Until a couple of years ago, I used to teach English abroad. In most of the places I worked, you had to get an HIV test before they’d give you a work visa. Sometimes you can do your test prior to leaving your home country, but most of the time it happens soon after arrival in the host country.

I’d been in Country X (a Third World country) for a couple of months. A few days after my HIV screening, my boss called me into his office. He dropped a bombshell: the hospital that did my test had just phoned to let him know that I was HIV positive. I received a slip of paper confirming the result the next day, and reading it was probably one of the most chilling experiences I’ve ever had.

HIV positive. Fuck!

It was news to me, and as you can probably imagine, I was utterly devastated. I didn’t get much sleep. I spent several days in my own personal hell, agonising over stuff like WHO? and WHEN? until eventually I came to the grim conclusion that there was no way I could handle living with HIV. It sounds overly dramatic, but I started thinking about suicide methods and composing farewell letters to family and friends.

Maybe a week later, my boss called me into his office again. I’d become so preoccupied with my own misery that I’d stopped eating and was looking pretty haggard. He dropped another bombshell: the hospital had phoned again. They’d made a mistake. Apparently a lot of other samples had also come up HIV positive recently. As in, all the blood tested at the hospital in the last couple of weeks. A supervisor suspected something was wrong, had everyone re-checked, and concluded that one of their lab technicians had royally fucked up. A new document arrived from the hospital. I didn’t have HIV after all.

HIV negative. Fuck!

I felt better, of course, but I wasn’t my old self again for a very long time. I became paranoid about my HIV status, and 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, though, so when I got home at the end of my contract the first thing I did was buy an HIV self-test kit. It was negative. Lingering feelings of doubt still remained, so 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. But deep down I still wonder if there isn’t something sinister lying dormant in my blood, waiting for a chance to emerge. And it’s all because of the time I saw my name on an official hospital document that basically said YOU’RE FUCKED.

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