In June of 2012 I had already been through an enormous amount of stress. I had survived near death from necrotizing fasciitis two years prior and was recovering from continuous recurrences of staph infection/MRSA in my left leg. Months prior I had broken up with my ex girlfriend, Amairany, of two years whom I felt I loved. Before breaking up as the relationship spiraled down hill we were having unprotected sex regularly in an attempt to have a child which ,thank God, did not happen. I was so distraught over the break up that I began to seek out love in all the wrong places. I started to have multiple one night stands after the break up, many times unprotected. I was yearning to feel a women’s touch again and feel what it was like to be in a relationship once more. I had never been cheated on before so I took the break up very hard. I gave her one chance when she had cheated the first time and when she cheated for the second time, I was bound that I would not be made to look like a fool again. In the end it was what was best for the both of us because the relationship was very unhealthy however at the time it did not make any difference and I was still saddened as I thought we were a match made in heaven and she was “the one.”
In the latter weeks of May 2012 I started to get symptoms of pink eye which was normal because I worked in bail bonds and I was constantly in an out of jails exposing myself to a multitude of bacteria. I made an appointment with my primary care doctor to get eye drops to help clear up the pink eye and while at the doctor I decided to get my annual HIV Test. I thought back to all the times I had unprotected sex and decided it was the best thing to do just to be sure. My ex had gotten a tattoo months prior, I got a tattoo as well a couple months before, she had cheated & I was not sure if she had used protection, and the multiple times I put myself at risk was enough to make me say, this is a good idea. I was accustomed to getting the test as I would do it out of precaution every year as a “just in case” type deal. Everything was normal and they took my blood as usual telling me they would call me when the results came in. They normally would call me back within 2 – 3 days max however this time I received no call. I thought nothing of it as I assumed that my doctor had just forgotten to call me.
The next week I had an appointment scheduled on June 5,2012 with my specialist for a check up regarding the ongoing issues with my leg. It was a normal day as any other and I made the drive to Scripps Green Hospital in San Diego, CA. When I entered the office my doctor went over how I was feeling with my leg and checking to make sure I was still taking my antibiotics. After briefly discussing my leg my doctor, Dr. Redfield, then informed me that my primary care doctor had called him earlier regarding my HIV test. I thought it was odd however did not think anything of it and said “Oh yea, he forgot to call me back about the results. Thanks for reminding me because I need to call him after this to get those.” That is when my doctor looked me in the eyes and told me that he had my results and this time they did not come out so good. I asked him what he meant by this and he was very blunt looking me right in the eyes and saying “Josh, you came out positive this time.”
I stared at the wall trying to hold back the tears and process what I had just been told. My doctor told me about the treatment available and how much HIV had changed since the 1980’s, everything he told me seemed like a blur, going in one ear and out the other. I was trying to stay strong and maintain my composure but it just became too much and I broke down crying into a river of tears. My doctor explained I would have to go for a confirmatory test to confirm the positive result and gave me the lab paper with my initial results as well as the orders for the Western Blot test. I was in complete shock and practically ran out of his office. So many things were going through my head including how I was going to tell my family, friends, and above all my ex. The virus that I thought would never happen to me because I didn’t fall into the typical stereotype of the stigmatized image people have of HIV/AIDS, ended up infecting me. I was not 100 % sure and am still not sure to this day of how I was infected because I put myself through multiple situations where I possibly could have contracted HIV. The nurse took my blood for the confirmatory test and I was still crying my eyes out. I didn’t know how I would continue from one day to the next. I told her what test I was taking and she just responded “Oh, I am so sorry.” My only hope was a false positive however I knew the chances were slim. I had to sit in the chair for several minutes after my diagnosis so I would not collapse when I got up. After pulling myself together as much as I could I left the hospital.
