Guest post by ‘Raj’, a gay nurse from Malaysia. Here Raj tells the story of being HIV+ and its impact on his career.
My journey into nursing did not come to me in the form of an epiphany on a lonely night. I was 20 years old and did not know what I wanted to do in life. A visit to an education fair changed that and, after weighing the pros and cons, I decided to pursue a career in nursing. Whilst pioneered by my university, the Bachelor of Nursing (Hons) degree was not a popular choice in Malaysia. Our class only had about 17 students.
The nursing programs around Malaysia were predominantly still stuck in the Diploma level phase, which was slightly cheaper as well – hence it was the more popular choice for anyone wanting to pursue a career in nursing. Being students who wanted to have a degree, we would sometimes meet resistance and hostility from the veteran Diploma nurses who would think that we were there to replace them and any form of us questioning them would be labeled as being rebels who are trying to fight the system.
However, through decorum and tact, we survived the four years, with a thesis in hand, a license from the Malaysian Nursing Board and hopes of one day contributing to our field. Not to mention the Honours Degree we slaved after!
Just a few days after graduating, I managed to secure a job with a hospital in Singapore in one of their more renowned wards, the Neurology Med-Surg Department. Neurology had always attracted me as a student and it was an ambition to strive to be a Nurse Practitioner in Neurology.
It was an exciting point in my life where my health was in check, my career at the brink of lift-off and I was dating a man who I was in love with. Being homosexual in Malaysia was slightly difficult due to the repercussions of a cultural or religious backlash, but it was fine for me. I had had casual sex with men before and was quite comfortable with the fact that I was gay. The only problem was that I kept it from my family for fear of being shunned. It was liberating, however, to know that my friends were much more accepting and supportive of my life.
I had to undergo the usual health screening before my work visa could be officially approved. This consisted of a head to toe physical examination, the blood tests (full blood count, HIV/VDRL, immunity, etc) along with a chest x-ray. A few of my friends who were also going to be working with me had their blood tests come in and everything was approved after four days. Mine, however was delayed, as they mentioned that they detected HIV antibodies in my blood and it required ‘further testing’ to rule out the possibility of the actual HIV infection or if it was just an exposure.
Unable to grant my work visa, they said that the test would take two to three weeks before anything was confirmed. Having no money to sustain my life in Singapore, I headed back to Malaysia to wait. I immediately went to the Pink Triangle Foundation, a non-government organisation which helped in services, counselling and upholding the rights of the LGBT community in Malaysia. They were running an anonymous HIV screening program and I had to know if I was really infected.
The rapid test conducted in Pink Triangle was positive for the presence of the antibodies and 70% conclusive that I was in fact HIV+. To make matters worst, the hospital that I was supposed to work for called me three days later to confirm that I did in fact have HIV. They had done an ELISA and Western Blot Assay test to verify the results of my blood test. And because of that, they had to rescind my job offer and I was left without a job. Just when I thought it could not head south from there, my boyfriend, who could not handle the fact that I was HIV+, left me.
I had held it all together for 24 years, my life, my health, my career, my so-called love life – and in a split second, it all fell apart.
I think the benefit of hitting that rock bottom gave me a new lease on life, however. It makes me appreciate the present much more and it’s rather unhealthy to chase some sort of illusion that is the future or hang on to burdens of the past.
With that in mind, to help pay the bills I offer private tutoring for school students. It’s next to impossible to secure a job as a nurse in Malaysia with my current medical condition and I’ve decided to let it go for now. I would love to practice nursing in the future, but perhaps not here. Given the chance, I would not want to stay in Malaysia in the long run.
A still from the Malaysian gay-themed film ‘Dalam Botol’.
Homosexuality at large is still viewed here as a hedonistic lifestyle which people can be rehabilitated or cured out of and not as a way of life in congruence to a person’s biological, psychological, socio-cultural, environmental and politico-economic needs. The wife of the Malaysian Prime Minister, Datin Seri Rosmah, who blamed gays for the rising prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Malaysia and called for our immediate banishment, is a typical reflection of how we are viewed in our country.
Healthwise, my T-cell count is above 500 and my viral load is undetectable. I’m not on any medications for now and I still run and work out daily, much to the disbelief of some of the doctors who think I am coping a tad bit too effectively! My friends have been a very good support system and they constantly remind me that HIV does not define who I am.
Circumstances have led me down a different path, but I hope that it will be a better journey from here on forward.
Image credit: 5election.com/2010/05/16/the-first-gay-themed-film-in-malaysia
HIV positive nurses in NSW are prevented from working in ‘exposure-prone’ situations but can otherwise work as usual. The risk of transmission of HIV from health care workers to patients is extremely low.