“I’m positive about being positive!”
– Colin, diagnosed with HIV in 2004
After a lifetime of regular blood donation, Colin realised he hadn’t donated for a while and wanted to start again. He was living in Wollongong and studying nursing at the time. Prior to attending the Red Cross Blood Bank, he had recently been sick to the point of having a temperature of over 41 degrees. He was admitted Wollongong A&E in which they had done a variety of tests, but they all came back negative. However, they did not test for HIV.
After he was better, he went to the blood bank and gave a litre of blood. A week later, he received a call from the Sydney-based blood bank requesting he come in for a follow up test as his blood donation had shown he was HIV-positive.
At the time of Colin’s diagnosis, he was 41 years old; however, he clearly remembers being in his mid-20s when the National Advisory Committee on AIDS (NACAID) aired its controversial Grim Reaper awareness campaign on Australian televisions in 1987.
“My first thoughts after that call were, ‘I’m finished – I’m dead’,” Colin says. “I didn’t know what to do, I had no one to talk to and I was recently separated from my wife, which became permanent after my diagnosis was confirmed.”
When Colin visited the Sydney HIV clinic and consulted with a doctor there, he realised it wasn’t all “doom and gloom.” Immediately, he commenced treatment and continued to travel to the Sydney clinic for his medication and blood tests, out of fear he would be recognised by attending his local clinic.
“When I eventually switched to my local clinic, they were great – they reassured me of confidentiality in the industry, which was important because I was a registered nurse working in a hospital by then. Once I learned my diagnosis wasn’t the end of me and that I could still have kids if I got treatment, I was able to be a bit more upfront about my situation, especially with colleagues,” Colin explains.
Colin rode with the bumps and decided to wear his HIV on his sleeve.
In addition to his HIV, Colin deals with an unrelated, hereditary blood condition called Factor V (five) Leiden, which increases his risk of blood clots. So he now has to take Warfarin. To top it all off, he had to come to terms with being diagnosed with depression, which actually came first. How does he deal with these setbacks? By playing a sport he is passionate about. As a goalkeeper in field hockey. It keeps him very well grounded and now plays with his youngest son.
But you can never know how someone will react when you tell them that you are HIV+. He says: “I’ve had an ambo freak out when I told him of all the meds I’m on, that I’m also on antiretroviral medication. I even got one whole wall of the emergency department to myself on that occasion, but I’ve learned to wear it on my sleeve. I’ve even made myself a friendship bracelet with red ribbons on it for World AIDS Day. I’m not ashamed about it. I just manage it.”
Colin has four kids and told all of them about his diagnosis, and – like the bracelet – he started putting HIV-related stickers on his fridge, which opened the door for conversations at home with his kids.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there and even while I was going through my treatment, teachers were teaching my kids the wrong ‘facts’.
My youngest was 14 at the time and I came up with some myth-busting style questions, like: did you know I’m not going to die from HIV? He started crying because, from what he had learned, he thought I was.”
Colin has found solace in opportunities that enable to create better awareness of risks of infection with mates in his hockey team. He has also embraced his ability to recognise moments, in his profession, where those facing a possible diagnosis needed to talk to someone ‘who knew’ that being HIV-positive was not the “be all and end all.”
Living his best life.
“My philosophy now,” he says, “is – I’m positive, get over it. You’re negative. Everything is fine. When people find out I’m positive – whatever their reaction is, that’s on them.”
For Colin, learning of his HIV-positive diagnosis hasn’t changed the way he lives. He manages his condition, which means his viral loading is non-existent. “It always is undetectable,” he says.
As for advice for someone newly diagnosed, he offers this: “It’s not the end of the world. Life still goes on. You can still have a normal life. You can still have a relationship. If you are a woman or a man – you can still have kids. The biggest thing is the shame factor and I’m not ashamed of being HIV positive. I will always be positive about being positive.”