I went straight to work as I have always been a work-a-holic just trying to put my recent news I had found out to the back of my mind. I wanted to crash the car the whole way home and say goodbye to this life. I didn’t see the point in continuing on however after realizing how it would affect those closest to me, I made the decision to continue on. I never really worried that I would die from this virus or it would destroy me however I was more worried about what my new life would hold and how others would react. That day at work was one of the hardest of my life but I made it through it. I told my parents that night after much internal debate, seeing the ones who raised you and loved you your whole life knowing they know something is wrong, I just couldn’t hold it back. I told my mom first and we sat and cried for hours, trying to cope with my new diagnosis. She assured me that we would get through this as a family and no matter what, they would both be there to support me. I told my dad in the middle of the night as he was about to leave for work and he gave me a big hug telling me to stay strong and whatever we had to get through this we would. I was relieved to have my parents support but I knew there was one call I still had to make. I waited a couple of days until the confirmatory test came in before calling my ex as I was still holding out hope that a false positive had happened. I made the call after speaking with my primary care doctor over the phone who confirmed it and I can tell you it was honestly one of the hardest calls of my life. I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth and she was still shocked I was even calling seeing as how we had been broken up for so long. I knew she had never been tested and I was not even sure how I was infected however since she fell into the 6 month window period I knew it was the only right thing to do. When I finally did tell her “Amairany, I am HIV Positive” she let out a blood curdling scream that I still have nightmares about to this days at times. It was a scream of sheer terror something I had never heard from her before. She started to cry so hard that it seemed the whole world could hear her agony which tore me to pieces inside. I started to tell her that I was not 100 % of where I had gotten it but by chance if I had gotten it from her or the tattoo then she might be infected as well so she needed to go get tested and if it comes back negative then test again in 6 months just to make sure. She dropped the phone and continued crying all while I could hear her in the background. Her aunt got on the phone and I told her causing her to break down as well. I felt like I had let everyone down and even though she had hurt me so bad by cheating on me, I still loved her enough to tell her so she could take care of her health. Her aunt took her to get tested that day and I never heard back from either one of them nor any of the family of how her results came out. Her mom called me the next day and cussed me out in so many spanish cuss words that I couldn’t even keep up. I was absolutely devastated and like I told her mom ” I am doing this because I love her and want her to take care of her health, not to hurt her.” They didn’t understand and just thought I had cheated on her and infected her with a deadly incurable virus. That was the last I ever heard from any of their family except very select few people that I still have contact with to this day.
The weeks following I had a decision to make wether to let this virus define me or take control of it. I started on treatment almost immediately after my diagnosis and went from having a 28,000 VL and 350 cd4 to undetectable and my cd4’s almost doubling. I became very open about my status from the beginning because of the support I received from close friends and my family. I started to educate myself more about the virus in every sense as well as reach out for support. I watched many fellow activists who have now become close friends V-logs and was inspired of their approach to this virus which convinced me that is the approach I wanted to take. I participated in my first AIDS Walk and ended up getting an HIV Tattoo on my R Forearm months after to signify my daily journey. I decided to put a face to HIV and show people that regardless of race, sexual orientation, socio economic status this virus can happen to anyone. I joined a large support group on FB which as been vital in my battle against this virus as I have a safe place to share my feelings free of any stigma,ignorance, or discrimination.
I thought HIV was the end however it was simply a new beginning. I am not proud to be positive but am proud of how it has positively impacted my life for the better. I have grown emotionally, spiritually, and mentally from this experience. I have met so many wonderful people that are now life long friends and many doors of opportunity have opened up since my diagnosis. I love helping others and therefor since my diagnosis made it a point to share my story and prevent others from taking the same road I did and contracting this virus. I have no shame, though I accept full responsibility that my actions led me to where I am at, I did nothing different than millions of people do on a daily basis, I just got an unlucky hand in life. It is what I do with that unlucky hand that makes the difference. I am not a victim but I am a survivor. Life is a precious gift and I have a lot of years a head of me.
Until next time thank you for reading
Joshua D Middleton