When I first began tweeting as @POZboySG, one of the first friends I made is a fellow Singaporean HIV+ man/boy/dude/dood. Let me introduce you the ever vivacious, & oh-so-hawt @SgPozsterboy! He jokes & calls me his “PR Girl” since I have many more followers on Twitter, so my promotion of his articles always gets propagated faster. I hope with the little promotion from this blogpost, you’d want to follow his tweets & writings as well (mainly because I think he writes so much better than me!). For this story, I shall give him an alias, and that shall be “Vincent.”
Vincent is a 30-year old successful working adult who has had a well-rounded & priveleged education. A well spoken & attractive young man, he is a well known personality in the social circles. Vincent has been living with HIV for the past eight years, having tested positive at the age of 22, when he was still an undergrad in a local university, recalling that he had a gut feeling that had probably been infected because there was a period of time during which he fell very ill. Vincent had numerous oral ulcers (20 or more) & that most probably sealed his suspicion. Prior to this, he had taken a HIV test during his National Service days, and that turned out to be negative.
As with many HIV+ young Singaporeans, Vincent does not see the need to diclose his status to family members, being an independent working man. He urges newly diagnosed PLHIV to be careful about who you tell because it will definitely affect your mental well-being if whoever you tell rejects you or worse still, tells the whole world about it. Vincent adds, “From the start I made up my mind not let as few people know about it as possible. It’s my way of protecting myself. There were many times I felt that I am ready to tell some friend about it because perhaps at the moment of time, I felt that I am ready to let them know. Thankfully, I held back and I am glad I did it because typically afterwards, some of them proved that they were actually not that ready to accept or were not the sort to keep secrets.”
With regards to friends however, Vincent immediately told his 3 best friends right after he was diagnosed. He was very sure that his best friends would accept him even if he were HIV+. With such a strong, loyal bond of friendship, Vincent’s friends even know exactly what to do in the event he gets hospitalised or in the event of his sudden passing. They have been “briefed” of what to do & where to look in his room, for his HIV medications, to help take them away before his family discovers them. He surmises, “I tell people about my status on a ‘need-to-know-basis’. That means that if there is no need for them to know, I won’t tell them.”
Vincent has a few words of advice for readers who have been recently diagnosed with HIV, “If you have the slightest shred of uncertainty as to whether a friend will accept you, I suggest you hold back until you are very sure. The reason why I say this is because you do not want to risk falling into depression because of rejection. Like I said before, take care of your health. Optimism will really go a long way in your fight against this infection. You are not alone in this. If you need help, Action for AIDS has got support groups with for pozzies like us.”
Vincent has been on HIV anti-retroviral medication for the past year, having taken the step to start after telling himself that he would have to start medication when his CD4 count falls around 200 - 350. (Check out his blogpost about this issue HERE)Progress has been excellent - his CD4 count has risen dramatically & at most recent bloodwork, Viral Load was negligible. His medications are Truvada (Tenofovir & Emtricitabine) and Stocrin (Efavirenz), taken as two pills every day. In the United States however, this drug cocktail is sold as a single tablet known as Atripla. Vincent gets his CD4 counts monitored at the Red Cross in Bangkok, Thailand & sees a specialist in Bangkok’s Bumrungrad Hospital. Medications purchased in Bangkok cost approximately SGD$100 a month. This is not exclusive of the cost of flight tickets (approx $350) & accomodation ($350 per trip). He adds, “Typically I buy about 3 to 6 months of meds per time. So that works out to about SGD$300 a mth in total. My condition is relatively stable now so I started buying 6 months supply recently so that would have reduced the monthly cost by a little.”
CDC pharmacy prices in Singapore for these medications are as such: Efavirenz (SGD $200) Tenofovir (SGD $550).
To help cope help cope & make sense of his medical condition, Vincent reads the two most informative HIV/AIDS resource websites on the Internet, namely www.thebody.com & www.aidsmap.com. He also writes & chronicles his experiences as a HIV+ gay Singaporean man on his blog, http://sgpozsterboy.blogspot.sg/. Vincent enthuses that he had wanted to start the blog long ago after seeing a lot of people around him getting infected by HIV & feeling so helpless & scared. He then some reflection & wondered why he didn’t feel as scared or helpless, & arrived at this conclusion: knowledge. He adds, “I knew exactly how it would pan out and I prepared myself for the eventuality, and knowing to a certain extent what’s to come takes away the uncertainly in the equation. When the uncertainly is removed, people tend to be more optimistic.”
Vincent hopes that by writing, he would be able to remove some of these uncertainties for people who are like himself & let them know that there is life after your HIV infection. He does however, feel guilty that he’s not able to write more because of his busy work schedule. He quips, “When I write, I purposely write in a way that is completely different from what I do normally to prevent readers from identifying me. This rather tedious but necessary for without which, I may not have the guts to write at all. I finally got inspired to start the blog and twitter account after reading @POZboySG’s tweets. I knew I had something to contribute to the community and since I could, I should.”
Before we end this story, Vincent has a few words of advice to our readers, especially those who are in limbo after testing positive for HIV, or are still in a conundrum whether to get tested or not, “Knowing my status took away all sleepless nights in denial. It gave me ample time to prepare and plan for what is to come. I am thankful that I faced up to the music and because I did that, I did not end up having to fight for my life in the ICU like many of the people around me did because they were in denial. Another important point is that this also gave me control over who I want to inform about my status. Had I chosen to be in denial and eventually end up in the ICU, more people would have known about my status. So waste no time, know your status, be responsible, go get tested.”