I Got AIDS From Someone I Met on a Chatline [A Cautionary Tale]
After Sarah and I broke up, I went through what you might call a “bored patch”. I had a sizable apartment in San Diego, where I had staked out a fairly successful career and life was pretty good, but having just ended a long-term relationship, I couldn’t help feel a little restless.
It was the night of August 21st, 2015 and I couldn’t sleep. After tossing and turning for what felt like hours, I finally gave in and flipped on the TV. In between Family Guy segments, I saw a commercial I had seen hundreds of times on late night television. “Sexy singles in your area are looking to chat”. On the screen, good looking 20-somethings gave me flirtatious looks, beckoning me to dial that number, in golden script on the bottom of the screen.
I don’t know why I called the sex chat service that night. Maybe it was the boredom or the insomnia, but looking back, probably a little bit of both.
I didn’t expect my conversation with Joanna to go so well, but it felt like we had chemistry from the second she answered. We talked for hours before I even realized it, but the next thing I knew, we were scheduling a date for the next night.
I picked her up at her La Jolla apartment and took her to a fancy restaurant downtown. Joanna told me about her childhood, her family and asked me about mine. We sat at the restaurant until closing, and it seemed like we had told each other everything. When we were asked to leave, she told me she wanted to come with me back to my apartment.
I don’t need to go into detail, but in the cab I could tell that Joanna wanted me, and I wanted her as well. It didn’t take long when we got in the front door before we were in bed. I couldn’t believe that this person I’d met on a chatline was so wild, and that we were completely in-sync.
But after that night, Joanna became distant. She stopped returning my calls and texts, and I only saw her two more times before she cut off contact entirely. I told myself that our connection was all in my head, that I had just imagined it, and eventually, I moved on.
I thought it was the flu, which is why I tried to ride it out. I was a busy man, with no time to see a doctor for some basic flu-like symptoms. It went on for days until weeks were turning into multiple months and I wasn’t getting better. When I say flu-like symptoms, I mean the common cold. You know, runny nose, frequent fevers and general soreness, among other common symptoms. Slowly and surely, I started to get better.
It was only recently that I had more symptoms, which an online symptom checker suggested was pneumonia. I decided that going to the doctor was the best option, since pneumonia is a bit more serious than a simple cold. My doctor agreed that that was what is most likely was, but he wanted to run more tests.
The tests revealed something that I wasn’t afraid of, because I didn’t even know to be afraid of it. My immune system was weakened, and my white blood cell count was critically low. My doctor couldn’t even look me in the eye. I had HIV.
As it turns out, flu-like symptoms are the first sign that you’ve contracted HIV/AIDS, and what they call “opportunistic infections”, like pneumonia, are common once the virus has preyed on your immune system.
I’ve become weak and unable to handle the daily physical tasks that life requires. I take regular naps and have been so tired on some days that I can no longer work regularly. I took some time off, and quit altogether when it became too much to take. I now spend regular time in the hospital, with sores and serious infections that my weakened immune defenses are powerless against.
The hardest part was telling my family. They looked at me with a mix of pity and shame, the same types of looks I get from people on the streets that realize what I suffer from.
Amidst all this, I’ve tried to remain hopeful and take a lesson away: hooking up with strangers can be fun, but as I learned the hard way, extremely dangerous sometimes. Always use protection, even if you’re feeling pressured. It only takes one mistake to change your entire life.
I don’t blame anyone but myself. Joanna likely doesn’t know that she’s infected and I don’t have her contact information anymore to tell her. I don’t blame the chatline, it’s only an avenue to make the mistake that will undoubtedly shorten my life.
I made the choice… I have to live with the results, forever.