Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The torture of testing for HIV after five years of debauchery

There is something incredibly nerve-wracking about going for an HIV test after a long period of recklessness. I have written about how seeing a doctor for an occasional check-up can feel like a date with the hangman. Well, you can scrap that now.

That feeling is nothing compared to the chills that are running down my spine this morning as I make my way to Tebelopele for a visit that has been five years in the making. For some reason I have finally garnered enough courage to face up to my demons. Until now my philosophy towards testing for HIV has always been simple, “don’t get tested unless you experience some health problems suggesting you might be infected”. But five years is way too long.

My normal weekday starts with the heart breaking sound of the clock-alarm, followed by 30 minutes of contemplation as I struggle to prise myself off my comfortable bed. But this Thursday, June 5th, is a little different. I managed to beat the alarm, and couldn’t have left the bed any faster. You see, I wanted to get this over with. Three hours later, here I am at the doors of the pink, two storey building that houses the Tebelopele Voluntary Testing and Counselling Centre.

A young woman sits on the front desk with her hair held back in a nice ponytail that accentuates her pretty facial features. On any other day, under different circumstances, I would probably have tried to get her contacts. But not this time; my whole life is on the line. She is busy folding what looks like those little Tebelopele passports on which they stamp the results of your test.

I greet her and tell her that I am here for my HIV test, and she gestures me towards the waiting room behind the reception.

In join the queue and wait nervously. There are about 15 people sitting cinema style in the waiting room, all eyes glued to the screen in front. A sense of de javu hits me as I realise they are watching the same movie I was made to watch during my previous visit here in May, 2009; Leon Schuster’s There’s a Zulu on My Stoep.

I sit behind what looks like a couple, and wait for my turn. The silence is uncomfortable and is occasionally interrupted by a nervous giggle as someone tries to enjoy a funny movie in a scenario that is not funny at all. There is something tragic-comedic about trying to watch a funny movie in a place that is at the least tormenting. A few seconds after settling down my mind strays away from the movie as I start pondering on the possible outcome of my test. A little slide show is rolling out at the back of my mind as I, surprisingly vividly; recall my indiscretions of the last five years.

Every incident is carefully scrutinised for possible signs of recklessness. What’s the point, it’s too late for regrets- I think to myself. After a few minutes of fidgeting from chair to chair the moment of reckoning finally arrives. The lady leads me into the counselling room where she asks a couple of rudimentary questions.

“When last did you test?” Is the first question, followed by “have you circumcised?” We go on to chat about my past relationships, reasons I finally decided to test, and all the nitty-gritties about sex and HIV/AIDS. She shows me a paper spread across the desk with pictures of the test kits depicting both the negative and positive scenarios. Then it’s time to draw some blood.
She sends me to another room where her colleague, also a woman, draws my blood.

“Just relax, it will be over before you know it”, she assures me as she massages the tip of my index finger with a piece of cotton, pricks and leaks a few drops onto the small holes of two test kits.
“Go back to the waiting room. Your results will be ready in 15 minutes,” she says.

I return back to watch Rhino and Zulu and pretend to enjoy their theatrics in the movie. There are now 21 new faces in the waiting room. Welcome to hell, I think to myself.

The movie finally ends, and the credits are rolling up as I get the dreaded call. The nervousness reaches its peak as I make my way back to the counselling room. Meanwhile, at the end of the hallway there is a door leading to the back of the building and in my mind I am thinking, “that’s the door I’m gonna use should the results be less than favourable. I wouldn’t risk all those 21 people finding out I failed the test. No way.”

We are back in the counselling room as I sit across the counsellor again. “Open it”, she says as she places a closed metallic container before me. The slide-show returns. The crazy moments start replaying again in my mind. My pulse rises. I’m almost close to tears. “How could I have been so stupid? Lord, please have mercy and give me a second chance”, I say a little prayer. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, I open the container and …the rest is history. Go get tested.

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