I did the HIV test: June 1994

Fear of societal stigma and discrimination often keeps people from getting tested for HIV. (Photo by Peter Caton for India HIV/AIDS Alliance

Fear of societal stigma and discrimination often keeps people from getting tested for HIV. (Photo by Peter Caton for India HIV/AIDS Alliance)

It was one of those moments. Alone at home, I looked up the number for a diagnostic lab close by. When I got there, my heart skipped a beat to see the words: ‘HIV ELISA TEST’ jump out at me from the signboard. This was 1994, and I was scared. I wasn’t quite sure if I was ready to hear the result.

The clinic was a set of three rooms, full of grimy lab stuff, cheap plastic decor that was as depressing as it was tasteless. The secondhand magazines strewn around only added to my sense of gloom.

As I approached the counter, my head was in a spin. I thought I was running fever. Then someone asked me, “Yes, what are you here for?” I was directed to a small room where the lab technician asked me, “ELIZA for?” I answered shakily, “For HIV.” The room came to a halt. At least a couple of people turned around to stare at my face.

Here I was telling for the first time – to a bunch of strangers, amid bandages, rubbing alcohol, syringes, and pictures of smokers’ lungs and brains on drugs – that I needed an HIV test. And they were outright insulting to me. I felt humiliated.

But we needed to get back to the business at hand. Other people waited their turns too, so I extended my arm and the nurse took my blood. After a few moments, she withdrew the needle and placed my bar-coded specimen in a pass-through cabinet on the wall. It was over; I was done.

I got no counseling about what an HIV test was and what it meant to get a positive or negative result. When I went to collect my result, I was met with the same attitude of disdain. An envelope containing my result was literally thrown in my direction and that was it.

Back home, out of relief, I put on a favorite song. I did conquer my demons around HIV that day. But more importantly, I promised myself that I will never let anyone treat me the way that clinic did. It’s a promise I have kept.

__________________________

The author of this post, Shaleen Rakesh, serves as Director of Technical Support at India HIV/AIDS Alliance. He initiated the fight against Section 377 of Indian Penal Code while on staff at the Naz Foundation (India) Trust in 2001. A collection of his poems, The Lion and The Antler, was recently published.

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