Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The HIV test

As part of the physical exam for my greencard application, I had to have my blood drawn to check for HIV (among other diseases).

I’ve haven’t had my blood drawn for as long as I can remember, and I don’t like needles. But what I was most scared about was the result. There’s no reason to be worried, I told myself. I don’t have HIV. But the little voice inside my head saying “but what if?” still overpowered my calm and reasonable mind.

I am no stranger to the deadly disease. I know how to protect myself – I know how it is transmitted, and more importantly, I know how it is NOT transmitted (hugs, touches, kissing, drinking from the same glass, etc.)

We’re in the 21st century, but so many people (in developed countries!) still believe you can get sick by just being near an HIV positive person.

A brother of one of my friends, Walter Heidkampf, who has lived with HIV for more than 20 years, was recently denied access to a self development class in Sweden because of the virus. Proof of a negative HIV result is required to register for the class.

When Walter tried to explain to the course organizers that he was not contagious and should be allowed to participate in the meetings and group sessions, they responded by saying “Sometimes we do emotional exercises that could result in a nosebleed or cuts and bruises.”

For Walter, who was already struggling with feelings of rejection and suicidal thoughts, the decision was lethal to his self esteem.

But he didn’t give up. He filed a complaint with the discrimination ombudsman in Sweden, who helped Walter sue the course organizers. Experts testified that the risk of transmitting HIV through a nosebleed is minimal, should a nosebleed even occur.

Walter won his case; the decision says he was discriminated against. The course he was seeking to take was created around people with struggles in life, but it denied some of those people the right to participate.

There wasn’t much money – Swedish courts rarely award a big sum – but the case was the first of its kind and will hopefully set a precedent that will help many HIV positives be a part of society.

And my test? Well it was negative. But waiting for 48 hours made me think of Walter and everything he’s been through. You can’t help but admire a man who is living ten years beyond what the doctors told him he would when he first tested positive for the virus that is slowly killing him. And he expects to live for another 20 years still – teaching people about HIV, how to prevent it, and how to fight for your rights.

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