This article is part II of a series about how “Bleed Like Me” writer Scott McGlothlen first tested positive for HIV.
Part I: HIV testing at the bathhouse
Part II: [HERE] Testing HIV positive with a rapid test
Learning to live as HIV positive: Scott McGlothlen: Bleed Like Me
The bathhouse and a local clinic had contracted with each other to do on-site STD testing. A person could get a little reassurance with the fun.
One night while frequenting one of Denver’s several clubs, I ran into the ponytailed man who conducted my very first bathhouse screening. I liked the guy – he had made me feel like I was doing the community a favor by getting tested. I decided to take it as a sign and go again.
Once again, as I sat in my towel in the little bathhouse room, the tester pricked my finger and quizzed me about my sex life while waiting for the rapid test’s results. Like always, I felt confident despite a needle of anxiety asking: What if?
When the tester announced that it was time to reveal the test, my stomach turned. Lifting up the plastic cover, he stopped. He didn’t look up with a smile like he had the last time. I suddenly felt suffocated.
“OK,” he said, “there is a faint line showing up which just means the test is showing something.” He must know this routine well. “This doesn’t necessarily mean you have HIV. These rapid tests are built to be sensitive, and react to several kinds of antibodies. ‘False positives’ happen a lot.” He had asked me if I had been sick at all recently.
My ears perked – if this rapid test was built to be sensitive, then perhaps it sensed the wrong infection. I had, in fact, had some weird flu just a month earlier, in the middle of summer.
As I explained my off-season flu to him, the tester’s logic didn’t follow mine.
“I am not going to sugar coat this,” he said. “Flu–like symptoms can be a sign of HIV infection. You are still probably fine, this really could be a false-positive, but we should draw more blood to make sure.”
This time he stuck an actual needle in my vein to get a vile of blood. I could not believe this was happening. I was a good boy who grew up in the suburbs. I almost always used condoms. I couldn’t have HIV. I didn’t know why, but I knew that I just couldn’t.
The ponytailed tester said that it would take two weeks to get the results back from the new blood test. That sounded like a long time to wait. My mind was spinning. It no longer felt funny to wear nothing but a towel while getting tested. The second we wrapped things up, I bolted towards my locker as fast as I could.
Trying to get my clothes on and get out, a handsome man came in the locker room and began to flirt. It was no longer the time or the place for such things. I made my way for the exit, hurried through and got in my car. The stereo came on and I immediately turned it off. I didn’t want to remember the first song playing after finding out that I could actually be HIV positive.
Did the tester really say it would take two weeks to find out? How? Would someone call me or did I need an appointment? I struggled to remember anything that just happened.
It didn’t matter whether I’d been at the bathhouse or some clinic; not even a Buddhist monk could wait two weeks to find out if he had HIV. And it would still feel like months before I’d get my actual answer.
Continued: To read what happened next, click here.