What is an HIV Clinic like?
Well, I can only talk from the UK perspective, here. And it hasn't changed much from the old VD clinics, or "Special Clinics" pre-HIV and AIDS. Except in one major way, that is.
It's OK to be gay.
I mean it really is OK to be gay. Bewilderingly so, refreshingly so.
But before you go to one, lets check out a couple of things.
- Why you want to go in the first place
- Whether you care about confidentiality.
Second one first! You Do care. You want 100% confidentiality and anonymity. The fact that you have had an HIV test, whatever the result, is sufficient for many insurers to refuse to insure your life. Yes, EVEN if negative.
In the UK there are two streams of genito urinary medicine available on the national health service. You want the one which avoids your family doctor. You want the one where you are known only by a number, and can choose whatever name you like. This one, regulated by act of parliament MUST NOT ever give out your details to anyone. Even the blood samples go to the haematology lab with just your number on them. No names. Never. And the records stay in the clinic and never, ever appear on your medical records. Up to you to tell the insurance companies whether you have had an HIV test! And this is the one time when you will have amnesia.
Now the first one. Why you want to go: Complex, and for many reasons. Let's look at a few reasons:
- I have a new partner. I want to show I am safe.
- I just want to know, for my own peace of mind
- I'm a virgin. I actually just want to talk to someone
- I had sex recently. And I don't know the status of my partner.
- The condom broke
- HELP! My partner just told me he is HIV+
- We never used condoms
- The condom was OK, but I bled. Or he bled.
- My (or his) gums are bleeding
- I have some strange symptoms
- I always go. Every three months I take a full health check.
- I needed some advice. It seemed natural to have a check up as well.
These aren't all the reasons for going. But they cover a load of them. And you can list more if you like. But actually, you don't need a reason. You just need to want to go.
This is all very well, but what is it like?
Yeah, I know. Cut the crap and give me the information. We're going the "Clinic with numbers only" route, right?
When you arrive you go to reception. You may have phoned ahead to book, or you may go to a walk-in clinic. But you report your arrival and get allocated your number. Then you start to wait. you do get asked for a first name. And a date of birth. I suggest you use your own in each case. It's OK, they can't trace you through it, but you do need to be able to get yout file back later and if you can't rememebr "20637" then you need to know you are Fred, born 07/03/84, otherwise they will lose your record totally.
The first thing you'll see so that the place isn't full of druggies, nor "obviously gay" men. There are all sorts there. Housewives, mothers with daughters, sons. Men, women, couples. Some nervous, some smiling. Some are even un-British, and talk to you. It isn't a place where any self consciousness is needed. It wasn't pre-HIV and it isn't today.
Oh, the wait MAY be a pain. Literally! Coz you will need to give a urine sample later, and peeing just now is bad news!
After a while you'll be called in to meet the Health Advisor. This is especially the case if you have either booked an HIV test, or if it is your first visit. And Health Advisors, while not necessarily female, are usually ex nurses. There is a great probability you will be advised by a lady. Well that's better than you could imagine, especially if you are gay but not out. Women make awesome listeners.
Now the Health Advisor's job is to talk to you about the reasons you've come to the clinic, to help you with safe sex (gutter! I mean tell you, not show you!), quite possibly to give you a supply of free condoms and lube, to give you ways of contacting any counsellor, group or advisor you feel you need to speak to, to advise on inoculations (sorry, not against HIV yet, but we're hoping - these are hepatitis A and B; have them BOTH), and to take blood samples to test for antibodies to HIV and to Hepatitis A and B. This is a person you can speak freely to. And I do mean freely.
And then back to the waiting room for the doctor. Why? Because you'd be a total dickhead not to get a full sexual health check while you're there, that's why. It isn't just HIV they check for. They check the lot. So get it checked.
The doctor is going to cover a little of the same ground that the Health Advisor covered. A few questions about sexual habits and practices, which you should answer truthfully, even if you blush crimson, and then a physical examination. Trousers and underwear round the ankles, lie on the couch, and have him examine your dick and balls. Always worth having someone examine your balls in case of testicular cancer. This is the time to raise any medical questions. That odd bit of skin, or that little lump. Ask the doctor now.
Oh, for those looking forward to it, you don't get a prostate exam here. Tough luck!
Now a battery of tests. Piss in two pots (they are looking for pus cells here), one for start of stream, one for mid flow. Have swabs taken from inside the tip of the penis to check for uretrhral infection. Have swabs taken from the back of the throat (yes, idiot, because of oral sex! Now that is the one difference between today and pre-HIV, coz men never sucked other men off, now did they? Not in those days!).
And that is that. Except you wait for the result of the pus cell check. And leave with anitbiotics if there is a need to do so.
It's friendly, staffed with pleasant people, and the waiting room has a slight stress level because everyone is there for a reason.
The next day with an efficient clinic you will get your HIV results. You will almost certainly have to visit to get them. A week later you will get your hepatitis A and B results, and your other results from the swabs they've taken.
You feel a bit exposed walking to the clinic, and very pleased with yourself walking away from it. Plus you have an awesome supply of free condoms. Extra strength condoms. Oh, and often some nauseatingly flavoured ones for oral sex, too.
Feel good about yourself. Oh, tell your partner you've been. Ask him to go, too.