by Jolijt T '11

I Got Tested for HIV

The short women in the orange hoodie slapped a sticker onto my chart and asked me, “what’s your birthday and zip code?” I confirmed what was written on the triage card I’d filled out in the waiting room.
My chart said very little about me. I had chosen to do the “anonymous HIV test” which meant the only information I had to give was my birthday, zip code, race and gender.
They had also handed me an STD consent form that asked for the patient name and date but I ignored the name slot and without hesitation; the women filled it in as “anonymous.”
She continued writing on my chart and I looked over at the wall. I tilted my head to the right and squinted my eyes. There, tacked to the white paint, was a poster with pictures of a penis infected with herpes. “Hmm how pleasant,” I thought.
“Go up to the second floor and wait,” the unfriendly woman grunted. That was only the third sentence said to me in the ten minutes I’d been sitting there.
I went back through the waiting room, took a right at the security desk with the free condoms and clamored up to the second floor. There, another women said, “drop your chart in there and sit down.”
Every time I thought my number was up next (they don’t do it in numerical order) my heart started to beat faster. I was waiting for someone to call my number, watch me stand up and then give me that disgusted look; the one that would scar me and stop me from anything scary for the rest of my life. But thankfully it never came.
Another thirty minutes of waiting and I finally heard my number, “fifty-four.”
I looked over at the middle aged white woan who had been chanting, “I do not have AIDS,” then got up and followed a dreadlocked phlebotomist (basically a licensed vampire who uses a needle instead of teeth) into a room where he reminded me, “so sweetie I’m about to administer an anonymous HIV test why don’t you take a seat and put your arm on the rest.” Finally someone relatively polite.
“Stick me,” I replied.
My response was unsuccessful in masking my nervousness. He said, “small pinch” and slid the needle into the vein under my elbow. My blood quickly flooded the capsule. Bob Marley reminded me that he did not shoot the sheriff and the phlebotomist sang along as he pulled out the needle.
He reached for a green square and said in an unfitting cheerful tone “it’s time for the finger prick.”
“Another one!”
“Don’t worry this is but a prick,” his attempt to comfort me was ill received since his earlier “small pinch” turned out not so small at all. He explained that the finger prick was for the rapid HIV test and that “your counselor will explain it all when you get the results.”
“Click,” went the green finger pricker and a little speckle of blood materialized on my middle finger.
“Thirty to forty minutes of waiting babe. Go back outside.”
“Okay thanks.”
I walked back into the hallway and then gestured to my very patient friend. I explained that it’d be another forty minutes or so and that we’d have to go into the room with the green rubber chairs and tense people.
I sat down in front of the bald white man in the business suit and looked over at the Asian woman with a MacBook. I had witnessed a gay, white, 20-something man with great shoes shove some condoms in his bag and was stared down by an Indian woman and her brother. I had bumped into a tall, handsome African American man in a button up whose finger nails had been chewed to the stub and a Mexican teenager with his hair in a ponytail winked at me. The sign in the orange hoodied woman’s office was right; AIDS does not discriminate. You can be black or white, straight or gay, seventy or seventeen.
So why is it that so many sexually active teens teenagers don’t see the need to get tested? In 2005 the Center for Disease Control published the “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance” study in which they found that 88% of teenagers report never discussing HIV/AIDS in school. This disgusting lack of education has created gap in the teen mind where AIDS is not relevant if you’re under 20. On the contrary half of all new HIV infections are in teenagers (ASHA State of the Nation).
We teenagers need to be talked to so that we too can understand the risks, prevention methods and appreciate the relevance. And a speech on this theme is what I expected from the counselor who was supposed to (according to the Marley singing phlebotomist) explain my test results.
Instead, what I got was a very blunt and not so helpful two sentences: “The HIV test result was negative; keep it that way.” I sat there in his office wondering what other brilliance he would bestow upon me. Nothing. That was it. Perhaps the counselor’s lack of words was meant to avoid making me uncomfortable. But he could have included a few more pointers especially because I’m so young. “Thank you,” I said as I got up and reached for the handle, “thank you for helping me oh so much. I completely understand how and why I should stay negative,” I thought sarcastically.
And then, even though the counselor had been disappointingly dull, I bounced back into the waiting room with a little pep in my step. Not only was I HIV negative I was also just a tiny bit more courageous. While trying to experience getting tested for AIDS so that I could write an article about the confidentially I also beat many fears. Not fear of the test result or of the needle. But rather fear of the stigma of AIDS in combination with my youth. And frankly, I was afraid of what people (patients, phlebotomists and orange hoodie ladies all alike) at the clinic would think about me.
Two hours earlier, while going up the concrete steps of the Chelsea clinic, I felt my heart beating in my ears. In the eyes of the mother pushing her stroller down the street and the man sitting on the bench by walking through the clinic door I was one of those people; the people actually nervous about their results. In other’s eyes I was no longer the polite innocent youth that strangers smiled at. Because of the natural but incorrect assumption they now saw me as the sexually active teenager. I was the “I had sex with my boyfriend without a condom and he tested positive” teenager. I was the junkie teen.
But I was also the teenager who was responsible enough to get tested.
And in my eyes I was the teenager who was testing the system. I wanted to see if complete anonymity was possible, even as a teen. Nobody at that clinic knew me as anything more than my birthday, gender, race and zipcode.

By Mr. Lakhaney

TOK Teacher

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