Tuesday, April 11, 2006

HIV testing

OK this is my first (and most probably last) confessional style post:

I had my 4th HIV test today. The results were negative thankfully. I am a victim of medical research on the Internet: you tick off a couple of symptoms and imagine the worst case scenario (I also tested negative for bilharzia - that was someone leaving a comment on my blog after my swim in Usman Dam). I'm worried about my persistent malaria (the Internet also tells of a hypothetical malarial superbug evolving sometime soon, when artemesin combination therapy begins to lose its grip). I think its time to go for a long-term herbal solution and focus on a liver cleansing diet rather than go for yet more drugs. I will be well..

I had my first HIV test in Hull in 1989. I'd spent the summer after my A levels enjoying myself on a kibbutz in Israel (free love amongst the volunteers and with some of the very beautiful Israeli women). Aids was beginning to be a scary illness at that time, with talk of a potential pandemic. Someone had died from AIDS in my village in the mid 1980's, so the consciousness of having unsafe sex was around. I belong to the 'always wear a condom generation'; something a little harder to transfer to for guys in their 40's in my experience. I waited in the corridor for my results, musing on my fate. A nurse came up and said, "Its ok, you haven't got it. You can go now."

Obviously, HIV counselling has come a long way since then. I had my second test nearly two years ago in Abuja at the National Hospital. My immune system had crashed after malaria. I convinced myself that I was HIV positive. The day of collecting the results was hell. When I got the result and it said 'negative' for a few moments I wasn't sure whether that was good or bad. There'd been no rational reason to suspect I should be positive, it was just hyponchondria and paranoia mixed together in a vicious head spinning cocktail. I was so worried and confused about the worst case outcome that I couldnt think straight in the days leading up to the result.

The third test was done as a matter of course at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London last July, together with 10 other tests. Again, my immune system had crashed and I felt like my body was slowly shutting down on me. It turned out to be a cumulative resistance to wheat and gluten that had messed up my gut. As is widely known, one's immune system crashes when either the liver or the gut becomes inflamed or stressed. My immunity picked up after 3 months without bread (I still cannot stomach it). I had the fourth test today because of the malaria again. This time around, I was much more calm about the potentially bad news. I've managed to rationalise such prospects. How?

Well, first, I think its important to test for these things. Knowing means you can do something about it (at least if you are a privileged westerner). If I was a poor Nigerian, I'd probably prefer not to know, because knowing might hardly help - unless I had access to strong immune system boosting herbs (some of them seem to be just as good as ARV's from what people say). But being one of the privileged few, being positive these days doesn't really cut one's potential lifespan. There is solid understanding of how to keep the virus/bacteria resisting t-cells active and the viral load down using the classic combination therapies. Therefore, if there is anyone out there worried about their status, I recommend you steel yourself and go for the test. You can still lead a healthy normal life. Take responsibility for your body and don't be afraid.

The other thing I told myself is that we all are on a death sentence. Being positive is just a different form of sentence. Life is so short and precious. Its now time to address my many failings and see if I can become a better person. Like anyone else, I'm full of bad habits and zones of insensitivity But first, there's still this bloody falciparum to deal with. [confession over and out].


tobs 5:13 pm  

No offence Jeremy, but don't you think if you'd eaten a more varied diet than only vegan food that your immune system would be better? That is my immediate thought (I support you however in taking the test on a regular basis, and will gladly admit also that the first time is a bit scary).

St Antonym 5:23 pm  

Jeremy, there is no religion more noble than the daily realisation: "Today is another chance for me to be a better person."

Glad that you're alive, and that you have this awareness, and that you're bold enough to share it with others.

(And Tobs is right: a nice plate of amala with goat stew everynow and again wouldn't kill you...heh heh).

Jeremy 5:49 pm  

Hey tobs. No offence taken mate. I think a vegan diet may be a bit tricky here for a few reasons - in the West, you can eat acidopholous (active ingredient) soya yoghurt to keep the bacterial balance in the gut healthy. Also, sources of B12 and the omegas essential fatty acids are not readily available. Then there's missing the pleasures of soya ice cream (which is as tasty as cow ice cream these days). One day someone'll start to make soya ice cream in Nigeria and make a bomb. But we bring a lot of stuff over from the UK which keeps us going in all of the above. I think the real problem is when you get hit repeatedly with malaria it can knock you off your perch quite seriously..

Anonymous,  6:10 pm  

I don't think it's the vegan diet. I do know that it is said that those of us in the malaria zones always have some amount of the plasmodium parasite in our bloodstream. So, when we go for the test, what matters is not so much as the presence of the parasite as how much there is. However, I can guess (I may be wrong) that you have not lived in Nigeria for so long as to be classified into this category and I hope you get over this malaria stint once and for all. As for the HIV test, I feel quite bad that I've not made out time to go for a test, even if I feel like I'm not at risk. I have watched my best friend's parents die of this disease and every time I visit her country and stay in her house, I come back saying I'll go for the test, if only to show some solidarity with her pain and those of her younger ones. I hope to make out the time to go for a test soon, though.

Anonymous,  6:29 pm  

Hmm, I’m reading my comment again and it looks like something from a person living in fool’s paradise on the assumption that I’m not really at risk. I take it all back as I know that all the “abstinence” (you can get it from the dentist!), ‘being faithful” (what if your partner isn’t?), and “condomising” (some condoms do break or leak) sermons are not enough guarantees. I’ll take the HIV test… for ME, ‘cos there are no guarantees. And it’s in my own interest to take it. Thanks for the reminder, Jeremy.

j 6:34 pm  

No offence, but with this kind of
"NEWS" the scourge is very confusing.

Nkem 11:04 pm  

I'm actually due a test this week. Not because I'm a promiscuous bugger (who am I kidding), but because it makes sense.

Kingsley,  8:54 am  

I am a bit confused. You are married right? So you think you may have HIV? Surely (or should I say hopefully) you have been faithful to your wife and vice versa?

Being a realist (and a Nigerian) I know this is not necessarily the case. But by talking about this on your blog, surely you are more or less admitting that you think that there has been some form of infidelity in your union.

If this is so then I was mistaken. I thought you had totally gone completely native, but you have not; you haven't yet gotten the strong Nigerian sense of shame.

Anonymous,  10:19 am  

he he he! Kingsley, let the man be and stop reading 'syllogical' meanings into everything

Anonymous,  12:00 pm  

To Kingsley: I don't think marriage nor fidelity is a protection against HIV. There are different sources for infection. However, I think it is a sound decision to get tested whenever their is doubt especially persistance ill-health - at least you rule it out.

Jeremy 2:29 pm  

Exactly anonymous thank you. In the UK, once a needle has been used, it is stubbed on a hot plate to ruin it. It is rare to see such practice in Nigeria. Every time I have a blood test and see the needle and syringe being unwrapped from the packet, I have a fantom thought that the needle may have been used before and simply repackaged. Experts say that the HIV virus cannot last for a many minutes if infected blood is left on an object (it thrives in bodies, and dies outside them), but still, even 'educated' me has superstitions..

The point is, having an HIV test says nothing about one's stance on monogamy, polygamy, casual sex etc.

Kingsley,  8:28 am  

I am sorry if I caused any offence with my comment; I was just intrigued.

HIV test 2:15 am  

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