I entered the room with two concerns in mind…
The main concern was not that I would be HIV positive. I had been preparing myself to hear such news, facilitated by South Africa, a country where there is a serious movement from civil society in the region to destroy the stigma around getting tested for HIV. I’ve spent enough time in the country to know that one can live a normal life while being HIV positive. As a result, that morning at the clinic in Pimville, South Africa, although I was concerned about having HIV, my main concern was actually that I would faint as they gave me the test!
The last time I was tested was at a clinic in Harrisonburg, Virginia. There, the nurse used a small vial with a needle at the end to draw blood from vein in my arm. That day I was ok, but there was another time when I had blood drawn and I became very light-headed. The nurse made me prop my feet up on a desk to keep me from fainting. I had been told that they use a pinprick to draw blood from one’s fingertip at the clinic in Pimville, but I was afraid there might be some mistake and they would draw blood from my arm.
I had been called into the room by a woman. She asked me to sit in a chair. She then sat down in a chair herself, facing me. She reached up and pulled a curtain closed to form a small space in which she and I were then alone. She introduced herself and said, “I am the HIV/AIDS councillor at this clinic.” She was calming and comforting; motherly, sisterly, and professional. She didn’t say much, though. She let her vibration speak for her. I felt quite at ease at knowing that this extremely focused African woman might soon tell me that I am now carrying the HIV virus.
She then opened the curtains and asked me to sit in another chair for the test. Still focused, still comforting, she busily put on some laytex gloves and prepared a cotton ball with some rubbing alcohol. The feeling of ease suddenly disappeared. Thank goodness she took a little piece of orange plastic from a box. This was the needle. She took hold of the index finger of my left hand and placed the little needle against my fingertip. Since I had nearly passed out once before, I decided not to watch.
She pierced my finger, squeezed it to make the blood come out, and then she put the drop of blood onto some small plastic thing which looked similar to an at-home pregnancy test. I understand that this method of testing for HIV is accurate and quick. In fact, I told the nurse about the test that I’d had in the States. She said that they didn’t use that method because they got the results right there at the clinic. She said it was very expensive to draw the blood and send it to a lab. She then put the alcohol-saturated cotton ball over my fingertip and told me the results would be ready in about 15 minutes.
I walked out of the room and returned to my seat next to my friend who had come with me. Now all that was left was a few minutes of suspense before I learned my status. My friend and I talked with each other to pass the time, and soon the door opened and my name was called. I stood up and walked into the office.
Once inside, the councillor asked me to return to the same seat where she had asked me to sit the first time. She also sat in her original seat and drew the curtains so we were alone again. She had the plastic testing device in her hand, which she showed to me. There was a tiny window showing a whitish surface. On that surface was a greyish-blue line.
“How many lines do you see?” she asked me.
I answered with the truth, “One.”
“That means you are HIV negative. You should come back in three months.”
“Kea leboha haholo, mme oa ka,” I said to her, which is Sesotho for “Thank you very much, my mother.”
I did not smile when I walked out of the room. I tried to keep a straight face because I didn’t want to seem rude to anyone in the clinic who was HIV positive. But I was quite relieved to have the experience overwith. I told my friend the news as we walked into the lobby of the clinic, and then we walked out the door into the hot Soweto morning.