You know the drill. If you have one of the ‘big 3’ symptoms, you should go and get a test. Better still, if there’s an outbreak of the virus in your local area, the government might even come and test you, even if you are asymptomatic. Why? Because testing saves lives. And you guessed it, I’m not only talking about COVID-19. In the UK, we are in the middle of national HIV testing week. In the first week of February every year, doctors, advocates and celebrities up and down the country fill their social feeds with close-ups of their paw prints and encourage us all to “Give HIV the finger!”. Have you ever seen anyone living with diabetes measure their blood sugar levels throughout the day? Well, taking a HIV test is no more complicated. From the comfort of your own home, you take a small sample of blood from a finger, mix with the solution included in your HIV testing kit and within 15 minutes, you’ll have your result. Some tests even deliver it faster in only 1 minute. For the aviators among us, that’s ‘PFM’. Google it! Every year when HIV testing week comes along, I’m taken back to the time I took mine. It was HIV testing week 2014. I’d started to feel very ill and the antibiotics my GP had prescribed to treat my scarlet fever, an infection almost exclusively found in young children, were having no effect, so I decided to take myself off to the local Terrance Higgins Trust Clinic for a HIV test. To “rule it out”. Spoiler Alert. I didn’t. Waiting for the test results I could see in Tom, the health care assistants eyes, that the words that followed didn’t come out very often. “James, I’m sorry to say, it’s reactive”. I felt like I was in one of those movie scenes where the action abruptly stops and the only sound you hear is a high pitched ringing in your ears. I felt totally disconnected, from it all. We repeated the test, this time both Tom and I staring down into a Petri dish, praying intently that the second dot didn’t appear. I think that was the one moment in my life which I have truly tried to reconnect with my faith and beg for divine intervention. It didn’t happen. We now had 2 reactive results. Clinging on to a last strand of hope that “these 1-minute tests are sometimes temperamental”, Tom suggested that we complete a more sensitive 15-minute test; the kind found in home test kits today. In my mind, those were the last 15 minutes of my “negative” life. What followed were some of the toughest and most tumultuous days and weeks of my life. I was on a conveyor belt, moving from testing clinic, to nurses appointment, to HIV consultant to counsellor to peer supporter. I resented them all and I hated myself for being so stupid as to have put myself in that position in the first place. But, it can happen to anyone. Looking back on it now, I have nothing but gratitude for everyone who helped get me through those early days. When I’ve clapped for our NHS Hero’s this past year, it’s not just been to say thank you for everything that they have done during this COVID-19 pandemic, but to say thank you to each and every one of them who have been going above and beyond for me since the day I was diagnosed in 2014. It’s a phenomenal service, one that we should never take for granted. Receiving any diagnosis and dealing with any change this may bring in life, is scary. However, when it comes to living with HIV, there’s absolutely no reason why those feelings of loneliness and shame, anxiety and trepidation, shouldn’t subside for you as they did for me. Tom said to me “I’m sorry to say…”. Since 2014, so much has changed for those of us living with HIV. In 2021, there is no need to be sorry. There are millions of people around the world who are not only surviving with HIV, but thriving. We now know that a person living with HIV cannot pass that virus on to others. We call it Undetectable equals Untransmittable; ‘U equals U’. We now know that someone living with HIV can have a normal life expectancy. Whatever the week of the year, order a test today. Protect yourself, protect others. It’s always better to know.
Follow the links below to order a free home test kit!