Recently, I found out just how much veracity there is in that cliche, although I probably shouldn’t have called my own health into question to accomplish that.
On Aug. 23, I was at Idlewild Park reporting on the Reno AIDS Walk, an important community effort to raise money for local agencies involved in providing HIV and AIDS education and support services.
On a refreshing late summer’s morning, the park was full of locals decked out in T-shirts and stretchy shorts. Even parents with young children still in strollers came prepared for a Saturday constitutional with hats and sunglasses. I’d say the babies had it pretty easy.
I was scouting out participants and volunteers to give me that next good quote when somewhere along the line I thought (with pure naivete) that it would be a good idea to ask the person manning the testing center about the process of the free HIV scan that some of our local dignitaries were utilizing, including Sparks Mayor Geno Martini.
Hardly did I feel a sense of impending doom until I spoke with John Saderlund of Northern Nevada HOPES (NNH), a prevention outreach coordinator at NNH’s testing center in Reno.
It’s pretty rare that I actually participate in what I’m covering — and I usually prefer it that way (although it’s impossible to resist traveling by private jet to Los Angeles for the premiere of a new television station). After all, I got into this business to tell others’ stories, and I don’t mind it a bit because doing so gives me the privilege of stepping into their shoes for a few minutes to broaden my own limited perspective on life.
But as I sat down with Saderlund, I realized just how nervous I suddenly was: My heart pounding, a nervous curiosity and keeping one eye on the door behind me for a quick escape if I needed it.
He closed the door for confidentiality and brought out the consent form and had me sign. I probably passed as nonchalant, but inside I was a wreck, like an anxious college student making a class presentation. All the while, I scrambled to take good notes to make sure it stuck in my unfortunate short-term memory. He asked me some personal questions about my sex life – indeed, the most painful part of the whole process for me because the very mention of that long-forbidden “s” word makes me blush like you wouldn’t believe.
I was as stoic as could be as he asked me the required and ever-so-uncomfortable questions: Had I ever had sex with men and/or women? Was it vaginal or oral? Do I or my partner use protection? Am I an intravenous drug user? Ah, uneasiness at its finest.
Then, out came the swab on a green stick. After moving it around in my mouth like I was brushing my teeth, I placed the swab in between the lining of my left cheek and gums. Saderlund provided some thoughtful answers while I waited for three long minutes for the swab to soak up the required molecules. I’m surprised the beads of sweat forming on my forehead didn’t pool up on the table.
Actually, I can’t complain about how nice Saderlund was through it all. He told me everything I wanted to know as both a reporter and as a patient of sorts. I went on my way, knowing at least six days would elapse before I would know the results.
When I did manage to sneak away from my desk to go see the results, Saderlund greeted me at the testing center on 580 W. Center St. in Reno. I had to sign more paperwork to verify that forms from before were mine according to matching numbers. They do that to ensure confidentiality.
I couldn’t help but think: It’s frightening enough to imagine the consequences of unprotected sex or wonder what might have been if I had somehow acquired HIV genetically. And even though I have never walked in the footsteps of those who live with it, getting tested certainly gave me a higher appreciation for those who keep building their lives in spite of it, as well as a deeper respect for myself and my health.
I’m glad I did it. As a woman, I’m at a higher risk of getting the disease, a fact that worried my husband and even motivated him to make an appointment to get tested himself when I told him that night. It probably seemed odd to be a walking advertisement for the testing all this week, but at least I know where I stand as a new wife, a young reporter and, in general, a more well-informed human being.
HIV isn’t something you can see in its early stages. And as one man told me, it’s 100-percent preventable if we all stopped for a moment and did something about it.
So go save a life. It could be your own.
Oh, and by the way, I tested HIV-negative.
Jessica Garcia is a reporter for the Sparks Tribune. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org