"I leaned forward in my chair, hands on knees and searched my doctor’s face for a tell. His expression revealed nothing. He was stone."
I asked, “So, how are you, what’s…”and before I could finish my pleasantry he said, “James, the HIV test has come back positive.” “Oh, what a relief, that’s great,” I replied, hearing the word positive, but not connecting it to a negative. He peered over the top of his glasses, “No, James you have tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. You have HIV,” he said. My smile froze to my face. I searched for meaning in his words as panic closed my throat to a whisper, “Are you sure? What? Oh God, are you sure?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m sure”, he replied.
Time stopped. My eyes fixed while the world blurred. I heard only snippets of his speech about t-cells, the immune system and opportunistic infections.
He caught my attention when he said my name, “James.” He continued, “I don’t have a lot of experience with HIV treatment or how to support you through it, so I suggest you find another doctor who’s more familiar with the virus and can offer you the care you need.” I sat up straight, our eyes locked. “Excuse me?” I asked. “There’s a phone book in the lobby, if you look up AIDS, you’ll find organisations who specialize in this sort of thing, who can support you better than I can.” “Seriously?’ I replied. “There’s not much more I can do for you here,” he said.
I stood in a fog and made my way to the door. I turned and asked, “How long do people live? I need to know, an estimate?”
“Two years is the average life expectancy,” he said, without flinching.
My head moved slowly from side to side, shaking no to news I knew to be correct. Defeated, I turned my back to my doctor, left the office and went to look up AIDS in a phone book.