person that contracted HIV through a blood transfusion; I know others that didn’t practice safer sex and was infected by someone that didn’t share their status with them beforehand. I know one that just didn’t give a damn and was infected. While HIV can be mostly controlled these days, it can not be eradicated (though there are promising strides being made).

I believe that living my life honestly and striving to set a good example by contributing to the world I am making a difference somehow, somewhere. And I believe by sharing the fact that I was tested for HIV in an hour’s time at a local clinic and received my results the very same day, that I will make a difference in someone’s life with this information.