This Friday the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership on HIV/AIDS (CBMP) hosts its 5th annual Regional Testing Day. It's a chance for all of us to know our status as well as reflect on what testing means to us. In today's blog a young adult reflects on her testing history.
I was born the year before the first HIV case was diagnosed in my country. I watched those ‘get high, get stupid, get AIDS’ PSAs on the lone local TV station. My parents warned ominously about “The Big A”.
In third form biology we did a project about HIV. In the name of research I sauntered to a cramped office downtown to get information on how it was transmitted and options for keeping safe. That’s when I got my first look at condoms. It’d be a couple years before I’d use them but I got an early sense of what they were and how they worked.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like not to presuppose that the person you’re having sex with might be HIV positive. The first person I made love to was no Cassanova but he did tell me this: ‘Protect yourself no matter what’. For me it has always been love in the time of HIV.
The upshot of that is that testing is old hat. It’s just something you do when you are sexually active, I thought. You use condoms. You get a pap smear. You know your status.
I’m a little surprised now by how casual I was about it all. At 17 I went to the major testing clinic in the city. Indoors with the doctor there were blush-inducing questions about my burgeoning sex life. Then came tense moments for filling small vials of blood. Results were ready in a few weeks. The entire process—the thought, the questions, the information, the waiting—reminded me that HIV was real and it could happen to me.
Since then I’ve gotten tested lots of times. When I fell in love. When I had a baby. When I got life insurance. A few years ago I heard that our country offered rapid testing sites with pre and post-test counselling and results in just 15 minutes so I had to learn more.
I was amazed at the progress. I could go to a health centre. Nobody had to know why I was there. Then, in one private and convenient chapter, I reviewed my sexual decision-making since my last test and was reminded of the facts surrounding HIV. Just a couple drops of blood were taken from my index finger and placed on the two testing instruments. (They look a little bit like pregnancy tests.) Then there’s a fleeting wait.
The other day I saw Ministry of Health testing trucks parked downtown with a line of waiting people snaking under the sun. What the hell, I figured. It’s been a while. I should get tested again. The people in the line swapped stories. One of them has been having unprotected sex with a new girl and wanted to know what was what. A woman had caught her lover with another woman. I’ve been mundanely monogamous but if it’s one thing that’s been hammered into my head all my life it’s that you just never know.
At one point a car slows and the driver pokes fun at the man in front of me.
“Uncle,” he says, “I have to watch you different. You aint easy.”
Uncle blushes a little. And it occurs to me that for people raised in another time, getting tested for HIV might be a big deal.
What do you think? Is there a difference between the way young and older people treat with HIV testing? What about you? How do you feel about finding out your status? Leave your comments or share your story.
Photos taken at World AIDS Day 2011 public testing site in Port of Spain, Trinidad. (Photo credit: UNAIDS Caribbean)