Bareword
Same Day Test

9.56am

—I’m Morag.

Hi.

—How much do you know about the HIV test?

HIV’s different from AIDS but if you’ve got it you’ll probably die. Right?

—It’s by no means certain that if you’re HIV positive you’ll develop AIDS. AIDS is a name for a group of infections which may develop if HIV has damaged a person’s immune system. But people do die as a result, yes.

—Can I ask you some questions? Are you heterosexual?

Yes.

—Do you use intravenous drugs?

No.

—So do you believe you may have contracted the virus through intercourse with a woman?

My last partner says she’s positive. And we didn’t use condoms.

—Have you had sex with any men you believe may be positive? Or anal sex with your female partners?

No.

—All right. I can tell you that you’re in one of the lower risk categories. Although HIV can definitely be communicated by vaginal intercourse, a man penetrating a partner is a little less likely to contract the virus than the other way round.

—When did you break up with your last partner?

About four months ago.

—There’s no test for the HIV virus as such. This test is for the antibodies which your body produces to fight the virus. That’s why we say this test only covers you up to three months ago. Have you thought what you will do if you do have the virus?

I’d probably take up dangerous sports. Parachute jumps. Hang gliding. Tiger riding. She smiles at that.

—I don’t know about tiger riding, but there are a lot of HIV-positive support groups where people get together. There’s several here in Edinburgh. Even if you have the virus, it’s not definite that you will develop AIDS. The average time is about eight to ten years, but some people have been infected for fifteen years or more without becoming ill.

Can we just do the test?

—Sure.

We go across the corridor and I lie down on a bed covered with green paper. Morag puts on medical gloves and suddenly I’m having trouble with how quiet and careful this all is. I want to make a noise, I want a brass band in here with us, I want to hear an explosion and feel the floor tilt.

I look at the fluorescents on the ceiling. There is a little prick at the top of my forearm, then it gets a little more painful as she takes the blood. She’s wearing gloves because I may be infected, because she tests people in this room who have caught it. She has to protect herself from my blood. One syringe isn’t working properly and she puts it in a yellow box labelled BIOHAZARD. Fuuuuuck.

Then she has a small glass cylinder of my blood and I’m committed.

—Come back at ten past four. Tell the woman at reception you’re here to see me. Morag. Do something to keep your mind off it in the meantime.

And soon I’m blinking in the street outside, and it all looks so very different.


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