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In God's Hands

A man's decision to get tested for HIV and his internal contemplations as he waits for the results.

By Fernando Castilla

 

Illustration by Miguel Angel Reyes


"Fernando, get over it! Get over your fear. Just do it. Take the test. You're not alone. You're courageous, a winner, and a survivor."

Over the past year or so, these words had repeatedly been spoken in my mind. These thoughts told me that I had a problem. My life was out of control, and I was unhappy because I was living in uncertainty. I was running away from a situation which caused me great fear and worry. I had to retake control of my life so I decided-for sanity's sake-to get tested for HIV.

Before I took the test, I had already made up my mind to be at peace with the results, good or bad. With this hope, I prayed and thanked God for all the wonderful blessings in my life. I made an appointment at a clinic in Pasadena that provided anonymous, confidential, and free HIV testing every Monday.

When the test day arrived, I was very nervous and scared. The clinic was large and kept nice and clean. Because it was a free clinic, I didn't expect it to be so nice. I signed in and took a seat in the waiting room. I was surprised that most of the people there were white and middle to upper class. The rest of us were a small mix of Latinos and a few blacks. The majority of the people were young, I'd say under 30 years of age, though there were a few in their 40s and 50s.

Although everyone remained calm as they waited for their names to be called, I could feel the tension all around me. I was nervous too, but I also felt a strong, warm, and confident feeling at the same time. It was as though we were all happy to finally be taking the HIV test. We were taking control of our lives, and we were all in this together. I felt like these people were a part of me somehow, just like a family.

To pass the time, I gathered a couple of magazines and informational pamphlets and I browsed through them. They had some very good information on AIDS, HIV testing services, counseling, organizations and group meetings.

When my number was finally called, I went into the testing room and greeted my tester. She was a very nice lady who had a motherly appearance about her. Her soft, friendly voice immediately put me at ease. She introduced herself and told me a little about the policy and procedures of the clinic. Then she asked the first of what seemed like an endless list of personal and private questions regarding my health, lifestyle, and sexual history. I felt a little embarrassed with some of the questions, but I tried to answer them all truthfully. I was ashamed at some of my answers, but I was not afraid to be honest. When she finished with the questions, she told me about the HIV test. I was surprised to learn that I was about to take a new oral test and not the common blood test. I was happy that I didn't have to get a shot, but I was also concerned about the reliability of the new test. She assured me it was just as accurate and much easier. So I took the dipstick that was in the little plastic container she gave me and rubbed it between my cheek and gum for about two minutes. When I was finished, my tester told me to place the dipstick back into the plastic container and seal it. I gave the container back to her and that was it. She asked me if I had any questions. I had a couple about the new test, but mostly I just told her about how I had been feeling about taking the test. I needed to talk to someone and she was nice to have taken the time to listen. She told me my results would be back in one week.

That evening, Monday, January 5, 1998, I arrived home very late from the clinic. I felt exhausted and ready for bed. I couldn't stop thinking about the test. I felt alone. I found myself wishing I could talk to my family or a friend about my day, but it was late, and I was sure they were all asleep. Besides, I knew I couldn't talk to my family because I was not "out" to them, and I didn't want to frighten them with this kind of news. A few of my close friends knew I was bisexual, but I hadn't been keeping in touch with them, and I couldn't impose on them now. But honestly, I guess I was trying to protect them from the worry and fear that someone they know and love could be HIV positive.

The remainder of the week was a very long wait. I was alone with no one to talk to. Although I had no problem performing my daily work assignments, a couple of my coworkers noticed a slight change in my behavior and asked me if I was all right. It was hard to act as though everything in my life was all right because deep down inside I feared that I might be HIV positive. That thought kept playing over and over again in my mind, and it was beginning to weigh me down negatively. The worry and stress made me feel exhausted most of the time. I tried to go about my daily chores of cooking, cleaning, and even watching TV as normally as possible, but this pretending that nothing was different was wearing thin. I didn't want anyone to worry or suspect so I went into seclusion-I didn't keep in touch with my family or any of my friends. I knew this was not healthy for me, but that's what I did.

As I counted the days before the results came back, I thought about all the people in my life that really mattered to me. I loved so many wonderful people: my family, my friends, and even this guy with whom I had just recently ended a short relationship. They were all part of my life and I hoped to someday tell them everything about me-about me taking an HIV test and also about my sexuality.

I also found myself hoping and praying to God for a negative result. But I didn't let my expectations get too high. I put the matter in God's hands. I clearly felt a sense of peace sweep over me every time I prayed. It helped me tremendously.

Finally, the Day arrived-tonight I would get my test results. I knew this would be one day I would never forget! I kept a journal about my whole experience-my decision to get tested and my thoughts and feelings-because I wanted to share my story with all of my family and friends someday.

