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Getting Tested

It was back in the early 90s and I was working with an HIV/AIDS service organization. I recall discussing the topic of getting tested with some of my colleagues and clients in a group setting when one client asked if I had ever been tested. Not ever having been tested or engaged in any form of “dangerous” sexual activity or ever shared a needle, I felt “safe”. There was nothing for me to worry about, right? I called Harlem Hospital and scheduled an appointment.

I recall driving to my appointment and the anxiety that overcame me. I brushed my worries to the side. I have always been described as one who worries too much. I arrived at Harlem Hospital, signed the “guest” book, took my seat and waited to be called. I recall seeing a few people walking out of what I later discovered to be a social worker’s office. Some had tears in their eyes, others seemed very angry. My heart was racing a mile a minute. The list of people ahead of me seemed rather long.

My name was finally called. This was the moment of truth. A lab technician escorted me into a room and proceeded to draw some blood. The whole process must have taken no more than 30 minutes. Remember, this was back in the 90s. He asked me to wait in the room and said someone would be back to talk to me as he walked out.

A few minutes later, another man walked into the room, handed me some pamphlets on HIV/AIDS, safe sex, condom use, and material of that nature as he proceeded to ask me a series of questions and write in my chart. At the end of the discussion, I was told to return in 6 weeks for my test results.

As I drove home, my heart began to beat much faster, and I again pushed all my anxieties to the side. I did not know who to talk to or confide in. I must confess – those 6 weeks of waiting were the longest 6 weeks of my young life. I felt as though I was on death row waiting for my executioner who was taking his time to execute me. I recall having a terrible cold that would not go away after two days. It was followed by intense headaches. Were these the signs of HIV pneumonia or just my mind playing tricks on me?

Six weeks passed by and I called the hospital for my test results. The person who answered the telephone would not give me my results over the phone, but insisted that I come in right away. If he had to insist, then it could be nothing but bad news. I returned to the clinic – alone! I did not want to share my fate with anyone – especially if it was going to be bad news.

I recall the drive seemed much longer than before or was it simply because I drove rather slowly. I recall the anxiety, the panic attack, the trickle of sweat that flowed down the side of my head. This time, I wanted to know why I was feeling this way. The reason, I realized, was simple. What if my test results came back HIV positive? What would I do? I immediately began to think of all the intimate relationships I had ever been in (I could count them on one hand).

I thought of that mosquito bite I had on my arm (we used to think you could contract the virus from the bite of a mosquito since it transmitted blood from one individual to another)… I thought of the kisses I had given (no one was absolutely sure back then if you could contract HIV from a kiss, but we were all told that it was transmitted through body fluids)… Then I recalled a public service announcement I heard over the radio or saw on television. It said something to the effect that where HIV is concerned, you should not only be leery of the person you are intimate with, (especially if you do not know their sexual history and you did not use a condom), but you should consider the fact that your partner may have been intimate with others before you (who did not use a condom and may have the virus), who in turn may have been intimate with others (who did not use a condom and may have the virus), who in turn may have been intimate with others (who did not use a condom and may have the virus), who in turn may have passed the virus from person-to-person, without even knowing it. My eyes opened wider and I thought, “my God, based on that rationale, I must have been intimate with hundreds [if not thousands] of people and that makes me a definite candidate for contracting the virus.

I thought of my girlfriend who was not HIV positive. What if I had infected her? What could I possibly say to her parents, her siblings? What would I tell my parents, my family? Who is going to acknowledge having passed the virus to the other? And at this stage, do you blame each other or point fingers or simply seek medical intervention? I thought of all the people I knew who had been infected and had passed away so quickly (remember, this was in the late 80s and early 90s and people were dropping dead like flies all around us). Was this going to be the same manner in which I was going to kick the bucket? What a bummer, I thought. I could not die like this. I recall an adage I had heard in church many times before and tried to hold fast to my faith for dear life… “I ain’t gonna die yet ‘cause God ain’t done with me,” or words to that effect…

I recall pulling up across the street from the clinic. My legs wobbled as I walked toward the clinic’s entrance. It was as though they were expecting me when I walked through the white swinging doors. When my name was called, I was ushered into a room. It was the same room I had seen those other patients come out of when I visited the clinic the first time. The male social worker excused himself but returned a few seconds later with a female social worker. The door shut behind them as they sat in metal folding chairs before me. The male social worker spoke while his colleague listened. “This is a condom”, he said. “This is how you put it on. Blah, blah, blah”, as he proceeded to demonstrate over a plastic banana. I must confess – I was completely oblivious to everything going on around me. I was not listening nor was I interested in anything that was being said. All I wanted to know was if I was going to live or die!

