It was April 14, 2006, I was sitting in the UCF campus clinic only a freshman in college when the doctor told me I tested positive for HIV. The doctor from the clinic sent my information to my health care provider so I had been expecting a call. What I didn’t expect was to be judged by the person who was supposed to help me.
I guess he was having a bad day or something because the first time he called, he immediately started chewing me out, “What were you thinking sleeping with all these men” and just dogging me out. Thirty-two seconds. That’s how long it took for him to call back. I was in tears but I remember because I had to count to calm myself down. It was the health care provider calling to apologize for what he said minutes earlier. He was like, “Oh my God, I just did the math on the year you were born. You have to be 18 or 19. I’m so sorry for what I said.”
I got HIV from the love of my life. I'm Denise, a Hispanic woman originally from Venezuela. He was a sweet and funny Latin Musician, a Nuyorican I met here in South Florida. We fell madly in love, but the year after he proposed to me, he started getting tired all the time and became very sick. When he finally went to the doctor with white lesions on his lips, he discovered he had HIV/AIDS. The news was a shock for both of us, and my husband believed he had been infected by a former girlfriend who never informed him of her status.
I wasn't in a hurry to find out if I had HIV because I was physically very healthy and working full-time while also caring for my husband when he became too sick to work. Because I was so healthy, the doctors thought I might be negative and said they'd seen cases where one partner is positive, and the other is negative. When my husband's health started rapidly declining four months after his diagnosis, that's when I decided to get an HIV test. My test came back positive for HIV.
I was dating somebody back in 1994 when I found out I was HIV positive. We both went to get tested, and I was the one with the bad news. At that time, I was disgusted and felt dirty - I wanted to shower in bleach! It took me a long time after finding out before I would even be intimate with anybody because I didn't want to put anybody through that. And so, disclosing my status hasn't always been easy for me because when I've shared my status in the past, sometimes I've been told things like I'm "not clean." And when you really, really like somebody, and there's chemistry, having to drop that bomb can be a very uncomfortable conversation whether or not the other person is HIV positive.
Once I was dating this doctor, and we were getting along great - the chemistry was incredible! Knowing that he was a medical professional, it seemed safe and that he understood once I did have that conversation with him. But soon afterward, he broke up with me saying he didn't want to get involved with somebody who could die. I had a hard time processing his ignorant statement because I didn't plan on dying, and he could've been hit by a bus tomorrow. But you learn to pick up and go on, and eventually, you come to terms with, okay, this is your life now, and you just got to deal with it. You realize that if you really like a person, then you should also be caring about their health and well-being and do anything to ensure that. That's why I always recommend disclosing your status. It's not about a quick experience. It's about caring for this person and having that conversation because you obviously want them in your life.
I have been arrested 3 times in South Florida and have been living on the streets here since being released from prison about 4- months ago. I’m a 33-year-old African American male who has worked hard to get my bachelor’s in Fine Arts, I trained as a ballet dancer, and I’m HIV+. Just before I graduated college, I fell in love with a man and we moved in together not that long after. We had a great time, in the beginning, going out and partying as much as we could. That was how I got started on meth and eventually became addicted. After my 3rd time in jail, I realized that I wasn’t in control of my life anymore and that I couldn’t remember the last time I heard from a friend.
I also found out later that my boyfriend had a drinking problem. When he was diagnosed with cancer, I knew it was time to do something to take care of myself! We broke up because the drug use was getting in the way, and he didn’t seem to want to take care of himself anymore. After the breakup, I found myself on the streets and in homeless shelters, surviving on the handouts people gave me.
I wish I could go back in time and educate myself about HIV transmission. I wasn’t taking care of myself and I didn’t know how much of a risk I was putting myself in regarding HIV. I used to only have sex with people who said they were negative because I trusted that they knew their status. I never had sex with anyone who said they were undetectable because I thought that I could still get the virus from them. I didn’t realize that the people who said they were HIV negative but didn’t actually know their status, were more of a threat. So, since I thought they were HIV negative, I never used or asked a lover to use a condom during sex.
I was stunned to find out I had contracted the virus after a routine HIV test. Everything I knew about HIV and its transmission was wrong. It was then that I realized that if I wanted to change my life for the better, I had to start immediately. I needed to work on myself.
No one could have ever prepared me for the death of my dad. I couldn’t handle losing someone so close and just when I was starting to cope, my grandma died soon after. I wanted to withdraw from the world, from everyone and everything. I was consumed by my depression but that wasn’t the only thing that plagued my mind. Around that time, I remember having a sexual encounter that had me seriously concerned for my health.
I didn’t use a condom, so I knew there was a possibility I could have contracted HIV. I kept putting off getting tested because the idea of being HIV positive and having to deal with my dad’s death felt so overwhelming at the time. I had been confiding in a close friend of mine and he insisted I get tested. After talking about it for weeks, I finally decided to follow through and we drove to a testing facility together. I was hoping my suspicions were just suspicions but the test results came back and my intuition was right – I was HIV positive. I started medication almost immediately and it has been a part of my daily regimen ever since.
It came out of nowhere. I could barely breathe and there was an intense pain in my chest. I tried laying down but that hurt. I tried getting out of bed but that hurt too. The pain became so unbearable that I finally went to the hospital. After drawing my blood and running some tests, the doctor told me that the pain I was experiencing was heart inflammation. I was sure it was from installing drywall, painting houses and inhaling all these dangerous fumes without wearing a mask.
The heart inflammation was surprising in itself, but what the doctor said next left me in shock. He informed me that my blood work came back and that I tested positive for HIV. Not only was I on bed rest for weeks from the heart inflammation, I was stuck in a hospital room with nothing but my negative thoughts trying to process the fact that I had HIV.
Looking back, I guess it shouldn’t have been such a surprise. I’d been running the streets, smoking and selling dope since I was a teenager. My addiction to crack cocaine led me to a point where I couldn’t even recognize myself in the mirror and I eventually found myself making reckless choices when it came to my health. I would see these females getting high and sometimes they would have sex with me in exchange for drugs or money. Most days I was so high I didn’t even bother or care to wear a condom.
My biggest fear in life is that I wouldn't be loved. So, I put all my energy into acting to assume the role my perfect Jewish family wanted me to live. My name is Richard, but I honestly didn't know who Richard was. When I was 6 years old, I wondered if I was the only boy in Boston who preferred looking at boys and their muscles - this made me feel like the loneliest person in the world. As I grew older, I eventually gave up on developing my role as the perfect son and left for New York in my early twenties. There I discovered that people accepted me for who I was, and when I got promoted to Director at my company, it was proof a gay boy could become successful. I realized that being gay was not an illness as my mother had called it. However, at age 53, I was surprised to find out I had contracted an actual illness - I was HIV positive!
I’ll never forget it: the date was November 17, 2006, and I was in jail for drug charges.
A lady was doing HIV testing at the prison, and I’d wanted to get tested for a while just to know; but I also had this “feeling” lately, because I’d had symptoms of thrush and didn’t understand why. I wanted to die when she told me I was positive! I felt ashamed, because I knew that my addiction was behind the choices I’d made that brought me here.
She imagined herself floating through the middle of a gigantic donut with pink icing and sprinkles...
This is how Lizaa finally overcame her fear of going into the big, round MRI machine. For over two weeks, she had been trying to lay down on the MRI table for a necessary brain scan … without which her doctor had put her cancer treatment on hold.