I arrived at the clinic at 7:40 p.m. It was crowded that night-more so than the week before. Some of the faces were familiar so I figured that they were there to get their test results, too. I was surprised to see many couples- a mix of straight and QV ones. There was even a young girl there with her dad-how beautiful! I thought about how nice it would be to have any one of my family or friends with me.

I sensed much more tension tonight. I overheard someone in the next room say that the appointments were running behind schedule due to the high volume of patients. I noticed some patients who had just received their test results. They were really happy so I assumed that their test results were negative. Even though I didn't know them, I was really happy for them.

I became nervous. I felt like all my thoughts were in the moment-not yesterday, not tomorrow-just the present. I thought about how wonderful I would feel if I were negative. I would be thankful to God for all the blessings in my life. Then I thought how things would be if I were positive. I would still be thankful to God, but I would feel very sad. Nevertheless, I would be glad that I decided to get tested because at least I would know my HIV status.

It was 9:30 p.m. and I was still waiting. It had been a long night to say the least. I was tired and I wanted to go home. I checked the waiting list and saw that my turn was almost there! My stomach started to turn and the nerves got really bad. I wished they would hurry up!

At 10 p.m. I saw Janis, the tester, in the waiting room looking at the waiting list. "Is it my turn?" I wondered. Then for a brief moment there was silence. It was my turn-I could feel it. Sure enough, my name was called. Finally! By this time, I was more exhausted from waiting than I was nervous or afraid. I just want to get this over with. Janis and I went into the counseling room and sat down. She asked me if I had any questions. I had one: "What is my test result?" She asked me for my test receipt, so I gave it to her. She looked through a bundle of papers, pulled one out, looked at it carefully, and verified the ID numbers. She gently smiled and said, "Your HIV test is negative!" "Thank God!" I thought. I stood silent for a while because I couldn't speak. I wanted to hug her so badly for the good news she gave me, and then I felt like crying, but I didn't do either. Finally, I said very humbly, "Thank God!" I thanked Janis for being so empathetic and sensitive towards me. I got up to leave, and just as I was saying goodbye, a frightening thought hit me-it would only be a matter of time before I would have to get tested again. I realized that this would not be the first time I would have to go through this emotional fight. So I told myself that I would educate myself on HIV and AIDS prevention so that, at least, I will be informed and in control of my life.

Getting tested for HIV is not an easy thing to do, but it's the real world. I encourage everyone to do so because it is better for you to know than live with uncertainty. Waiting for the test results is difficult, but whatever happens, positive or negative, always remember that you are a survivor in God's hands.


Empowerment & HIV
Stopping the spread of HIV among Latino men

It is no secret that Latino men are among the groups of individuals most at risk to contract HIV. The numbers are staggering. By the end of December 1996, a total of 42,563 AIDS cases were diagnosed among Latino QV and bisexual men. Latinos are about 9% of the population of the U.S. but account for 17% of diagnosed AIDS cases, according to Rafael M. Díaz, Adjunct Professor of Medicine at the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California, San Francisco, and the author of a new book entitled, Latino QV Men and HIV: Culture, Sexuality and Risk Behavior. The findings in Díaz' book are certainly of great importance to our community and reinforce the need for the Latino community to create further unity and spread a sense of connection among ourselves.

Within a one-year period, about 50% of us engage in some sort of unsafe sex. Díaz found that even though the vast majority of the men he interviewed had a very good understanding of how to protect themselves and knew which behaviors were risky, they still engaged in unsafe sex. He also found that, although they engaged in unprotected sex, these men had very strong intentions beforehand to practice safer sex.

Through his interviews, he began formulating a "social cultural theory" which stated six major social forces that each contribute into the reasons why HIV infection continues to spread among Latino men in the U.S.: machismo, homophobia, loyalty to families, sexual silence, poverty, and racism.

But there is hope for our community. "Our strength is that we are so socially integrated," said Díaz. "We really believe in the concept of familia." Díaz stressed that the most important thing we need to do is help the QV men in our community feel connected and create a sense of familia among ourselves so that we reinforce the idea that we matter.

Díaz found that when he asked about what self-respect is, the most common answer given was that, "I matter to people. I can't treat myself badly because I really matter, and I care about being connected. I cannot do what I want with myself-I have to respect myself, my family, my friends, and my loved ones." It is that sense of being connected that is a source of self-respect that promotes protection.

"I see a lot of progress," Díaz says. "Once we come together, then the one thing that really needs to happen is a dialogue about our sexuality. We need to have a space where we can talk about what is it that we really want, what makes us vulnerable, and what situations make us feel inspired. We know a lot about viruses, condoms, and lube, but we have no knowledge of ourselves as sexual beings. Building communities, breaking silence, bringing reflection on ourselves, and sexuality is most important."



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