“Stay Tuned”

Published 21, Oct, 2015

Steven Hobé tells the story of his life with HIV. Part four sees him, shortly after diagnosis, grappling with returning to work, disclosure and treatment for his other health issues

“Stay Tuned”

The first order of business after my multiple diagnoses day was to take care of the syphilis. This meant two injections of penicillin in the ass, once a week, for three consecutive weeks. 

The first week, I whimpered; the second, I pleaded; and by the third week I had resigned myself to the discomfort and humiliation of dropping my draws, and having a thick liquid forced through a syringe into each butt cheek. Then having to waddle home, looking as though I was severely constipated. 

Ironically, just of note to anyone out there who is suffering the same fate I did, constipation seems to be one of the uncomfortable side effects of syphilis. Of course, if left untreated for too long, the disease can also cause loss of sight and hearing. (As an aside, a fate met by some of my favourite classical composers. So, I guess I would be in good company). 

Luckily, I hadn’t reached that pinnacle of bodily deterioration, and the shots in the ass eventually gave way to a good bowel movement. At least I could experience relief on some level. 

But it was the waiting for results from the lower back procedure that was really driving me nuts (see part two, You’ll Only Feel A Prick). If it came back that the syphilis had indeed spread to the brain, I would have to be hooked up to an IV, and sit at home for two weeks twiddling my thumbs. 

But what about work? 

I had dashed out to a mysterious appointment, only the day before, without explanation. 

Full disclosure? I think not. 

My ramblings all sounded rather ridiculous in my head, “Well, the Dr said it’s something to do with my brain, but he’s not sure. I might have to be hooked up to a drip for two weeks, but we’re not really certain of that either.” 

The need for ambiguity overwhelmed me. 

Add to this an already frail mind-set, which at the slightest bodily twinge, I thought I was going to keel over and start convulsing on the ground. If the disease had gone to my brain, I might become a human vegetable at any moment. Shouldn’t I be making out my will or something? Or at least tidy the house for when visitors call and I am laid out peacefully in my coffin. The need to leave a good impression is always paramount. 

Furthermore, I was also dealing with coming to terms with the HIV; and let’s not forget the Hep C (just to wedge that cherry on my already cluttered cake). 

Given this compound of psychological discomfort, I dragged myself into work and forced a smile to conceal my supposed wrong-doings – just put on a happy face, I thought, and pretend nothing has happened out of the ordinary. 

Of course, easier said than done. 

I hadn’t slept much, and when I did, my dreams were a strange manifestation of waking life. 

In one, the male receptionist from the Dr’s office was dressed up in Shakespearean garb. I found myself in a dance studio, and the receptionist was the dance instructor. He was standing on a chair and waving his arms around emphatically trying to bring order to the chaos – I guess there were other dancers there, I just couldn’t see them. 

Then my Dr walked in, gave me a handful of pills, and began to pirouette, quite adeptly I might add. 

Strange. 

The thought had crossed my mind that this was all just an elaborate experiment to test me. In a few weeks or months (however long the psychologists deemed appropriate), I would be informed that I don’t have HIV or any of these other diseases. 

I’d be asked what I‘ve learned from the experience: Would I now get tested regularly? Would I be more careful who I sleep with in future? Did I have more respect for the medical profession?  

Or possibly I was part of some hot new reality TV series, “Positively Gay: Twist of Fate” – one of a handful of unknowing participants. My job of two years wasn’t real, and everyone I work with were actors; the medical professionals weren’t who they claim to be, and all the meds I’d been given to date were placebos. 

The TV ads for the show would have flashy graphics, with images of us flying across the screen, each in a crisis situation, and a voiceover that speculates as to who might lose their marbles first. “On this week’s show, Steven gets two shots in the ass, has a nervous breakdown at work, and decides to take up hand-gliding. Will he be able to lift his spirits? Stay Tuned.” 

Maybe there are drawbacks to having an overactive imagination. . .