Monday, 6 December 2021

Type 1 error

Until a few years ago, I taught English abroad. If you've ever worked overseas, you'd know that you can't get a work visa without a HIV screening. It is possible to get one before leaving home, but there's generally no expectation of that from employers, and anyway in Australia it's fiddly, time-consuming and expensive (like everything else). Most of the time you'll be tested after arrival in your host country.

OK, so I’d been in Country X for some months. A few days after my HIV test at the local hospital, my boss called me into his office. He dropped a bombshell: the hospital had apparently phoned to say I was HIV positive. It was probably one of the most chilling experiences I've ever had.

HIV positive. Fuck!

I was utterly devastated. I didn't get much sleep, and I spent days in my own personal hell, agonising over stuff like WHO? and WHEN? Eventually I decided that there was no way I could live with HIV. It might sound dramatic, but I started writing farewell letters and thinking seriously about suicide.

Maybe a week later, my boss called me into his office again. I'd been so preoccupied with my own misery that I'd stopped eating and taking care of myself. He dropped another bombshell: the hospital had made a mistake! A lot of patients there had come up HIV positive recently - so many it was suspicious - and a supervisor discovered that a lab technician had royally screwed up.

HIV negative. Fuck!

I felt better, of course, but I wasn't my old self again for ages. I was paranoid about being potentially HIV positive, and I went back to the hospital again and again to have my blood re-tested. The results were always negative. I still wasn't entirely convinced because when I flew home at the end of my contract, the first thing I did was buy a HIV self-test kit. It was negative. Lingering feelings of doubt still remained and I went to a proper clinic for a final, winner-takes-all HIV screening. It was negative.

It’s been many years since all this happened. I’ve since been to other countries where I was tested for HIV (as recently as 2015) so I know I don’t have it. Yet deep down I still wonder if there isn't something sinister lying dormant in my blood, just waiting to emerge. And all because of the time someone told me I was fucked.

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