By Justin Adam Brown
Weekender teamed up with Wyoming Valley AIDS Council to promote HIV testing during National HIV Testing Week.
From noon to 2 p.m. on June 26, free testing was offered to the general public in front of LCCC Corporate Learning Center in Wilkes-Barre. The testing initiative turned out to be more of a social experiment that exposed the level of willingness people had to get tested and dose of fear they had for the results.
In the two-hour window of testing, about 20 people showed up.
“I’ve been with my boyfriend for 5 years — and only him,” said Jen from Wilkes-Barre. Although she never had another sexual partner while with her boyfriend — or suspect her partner cheated — Jen said she wanted to get tested just to be safe. “I didn’t realize how ignorant I was to HIV until I read the story … about getting tested. I realized there’s no guarantee that you’re safe or the person with you is. I don’t think I have it, but you can never be too safe.”
Still, most of the people who walked by the table, that offered information and free testing, were confident they didn’t need to be tested.
“I’m good, I just know I am,” said one guy.
“No, I haven’t been tested before, but I think I’d know if I had something by now,” said another guy.
Perhaps they’re unaware that 1 in 7 people infected with HIV or AIDS are completely unaware they have the disease — while possibly infecting others.
Statistics such as the aforementioned figure is what inspired Alyssa and Nicole to travel from Scranton for the free test.
“I read the story in the Weekender and the numbers were really high of people around here who have (HIV),” Alyssa said. She was referring to the 721 known cases of HIV or AIDS in Northeastern Pennsylvania — which totals 6.06 percent of the entire population of Luzerne and Lackawanna counties.
Perhaps the people who denied free testing weren’t as certain of their status as they claimed. They might have been too afraid to learn their fate.
That was the case for Jerry from Plains. He said he was scared to get the test.
“I don’t know if I have it or not,” he whispered, shaking nervously. “I’m afraid I might. What if they say I have it? Will I die?”
His fear stemmed from being an IV drug user.
“My crazy ex went back to stripping before we broke up,” Jerry added. “People said she was also prostituing on the side, so I don’t know if she had or not. She was a nympho.”
Jerry said his weight has fluctuated recently and he’ll often experience flu-like symptoms — all common signs of being HIV-positive.
Reluctant, he took the test. He spent the next 20 minutes pacing back and forth, sweating and praying to God for good news. To his surprise, he found out he was not infected with HIV.
“I feel great just knowing for sure,” he said. “I’ve been afraid to get tested for years. The test was painless. They didn’t even have to take any blood.”
Jerry’s results may have calmed his nerves, but had he let his fear of having HIV prevent him from getting tested, he could have put himself and others at risk had he actually been infected.
Wyoming Valley AIDS Council case management coordinator, Megan Margavage, says it’s typical for people to be nervous for their first test. Once they know what to expect from the process, they’re more likely to get tested on a regular basis.
Whether you think you have HIV or not, it’s impossible to know for sure without getting tested. It’s better to be safe than sorry, right?
Reach Justin at 570.991.6652 and follow him #PartyLikeAJournalist on Instagram @justinadambrown