I have no idea how many times in my life I given blood, but suffice it to say that if there was a way to gather it all together in one place at one time, we could throw one hell of a party for two baseball teams of vampires. Hell, we would even have enough for their bats. There is a fairly aggressive American Red Cross center here near The Edge Of The Earth and they start calling a week before due date, and dutifully, I trot in almost each and every time.
I don’t read the Red folder anymore, I don’t fill out the survey anymore, and I don’t discuss with them any questions I might have about the procedures or anything else for that matter. They know me by name, I know them, I’ve memorized the questions they ask and I can tell you right now my resting pulse rate is eighty beats per minute, and my blood pressure is 90 over 120. I’ve given blood a lot, and quite frankly, I think I have an obligation to do so.
So Saturday I get a letter in the mail from the American Red Cross explaining to me that they tested my blood and I came back positive for HIV.
No matter what else the letter said, the idea that any test anyone performed on my blood and in any way, shape, fashion or form, it was positive for HIV is enough to cause me no small amount of concern. I’m a fairly safe human as far as sexually transmitted diseases go. I’m just not successfully often enough in my attempts of seduction that it ought to be a problem. I wear a raincoat most of the time ( yeah I know, I know I know) and most of the woman who have shared my time and my bed tend to be those types who wouldn’t just sleep with anyone. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I avoid human contact for the most part, and that limits the candidate pool severely. Worse, my communication skills are far stronger in text than speech, so that doesn’t help at all. Halley’s Comet comes more often than I do, but I still had the letter. Mentally, I started making notes as to who I had slept with, when and under what circumstances. The idea of me having caught some disease from someone on that list and under the circumstances attached, seemed quite unlikely.
The letter went on to say further tests were run on the same sample of blood, and no infection was found, but I was disqualified as a donor. Now, speaking from my only experience in this area, I can tell you that once you read that you had a positive test for HIV almost nothing anyone prints after that is going to punch through to you. Worse, by disqualifying me as a donor, they’re telling me they think something is still wrong with my blood, and that thing is HIV.
“You do realize, Mike, that if you have HIV it is a death sentence?” A friend of mine who is a nurse said those words to me, and yes, I did realize that but no one has ever said anything like that to me before. Suddenly, I realized that if I did have the disease, there were one or two women who I was going to have to call, and they wouldn’t much like the conversation we were having. Death Sentence. I wish she hadn’t used those words, and I wish Saturday wasn’t the day before everything on earth, as far as medical testing, was closed. I spent Sunday trying to figure out what to do if the worst happened. Conceivably, I would still outlive my dogs. Riding this thing out to the end wasn’t something I was looking forward to, and when your thoughts turn to opting out early, it’s normally a conversation with yourself you don’t want to have. I realized there was a lot of unfinished business in my life, and if given less than a decade to get it all done, I wondered how far I would get on the list.
The doctor at the Health Clinic seemed both puzzled and pissed. The Red Cross letter, according to him, didn’t make any sense at all. If I was infected why would the second test clear me? If I wasn’t infected why wouldn’t they use my blood? He told me I didn’t have anything to worry about, but it would make me feel better, he would run another test. The test took fifteen minutes to run, so I had fifteen minutes to think about what was going to happen if it came back positive.
Fifteen minutes doesn’t seem like such a long time unless you’re holding your breath underwater, or you’re waiting for a HIV test. I wondered how to tell my parents, my sisters, my friends, my co-workers, and I wondered how to tell the last woman I slept with that I may have murdered her in the heat of a moment. Getting married again never was part of my plans, but I’ve always enjoyed having a woman in my life. This would end that, for all practical purposes, and unless someone I knew was likewise doomed, my relationships with women were going to be Platonic at best. Yeah, as a matter of fact, while waiting for the test to run, it did occur to me that I might never get laid again. I wondered how long it would take to get full blown AIDS, and at what point would I decide not to ride it out, and when I did make that call, how I was going to opt out.
In fifteen minutes I walked down a very long, long, hallway, sat down in a tiny office and there a doctor told me my test was negative, and he thought that was how it was going to come out anyway. I went back to work, and pretended for a while that it hadn’t happened at all, and nothing was different. It is now and I know it. The clock has always been ticking, but I just stopped long enough to listen. I’m not sure I can live and not hear it now.