A cloud of light

My HIV story

Spring of 1990 I was diagnosed with HIV – AIDS. I was 24 years old and I was in prison; remanded in custody for illegal drug possession. Even though I was examined by a forensic medic and it was proved I was a drug user I was kept in prison until the day I was diagnosed.

It was already over a month that I was locked up and I started exercising daily in order to release my energy and my nerves for the turn my life had taken. As I started taking care of my body I noticed some bumps at my neck under the skin like nodules. I visited the prison doctor and he referred me to a hospital for further examination. I remember with a smile now, how ‘happy’ I was to get out of prison, even if it was going to be in a police van with handcuffs on my wrists.

I was going to eat chocolate, yeah! I never really understood why they were forbidden in prison; Chocolates that is. The big day arrived, it was Spring, the Greek sun was shining, bathing us with a blessing warmth and I was looking out of the van the people and the busy streets of the city. We arrived at the hospital so the policemen took me to the doctors. They examined my ‘nodules’ and straight away asked me if I lost weight lately.

Of course I had lost weight, I was a drug user my mind was not on food really. They didn’t seem they listened to my reasoning –for some reason I felt I wanted to protect myself. Why did they wear masks and gloves and all this ‘stuff’? They then asked me if I ever took an HIV test. WHAT? Why should I? This was the level of my ignorance and it reflected well enough the lack of information those years. I started trembling. Did I want to take the test? I hardly heard myself saying ‘yes’.

Back in my cell isolated my mind felt empty and lost. I don’t remember much from the days waiting the results until one evening I was called to get ready next morning to visit the hospital. When I was climbing in the van I heard the guards saying that we are going to a different hospital than the one I was examined. Suspicion started crawling into my thoughts.

Why? I felt like a child in the ‘Dismaland’; awe and fear and worry and surprise all mixed up making my heart freeze. I was guided in a door, the guard knocked the door and put me in a small room with an office and an examination bed. Behind the desk, two doctors were sitting side to side tight close with each other. I thought that the picture was odd. I sat on a chair and they said “we have the results from your HIV AIDS test.” I thought “why do you have it and not the doctors who examined me in the first place?” but I didn’t say a word. I was numb. I don’t remember talking at all.

One of them said that the test came out positive… I wasn’t hearing much anymore, the main thing I remember is the light of the sun coming from the window, diminishing everything else. I was floating in a cloud of light in some messy tiny examination room with two older doctors looking at me with sympathy. Yes, they were polite and good with me. When I opened my mouth, I heard myself asking “am I going to die soon?” And the younger of them doctors said “not sooner than us I suppose”.

I thought that his attempt to give me hope is not successful. I was already dying. He said that they would keep me in the hospital in order to do a second test, further examinations and most importantly to keep me away from the physically and psychologically unhealthy environment of prison.

Then he asked me “do you mind if I call some trainee doctors to be present in the examination?” “No,” I said but the truth is I didn’t want anyone to come and see me and know that I have AIDS! I didn’t dare though to say no. I felt obliged to the doctors, like I had to do everything they tell me to do. The already tiny room filled up with white robes.

The most embarrassing thing is that the doctor asked me to walk with only my underwear to check my balance. And all these eyes on me. At that moment. It was a torture I didn’t understand ‘now that I’m dying’. They finished at some endless point and they asked for a full body MRI scan.

The guards were crossed. While walking me to the scan room they were talking about me having influence or pulling strings to just stay out of prison and now they had to spare one person 24/7 to guard me in the hospital. The doctor asked from the guard to take the handcuffs off. But even the fact that I was walking around the corridors of the hospital full of people with some policemen around me was enough to feel as embarrassed as ever.

The whole morning passed with exams and exams. In the end they guided me in my room. It was a big room with three empty beds. I took the bed by the big window. I didn’t think to call anyone, no one knew that I was dying. I was alone in a big empty hospital room with a guard outside the door. All the nurses in that ward were wearing plastic covers on their shoes and masks and gloves and plastic aprons. I felt like I was in a futuristic movie and I am the infected parasite. I didn’t cry. Not once. Not even at night.

A very young policeman changed the guard in the evening and he came in my room without knocking –that was not ok for me! – he checked the window, he saw that it can open and he handcuffed me at the bed rail. Not that I was sleepy, but I was exhausted and I might just faint into a blessed sleep if I didn’t have those handcuffs tighten me up with the bed. It was a hell of a night and I didn’t cry!

The shock was bigger than tears.

Early in the morning the doctor came in my room and when he saw the handcuffs he went ballistic. “Take them off.” he shouted at the guard, which he did, saying that he saw my eyes very sad and he was afraid that I might drop myself out of the window on the seventh floor. Something I never thought to be honest.

The next days I was told that my health is fine and I was put on AZT. My main concern became to keep quiet about my health. The stigma was devastating; I didn’t want anyone to know and the doctor had said my father. The same doctor few weeks later abused me sexually, but this is another story. I remained in the hospital without any serious reason for it, just because the doctor was keeping me away from prison. While in the hospital, I was granted bail out and I could go home.

Only my father knew and he didn’t want anyone to know. They said some lies to my mum and sister and he made me promise that I would keep my mouth shut. I was just following whatever others were saying. I couldn’t have a voice and I thought I was guilty enough for contracting HIV to have an opinion about my life. Hence,
I allowed the doctor to take advantage of my vulnerability.

Many years have passed, twenty five. I’m here, healthier than ever,
my whole family knows, my friends know, but still many people don’t know like my colleagues for example. I don’t feel I have to tell all these people. It’s none of their business. I keep it in a “need to know” basis. That is good enough. I have forgiven the doctor, my father and so many other people for basically their fear and ignorance.

My HIV status is not the most important thing in my life anymore. It is not the last thing I think before I sleep or the first thing I think when I wake up. Life has been taking over a long time ago.