This is a funny story about one of my good, good friends, Kate. I just remembered this story an hour and a half ago when my Mom and I were talking over breakfast. The story somehow fit our conversation so I decided to tell her and we both burst out laughing at the end of it. I thought it is very telling. It’s probably one of my favourite stories that I have of my discovery that I am HIV positive.
In late August of 2008, I discovered I was HIV positive. In the first week of September, I was diagnosed with meningitis and was rushed to the hospital to begin treatment. It was a double whammy situation for me. I had only told my family at this point and didn’t have time to really deal with the news of the HIV because I was now fighting for my life against fungal meningitis.
I had two IVs attached to my body, one on each arm, to handle the very toxic medicine and the other was to keep me from getting dehydrated. The medicine made me sick and I was vomiting regularly, had no appetite, and I was constantly weak. Because of the cost of the medicine, I was in a very inexpensive room, at the charity ward, in truth, because we were preparing for the worst in terms of how much it was all going to cost. I was miserable. I was fighting for my life, and if I won, I still had HIV to deal with.
I didn’t want to tell my friends about the news of the HIV in this manner. I looked horrible and it was going to make things worse. I had to be looking at my best and this was far from it. In my head, it was important to control the reactions and to temper the emotional feedback from the news. Being in a hospital bed with two IVs sticking out of my arms was not the way to do it. So I didn’t tell anybody at the time. They knew I was in the hospital for meningitis and people sent me text messages hoping for my quick recovery.
I remember it being a week or two that I was in the hospital; not wanting to survive this ordeal and having a particularly bad day when my phone starts to ring. Kate was calling me. I answered the phone and she spoke to me in what I remember to be a happy, almost embarrassed tone.
“Wangs, don’t laugh at me, okay?” she began. “Don’t laugh but I have something to ask you. You see, I haven’t been in a good place lately. You know that. So my friend told me to see a witch doctor and when I came to see her, she looked me up and down and said I was cursed. Someone had cursed me!”
Naturally, I made a joke and then asked her what happened next.
Kate then told me that the witch doctor began to cast a spell to have the cursed removed. “I feel so much better, Wangs,” she said. “I think it worked. Things got… lighter. I think I’m going to be okay.”
I was relieved and I said, “Well, it could happen. I just can’t imagine why anybody would want to curse you.”
“I know, right?” she replied. There was a pause and then she asked me, “Wangs, you’ve been sick this whole year. Do you think…? Do you think you’ve been cursed also?”
A smile began to form in my lips as I could hear the worry in her voice. I started to giggle.
“Don’t laugh at me!” she said, laughing herself. “You’re laughing at me. You believe in this sort of thing. Do you think somebody would have cursed you? Because, when you get out of the hospital, you could go and see her and check. Because you’ve been sick lately, you know?”
“Kate, there is a perfectly scientific explanation to what is going on with me right now,” I told her.
“Really? What is it?” Kate asked.
“I didn’t want to tell you this way, on the phone and all, but after what you had just said, you won’t let this go and you’ll be worried so I’ll have to tell you now,” I tell her. “I’ve been getting sick every month because I have HIV.”
“You’re HIV positive?” she asked.
“Oh thank God! I thought you were cursed!”
I started laughing like anything at this point. It put everything in perspective, albeit a strange one, but a different perspective nonetheless. It was not the kind of relief I was hoping for but it had put a smile on my face and for the next few days, I would remember this story and it would make the day go by faster and easier. It could be worse, apparently. I could be fighting for my life to end up with a life full of restrictions but in the end, it could still be worse.
It’s the funniest story I have about telling my friends that I was HIV positive. I would like to say that this was the moment when I decided to take a light-hearted approach to the whole situation. It would make this moment seem romantic. But I think that happened at the very beginning when I told my family and after the initial shock had subsided and the jokes started coming in.
Humor has always been my greatest defense against everything life had thrown at me (and I had thrown at myself). Without it, I would be nothing.
With friends and family like this, I can take anything. With humor, I can deal with anything.
Bring it on. I’ve got a belly full of laughs waiting.