So, a friend of mine started telling me back in mid-December: "You think too much." Why do you suppose she would say that? Because I was telling her about what I knew about HIV and AIDS. Being an educated woman I try to make sure that I know what I'm talking about so that I don't end up talking out of my ass. Sometimes I do that anyway though... and sometimes on purpose.
Anyway, I recently had the opportunity to see "thinking too much" in action up close and personal. Shortly after New Years I started developing what I thought were "runaway zits" on my neck and chin. They didn't seem to want to heal, they were getting infected, etc. etc. After about 3 days of them getting worse, I decided to see the doctor. When I looked at the sores, they looked like little crop circles. I thought perhaps the aliens had given up on crops and had decided to start picking on people.
In all seriousness, I thought they might be a bug-bite of some kind. When I called my doctor, they wouldn't let me see him and instead wanted me to give them my pharmacy information so they could order a topical cream. I wasn't satisfied with that since it could have been anything. So I went to a CentraCare unit here in Florida. Basically, they're urgent care facilities to help reduce the non-emergency traffic at emergency rooms.
When I got in to see the doc, he said that they looked like "zosters". He was talking about the Herpes Zoster virus (Shingles), a viral infection of the nerve roots that typically results in pain and a rash. Bingo, doc. It's caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox (herpes varicella). From WebMD:
After a person has had chickenpox, the herpes virus moves to and becomes inactive in the roots of spinal nerves. The virus is activated when a person's immune system is weakened (possibly through physical or emotional stress). This reactivation results in a shingles infection.
Now, I'm thinking, well.. it could be several factors... stress at work has been monumental, I've been sick three times in the past two months, they gave me prednisone for the last sickness which weakens the immune system, etc. The doc had asked me earlier why I was taking Spironolactone and Estraiol. I explained that I was transsexual and it was no biggie. But now, after having diagnosed me, he said, "When was your last HIV test?"
My heart leapt into my throat. I was fine until he said that. I understand now, of course, that he was probably just being thorough. But he didn't mention anything about stress, or medications or anything like that until AFTER I pressed him to find out what ELSE could cause Shingles. I mean... OTHER people get Shingles too, don't they? For other reasons?
The fact that he leapt to the conclusion that it was probably HIV disturbed me. Instantaneously, I felt like he had already pre-determined what my life was all about. Since I'm transsexual, I must be promiscuous. I must be at high risk. I was really offended at the perceived assumption.
He prescribed Acyclovir and Cephalexin to treat it and suggested I get an HIV test as soon as possible. I left and immediately began to freak out. I called my doctor's office back and told them what this other doctor had said. They got me set up for an HIV test and I pressed the issue of seeing MY doctor on the next Monday (this was Thursday).
I took Friday off and saw the doc on Monday. Between Thursday and Monday I was losing my mind a piece at a time. I began so much research into shingles, chickenpox, herpes, HIV, AIDS, etc. because I needed to know. Here is this unwelcome guest in my body (maybe more than one) and I know nothing about it. The more I read, the less and less convinced I became that it was HIV. I had not experienced any sero-conversion. I was not experiencing any of the typical symptoms that show up with HIV or AIDS. Armed with all this information, I was able to manage my fear. But at the same time there were lots of notes pointing to what the first doctor said, too. So I was still pseudo-freaked-out.
Monday came and I saw MY doc, gibbering on and on about what had happened, what I knew about the virus, what I knew about HIV, etc. After 10 minutes of calming me down, he reminded me that the stress I've been under plus the prednisone and the rash of sicknesses last year are more than enough to indicate it. He agreed that I should get the HIV test for two reasons tho. One: 33 is very young to get a shingles outbreak. So, the cause needs to be confirmed. Two: It's been 6 months anyway... time for a check-up.
Feeling a little better, I had my blood work done and spent the week working from home. Until the sores had healed up completely I was infectious to anyone who hadn't had the chickenpox. I was doing good on Friday and decided to go IN to the office. Spent the day there. Lo and behold, THAT was the day the doctor's office tried to call me about my HIV test results.
The answering machine simply said that I needed to call them back. Does this mean I have it and they can't tell my answering machine? Does this mean I'm fine and they just don't give out results to a machine? Does this mean I'm fine because they didn't ask me to come in?? ARGH! So now I have to wait through the weekend. My luck, Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day... a holiday. So it was a LONG weekend.
Finally, Tuesday arrives to find me on pins and needles. I just want to know so I can get on with things one way or another. 4:00 PM they finally get in touch with me. Everything's fine. No trace of the anti-bodies in my system. Needless to say, the rest of the day was beautiful. :)
The long and short of all this? Was I thinking too much? Perhaps. It's hard not to, tho. When a microscopic organism can ruin one of your ultimate life goals, shorten your life and make you just that much more of a social pariah... it's almost impossible, in my view, to NOT think about it! A tiny little critter that can royally screw-up your life... and one that can be totally avoided by a simple change of behavior. One would think we, as a species, could get kick this thing.
Recently I discovered this to be untrue. There are two reasons I was concerned about whether HIV had found me. First: a violent crime perpetrated against me in October. I haven't had the desire to write about it here yet, but I may do so some time in the future. Second: A hasty choice made out of lust in November.
It was this second one that got to me again, recently. The person I had committed this act of biological stupidity with was talking with someone else I knew. In an excerpt of a conversation between the two of them, he made it clear that not only did he already know that he already had HIV, but he considered himself to be "thinning out the herd" by not telling any of his sexual partners about his condition. All at once I felt sick, angry, shocked, mortified and scared all over again. Here was someone who was basically ADMITTING to several counts of attempted murder, and *I* was one of his intended victims! For what??!
Now, thinking it through, in order for my immune system to be as depressed as it was to get shingles, if it were caused by HIV, it would have had to have run it's course for quite a while. Shingles, when related to HIV, is usually a physical indication that shows up after blood-work has confirmed infection. In my case, it was not HIV related. But the still small voice in my head says, "you still need to check up on yourself again in 3 months... and then again in another 3 months."
Although I will, of course, have myself tested and checked out, I am not overly worried about the results now. Even with someone who is HIV positive, getting infected is sorta like Russian Roulette. The gun may fire, and then again, it may not. The chances are thinned a little based on the details of my altercation with him. A. I did not bleed. B. He did not climax in any orifice. But when we're talking about a microscopic organism, there are always possibilities.
Now, what does all of this mean? I've considered this to be a gift. An awaking to the fact that no-one is immune (not yet anyway). A realization that there are those out there that don't know or don't care about it. These things are well known facts, all of them. But facts are never truths to the individual until they are experienced. My experience had a happy ending. I can only hope that those who read this have the same happy ending or heed my warning and do as I did not.