As a student in a tertiary institute, Brandon (not his real name) is used to taking tests.
But this was one examination that the 20-year-old had hoped to get a negative result on – a test for HIV.
Just after his 19th birthday, Brandon came down with a month-long fever.
Speaking to The New Paper on the condition of anonymity, Brandon said that back then, he told his parents and friends that it was dengue fever.
Deep down however, he suspected it was something more serious.
“I figured that it’s my problem so I have to deal with it myself, that’s why I went for the test alone. I didn’t want to rely on others,” said Brandon, who went to the Action for Aids (AFA) clinic in Kelantan Lane to get tested.
When the results were ready, an AFA volunteer took him to a “large, empty room” and broke the news to him.
“I was silent for a few minutes. I tried to act tough and started listing out all the changes I would need to make (to my life),” said Brandon.
“But the more I talked, the more I broke down. In the end, I sat there crying for 10 minutes.”
He was told to take a confirmation test and that he would have to wait two weeks for the results.
Brandon said: “(During those two weeks). it was like waking up with a hangover every day. Even when I lay in bed at night, I would be filled with dread and would spend a few hours thinking about it.”
After “the worst” two weeks of his life, the news he had been dreading came in the form of a phone call while he was attending a lecture in school.
“I had to go outside to take it. It was the AFA head nurse who apologised and said that the results were positive. I was too emotionally drained then and at that point, I couldn’t have felt any sadder than I already was.”
With a wry smile, he added that after the call, he returned to the lecture because he did not want to neglect his schoolwork.
Before becoming an HIV patient, Brandon admitted he had many misconceptions about the virus.
“I thought I wouldn’t be able to share cutlery or food – not that I normally share my food – but once I got HIV, I had to learn that those were just myths. I was schooled by the virus,” he said.
It has been a year since his diagnosis, but Brandon’s parents still do not know about his condition. It is a burden keeping the secret, but he fears their reaction.
He said: “I don’t want them to say, ‘I told you so’. I’ve heard of stories where people get chased out of their homes after telling their family that they have HIV.”
Only four of his closest classmates know about his condition.
One of them, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect Brandon’s identity, told TNP: “I was very shocked… and I was worried.
“But I know that HIV isn’t contagious through daily contact. He’s still my good friend and the same person I know.”
Brandon’s subsidised medication costs about $60 a month, which he pays for with his $100 weekly allowance.
“I set the money aside once I get my pocket money. Even on months when it’s tight, I just have to find the money for the medication,” said Brandon, who takes four pills a day
Brandon’s doctor also told him that while the viral load is now undetectable in his bloodstream, he will have to continue taking medication for life.
“I do blame the person who gave me this virus, but mostly I blame myself. Everyone says that I don’t deserve it, but I did play with fire,” said Brandon, adding that he had unprotected sex with several partners but did not keep track of them.
Infectious diseases specialist Leong Hoe Nam said younger HIV patients often face a tougher time.
Dr Leong said: “Younger people might not have the maturity to cope with and overcome the treatment.
“For those who can’t tell their parents, they’re trapped financially and emotionally. They can’t tell their friends about it and they don’t want to tell their parents about it.”One thing weighing on Brandon’s mind is national service next year, when he will have to declare his condition.
He said: “I’ve heard that I can be exempted from NS or take a desk-bound job, but I’m not sure what I’m leaning towards.”
Although Brandon is not ready to “come out” publicly about his condition because he does not want to be labelled as the boy with HIV, he hopes his story will serve as an encouragement to others.
“Keeping it to yourself for almost a year isn’t fun.
“I want (other HIV positive) people like me to hear my story and know that they are not alone,” said Brandon.
I don’t want them to say, ‘I told you so’. I’ve heard of stories where people get chased out of their homes after telling their family that they have HIV.
– Brandon, on why he hasn’t told his parents