Rhea’s perfect life is turned upside down when her boyfriend tells her that he is HIV positive. What options do they have as a couple?
Rhea listened in silence as Avinash told her how a chance blood test had resulted in him being given the worst news of his life. From the beginning, both of them had been very transparent about their past relationships. For Rhea, Avinash was the first man she had been physically intimate with. Avinash was more experienced and had been sexually intimate with another girl before Rhea.
The facts started to sink in gradually for Rhea. After her initial outburst, she calmed herself and started to think about what all this meant. While she was faced with potentially life-threatening news, Avinash’s world had already taken a spin and Rhea loved him too much to be able to just sit back and do nothing. Avinash couldn’t believe this was happening to him – wasn’t this just something that happened in movies or fictional stories and only with people who slept around mindlessly? Rhea knew for sure that that was not the case with Avinash and right now he needed tremendous emotional support.
Rhea and Avinash’s eyes met and they exchanged an unspoken promise of being with each other in this crucial time. Their love would withstand this storm and as a couple, they would become stronger than ever.
They now had several things to plan and decide. They wanted to meet the counsellor at the earliest so that Avinash’s next set of tests and his line of treatment could be decided upon. Also, Rhea needed to get herself tested as well.
The next day they went to meet the counsellor, who was a part of that HIV testing facility. He talked separately with Avinash and Rhea in detail about their present and past sexual patterns and partners, about present illnesses or ongoing treatments, and referred them to the concerned healthcare practitioner for the further course of treatment.
Meanwhile, Rhea’s blood had been taken to the lab to be tested for HIV.
Meeting the doctor
Avinash and Rhea made an appointment with Dr. Sudha, an infectious disease specialist, with thousands of questions on their minds. They sat uncomfortably on the edge of their chairs, perplexed and tense while the doctor went through Avinash’s reports. On noticing their growing anxiety, she looked up and closed the file in front of her. “What’s bothering you so much?” she asked, in a manner so calm it may have been a newspaper, not a medical report she’d just finished reading a few seconds ago. Her composure didn’t go down too well with a visibly disturbed Avinash.
“An HIV positive status will bother anyone. I have not slept for nights and you are taking it so lightly!” he snapped rudely.
“So what? Millions of others have it too. Big deal!” said the doctor.
Rhea and Avinash looked understandably confused.
“Well, I can understand what all must be going through your minds. Before walking you through the whole subject I just want to assure you that not all ‘HIV positive’ stories end on a sad note. So first of all, stop feeling lousy for yourself,” said Dr. Sudha with a big, positive smile.
Her last sentence did the trick and both Rhea and Avinash relaxed.
Avinash shot the first question, “Rhea’s HIV test result is still awaited and assuming it comes out negative, what is the probability of her getting infected if we continue to stay in the relationship?”
“Well… if both of you swear to take the much needed precautions religiously, the chances of transmission become very less. Almost negligible, if the protection is used consistently and correctly. Make sure you use a condom during every single sexual act, be it vaginal or anal,” said Dr. Sudha.
“Oral sex can also be risky as there could be microscopic cuts in the mouth, on the penis and in the vagina. The HIV virus is present in a large concentration in the sexual fluids of a person and if this comes in contact with an open cut or sore, chances of infection are high,” she added.
“What about sharing routine things together, like a towel, bed, crockery and other such stuff?” asked Rhea.
“That you can share or avoid, depending upon your personal hygiene choices but social contacts do not become a party in HIV transmission,” explained Dr. Sudha. “Shaking hands, a peck on cheek or a warm hug will only enhance your love for each other.”
After discussing their fears and queries for almost an hour, the situation seemed more positive and less grim to the couple. They felt better and looked forward to the next step of undergoing more tests and starting the treatment with antiretroviral drugs as the doctor has prescribed.
Two days later Rhea’s test results came in. They were negative. Rhea took a breath of relief but Avinash was exhilarated. It seemed like a heavy stone has been lifted from his chest. At least he hadn’t caused any harm to the most precious thing in his life.
Life after HIV
Time passed by. They went through the treatment process meticulously and it showed results. Avinash was doing very well and his regular test results were coming out well. His immunity levels were up to the mark.
Six months later, when the couple went to meet Dr. Sudha for Avinash’s regular checkup, Rhea’s broad smile, silk sari and red sindoor said it all. After all, with the right precautions and practices, there is life after HIV.
Photograph by Tom Spitznas, via sxc.hu