I had been back in Sydney for more than eight months in 1999 when I started to feel bloody awful, I just could not shake off the hot and cold sweats and dragging my body around was becoming a chore, everything hurt.
At first, I thought it was a recurrence of the Shingles which I had in 1994, then someone told me you could not Shingles twice. I am not sure of the truth of this statement but it prompted me to go to the Doctor because I was certainly not getting any better. It was like the worst case of the Flu that would not leave me alone.
I went to Taylor Square Clinic and met the first of the two Johns I would come to know extremely well over the next years.
John E asked a lot of questions and suggested I have a test for HIV, all my symptoms were consistent with the initial stages of this sickness.
I could not believe I could be infected, I had watched Steve die from AIDS and I was paranoid about safe sex, but John was insistent I did the blood tests.
The turnaround time for a HIV test in those days was almost a week and I spent this time convincing myself it was impossible for me to have contacted this disease,
But; the damn symptoms persisted.
Jassy was living with me at the time, this had been almost an osmotic process, she was working in the Eastern Suburbs and would often stay over after she had been out for the night.
Gradually, a night a week turned into two or three, until she moved in permanently for the work week and would often be there for the weekend as well.
I loved having her there, but it did limit my social life, this was another reason I was confident John was wrong.
Jassy had heard me coughing and getting up during the night, she saw me struggle in the morning and she knew there was something wrong.
I remember exactly where I was when the call came in from Taylor Square, I was on the Princes Highway at St Peters coming back from an appointment in the St George area.
I answered the phone, expecting to be told I was clear of HIV but should come in for some other tests to see what was wrong.
Instead, I was told to make an appointment with John E urgently.
This was not going to plan!
I saw John E and he delivered the news in as positive way as it is possible to do so, he spoke about treatments and I told him about my experience with Steve and the experimental drugs that never seemed to work.
John was insistent I go on treatment straight away and he guided me towards a new Combination Drug Therapy Trial he was involved in.
There were to be 100 people on this trial throughout Australia and because John was involved, he found me a spot.
I had seen too many people succumb to this disease and I grabbed the opportunity with both hands, I think from memory my viral load count was 770,000 and my T cells were very low.
There was no time to lose.
Why am I burdening you with all this crap you already know? You may well ask and I promise, I will get to that.
It took me few days to absorb the news, but I was determined not to live in secrecy about my status. I had seen too many do this and I had fought too hard to live my life honestly as a gay man. Over the next weeks, I told almost everyone I knew about my status, straight and gay alike.
The phone call to you, was meant to be a phone call to a sympathetic, educated gay man, it was meant to be one of the easy ones.
Instead, you bluntly said what everyone including myself, must have been thinking.
“How could you have been so fucking stupid?”
This was the wakeup call I needed. Sympathy from well-meaning people only served to make me feel even sorrier for myself about the capricious hand, fate had dealt me.
You forced me to understand it had all been my own doing, even if I could not identify when or how it had happened.
It is hard to feel sorry for yourself in the face of such a blunt assessment. I thank you for your honesty, I needed it at the time.
Later, you would reflect and apologise for your bluntness, even while I tried to tell you it had been just the tonic I needed.
We have been mates for many years Patrick, but never has the honesty of a true friend been harder to accept, or; more warranted.
Look forward to seeing you soon