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How I Got HIV

By RJ Kowalik

Drip
Javier Larrea/age fotostock/Getty Images


I practiced safe sex.

I was too smart to ever contract HIV! I knew everything there was to know about safe sex. My partner of 13 years was HIV Positive when we met, and I considered it a challenging situation, but nothing we couldn't handle. I loved him and that was the bottom line.

Safe sex is sometimes tedious and boring and lacks the spontaneity that puts the "zip" in any relationship. But we never did anything proven to be "unsafe." We took the risk with oral sex because it seemed worth it, and we rationalized that we had never seen a porn star wearing a condom for a fellatio. I think we were in sync with just about all the couples we know. We also never allowed the act to come to completion in a way that exchanged any body fluids.

But, I still contracted HIV.

About two years ago, I got very tired and felt very sick. My doctor sent me for a cardiac stress test which I could not finish because I could not breathe. She gave me every blood test possible, except for an HIV test, until she ordered one as a last resort-- a shot in the dark! I was getting those about every eighteen months at the anonymous clinic nearby. When her office called to tell me that I had to come in to discuss some test results, I had a fairly good idea what was coming. She bopped into the room, told me it was a positive and gave me the name of an infectious disease doctor. The following Monday I was admitted to the hospital with very few t-cells and a high viral load. I was feeling horrible and weak and generally rotten. In the emergency room, I realized I was getting extraordinary care, many blood tests and lots of strange (yet kind) looks from the nurses and doctors who scrambled about. I was admitted with a diagnosis of pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and spent the following two weeks hooked up to IV tubes and getting numbers drugs and having no appetite or interest in anything. It really had not sunken in.

How Did I Get "It"?

So, how did I get "it"? What happened? No one is supposed to ask the question, but we have to ask it of ourselves. I progressed unusually quickly and baffled all the experts. On really analyzing the history of my progression, I realized that I did get the virus from my husband, but in one of the most boring and unexpected ways possible. I had been having oral surgery on a regular basis, and blood from his saliva was transmitted to the minor tears in my gums during simple kissing. Not the "go for the tonsils" kind of thing, but simple kissing!

Why I'm Sharing My Story.

I am sharing my story because I see, hear and read so much misinformation about HIV infection and transmission. All the while, I realize that I am alive today because of the anti-viral medications which were not available to the many friends I lost in the past whose names are memorialized on the NAMES PROJECT/AID Memorial Quilt.

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