[image source: http://www.stigmaconference.nih.gov/images/stigma.jpg]
I was invited by DOH (The Department of Health - Philippines) to talk about my experience as a person living with HIV (PLWHA) on the topic of Stigma and Discrimination. I scouted my head of the lasting memory of my experience finding out the truth about my HIV status.
Later part of the year 2007. I was on the top of the list of people who were accepted to work for one (if not the biggest) biggest oil manufacturer in the world. I was the only person who receives the maximum offer the company can give.
As a requirement, I had to go through all the application process, including the medical examination. The agency handling out application referred me to another agency who decides which clinic I should go to for my med exams. After filling all the form, submitting several pictures… my name was called. I was assigned a date and an address to go to.
Then the day came for me to have my physical exam. The small private clinic I was assigned to have a general feel of depression. The building is situated somewhere in Morayta, Manila. The interior is close to a dungeon for being dark and the walls were painted, enough not to qualify as a cave. Although the office generally looked like a stereotypical government office with all the papers and folders are stacked in one side of the room and the table are positioned in a manner that looked like barricades, they still have a fancy looking cashier window and a neat looking laboratory.
Anyway, I went through the medical examination process, paid an insanely expensive fee and took several pen and paper based exams. One paper I filled out particularly asked me (in text form) if I am ok for my blood to be tested for HIV. That was the only paper work that took the bulk of my time.
I was thinking. I didn’t want these people to test my blood for the presence of HIV. I am concerned that if I test positive, there is a chance I won’t be able to get the job. On the other hand, if I don’t agree to take the blood testing, I won’t be able to get the job either. So what options do I really have? So I ticked the box that said “yes”.
To cut the story short. I tested positive and didn’t get the job. It was sad… the part that I wasn’t able to go abroad for the job. It was supposed to be my redemption and it’s all gone. The HIV part didn’t sink until I was prescribed to take ARV meds (Antiretroviral Meds), that’s another story.
The crazy part of this whole “finding-out-my-HIV-status” tale is that I was informed of my HIV status by the clinic’s messenger. How? I received a text message from him asking me to return to the clinic since my blood tested positive.
When I returned to the clinic, the doctor who was explaining the result to me was talking gibberish (I don't understand a single word she was talking about, too technical and medical sounding). She was agonizing herself by going around the bush and trying to sugar coat what she wanted to say that can simply be explained using three letters – HIV (I expected more professionalism from Doctors, hence I don’t see the reason to sugar coat information). And to top it all, she was breaking the news to me in the middle of the room, perfect spot for everyone to hear.
What’s with these people? messenger and Doctor having the same level of etiquette? I didn’t mean to sound condescending there, but I felt mistreated.
Tomorrow, I will stand in front of Doctors, Registered Nurses, Health Workers and clinic owners to about these experiences… but I will be expressing more details and emotions of course (that’s just how I am when it comes to story telling).
I hope to make a difference.