Their rehearsed speech seemed to go on for eternity when in truth it only lasted about ten minutes. I could take it no more. I stood up, turned toward the speaker and said… “look, with all due respect, I appreciate your speech, but I will walk out of here right now if you don’t give me my test results! I can’t take this torturous wait any longer!”

The male social worker turned to look at his colleague (who I later discovered was his supervisor), opened my file and said, “You are HIV negative.” My anxieties left immediately. It felt like a heavy load had just been lifted off my shoulders. I felt like I had just won the lottery! What a sigh of relief… The social worker continued. ‘While you have tested negative, we insist that you come back in 6 weeks to be retested. You could be asymptomatic”. Again, the anxieties returned just as quickly as they had disappeared but I was not going to allow this new revelation to sap away my joy.

Six weeks later, I returned for another test. This time I was much more relaxed. Six weeks later, my test results came back – HIV negative!

I asked the social worker why he had allowed the suspense and tension to build up in me. His response was, “that’s how we are trained.” Remember, this was back in the early 90s. Twenty plus years later, I am still HIV negative but now make it a habit of getting tested each time I take my annual physical. Perhaps more importantly however, I encourage all my clients and friends to get tested BEFORE they become intimate with a new partner. If you must have sex, INSIST on using a condom (especially if you are not sure of your partner’s sex history). Contrary to what some of your ignorant friends may tell you, you WILL NOT die if you abstain from sex!!

If I can just say one more thing to anyone reading this, that is this – It’s okay to be afraid. Conquer your fear! If you don’t know your HIV status, you cannot take action, and if you do have it, you may be unknowingly spreading the disease. Don’t die of ignorance. Get Tested and Take Action!!


HIV Testing

Years later and more than 99 percent accurate, the OraSure test is the only FDA approved oral fluid HIV test in the world. It is quick (takes only three minutes to complete) and requires no needles, no blood and no risk.

OraSure is an oral fluid system, not a saliva test. It draws antibodies out of the cheek and gum in oral mucosal transudate (OMT), which contains high levels of IgG antibodies, providing a rich sample for HIV-1 testing. OraSure overcomes impurities found in saliva.

To find out more about the OraSure test, visit the OraSure website.


Home HIV Testing

Visit Home HIV Testing — The Good and the Bad courtesy of The Body, the complete HIV/AIDS resource.


Other FREE Testing Locations

Many places offer HIV testing including local health departments, private doctors’ offices, hospitals, and sites specifically set up to provide HIV testing. It is important to get tested at a place that also provides counseling about HIV and AIDS. Counselors can answer any questions you might have about risky behavior and ways you can protect yourself and others in the future. In addition, counselors can help you understand the meaning of the test results and tell you about AIDS-related resources in your area.

CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once as part of their routine health care. Testing once a year (or more frequently) is recommended for people at high risk of the virus, such as gay and bisexual men, injection drug users, or people with multiple sexual partners.

It is important to learn your HIV status and that of your partners because studies have shown that when people find out they are living with HIV, they take steps to protect their health and that of their partners. Furthermore, once you learn your status, if you find out that you have HIV infection, you can seek medical care that can reduce the impact of HIV on your health, substantially increase your lifespan, and improve your quality of life.

CDC-INFO can answer questions about testing and can refer you to testing sites in your area. You can also search the National HIV Testing Resources (a service of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) for a list of sites in your area.

You may call 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636); TTY: 1-888-232-6348 for assistance in English or in Spanish (en Espanol) 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to locate an HIV or STD testing site near you or text your zip code to KNOWIT (566948).


HIV Testing Resources

For a listing of HIV Testing Resources, please visit our HIV/AIDS Resource Directory.



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