A recent unsafe sex slip-up led this young Same Same reader into urgent action to avoid catching HIV. He wishes to remain anonymous, but shares his story below.
PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis). It is either an anonymous acronym you’ve seen floating about or the promised saviour for HIV/AIDS treatment. It is neither.
Being HIV positive is not the death sentence it once was. Safe sexual practices are heavily encouraged. But no matter how much encouragement, rationality and intelligence you believe you have, we are fallible beings.
My experience with PEP was after a particularly soul-crushing night at a party when friends of mine decided to cheer me up by “coming over and watching some movies” (read as: threesome).
I cannot for the life of me work out why I did not use a condom in this instance. I had only drunk a little, I went to Start Making Sense at ACON, and was given the sexual health run down. Even my catholic high school gave us some basic sexual education (and it wasn’t even a push to practice abstinence).
Whatever it was, we didn’t use a condom.
And afterwards, I felt like the most stupid person in the world. I felt ashamed.
“They could see I was scared, uncertain and embarrassed. They weren’t going to pity me, but they would be helpful.”
I had been sexually active for over three years. I had had good sex and bad sex. But here was the first time I felt truly ashamed of it. I was ashamed that at that moment I didn’t care, not only for myself, but for my partners. How were they to know? We didn’t disclose our statuses either.
That day, hypochondria and paranoia set in. A psychosomatic side-effect was this burning I thought I could feel in my blood. I could feel my stupidity branded on my ass. Me beating myself up is nothing new, but this was something else because of the risk.
As I had said earlier, I had attended an ACON session. From these sessions and decided the best course of action would be to at least check out their website and find out about PEP. The only thing I could remember was the need to take it fast (within the first 72 hours) and I thought ‘the sooner the better’.
There in large letters was the phrase: “Recently Exposed to HIV?” and a number.
After a series of questions from the nurse, the answer was to go to the hospital (St. Vincent’s because “they usually deal with this sort of thing”) and start myself on a course of PEP.
Showing up in the emergency room, I couldn’t help feeling a bit like I didn’t deserve to be treated, since I showed no signs of sickness. Around me many people were vomiting, moaning and angry. I waited. About two hours.
After jumping in I gave about three to six vials of blood (do not ask me to exact amount, I deal with the process by not paying attention to the amount) and I waited. The reaction I received to this was a mixture of no-nonsense to empathy. They could see I was scared, uncertain and embarrassed. They weren’t going to pity me, but they would be helpful.
I received a number (it felt very ‘under the table’) to call on the next business day and book an appointment to look over the initial results of my blood test and be, as it were, my personal PEP counselor. I was also given my first week of PEP.