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What Men Should Know

“There is someone in our corner”

It all started late last year when out of the blue I felt
very bloated, a feeling I was not accustomed to. This was replaced by on/off
nausea and feeling tired. I thought it would pass but when it didn’t, I started
to worry. The colour of my urine changed to a dark yellow and my stools to a
clay colour instead of the “healthy brown”. A month after the symptoms began I went
to the “family” doctor (as in real family) who thought it was a stomach issue
and prescribed something for that. But things didn’t change, so after 2 weeks I
went back.

This time he took blood which indicated a high “bilirubin” count
with the blood and submitted it for further testing as I had now become
jaundiced (due to the liver being inflamed) – which is when the white of the
eyes become yellow. When the doctor called me in for the test results he told
me that I tested positive for hepatitis B. I was a bit shocked, wasn’t sure
what it was, was not told what to do and what not to do, except that I should
see a physician. He also implied it wasn’t anything to be concerned about. That
was it! He may have mentioned something about “advising a sexual partner” but
the briefness of the conversation hardly allowed me time to catch my breath.

I went to the physician and his demeanour was also a bit
evasive albeit a touch friendlier (they charge much more than a regular doctor
) and he asked me more questions than I asked him. He asked me “how I got it?” (I
didn’t know). He advised me to stop drinking alcohol and said that I was highly
contagious which meant that any sexual fluid transfer between myself and a
sexual partner would pass the virus on to him (the sex partner, not the
physician…lol). He thought that mild exercise was ok and said to return 2 to 3
months later by which time things should have sorted themselves out with a
small likelihood of a liver biopsy if the problem didn’t go away.

I was pleased that the outcome seemed to be time related but
I still felt uninformed and unable to connect with the doctors, especially
being a gay man talking to a heterosexual doctor about my sexual health issue.

This led me to the Ivan Toms Center for Men’s Health in
Woodstock (a Health4Men clinic of excellence), which I now know is very much
there for gay men to discuss their sexual health issues with open-minded and
gay doctors. There my fears were laid to rest and the interactions with the
doctors were pleasant, totally open and nothing seemed taboo or unmentionable.
It didn’t change the fact that I had this virus, but I finally felt I had
people who could help me beat this, whatever this was.

I started going to Health4Men’s clinic for regular blood
tests (all consultations and blood tests are free) as they monitored my
progress. My nausea was slightly reduced but then I started developing
itchiness with the tired feeling persisting. I had slowed down, was hardly
going out, living without booze (not that I’m a lush) and felt that it would
not be fair to expose any sexual partner to what I had. However, my enzymes
were too high and not reducing sufficiently. When the liver is injured, enzymes
vital for proper liver function, spill over into the bloodstream and are
detected in routine blood tests. I’m not being smart because you’ll find it all
on Google (Google isn’t just there for good porn you know).

The clinic advised me to “slow down” and although the
symptoms were easing, the news from the blood tests was still not great.
However, the consultations were positive, interactive and my progress was
monitored with a genuine interest shown in seeing this through. Over more time
however, my body was not clearing the virus. Hepatitis B often remains undetected
and clears up without any treatment. You may even have the virus, not know you
have it, suffer no symptoms and clear it. On the other hand, the above can
happen but you clear it resulting in one infecting someone else with possible liver
problems later in life. So rather “know your status”!

In the interim, my case was being discussed with the UCT
liver institute, liaising on how to best move forward. They said that I needed
a liver biopsy to determine the intervention which was now a must. The minor op
confirmed an “unhappy” liver and a very high “viral load” and thus, how to be
treated. This load (lol) just means that there are “tons” of unhealthy
(infected) liver cells that need to be disposed of. I’m now taking a tablet
which should bring the enzymes back to normal levels and clear the infected
cells. If it works, I’ll no longer be a carrier of the virus as it should be suppressed
and might take 3 – 5 months. I may have to take the tablet “for life” but that
is no more like brushing your teeth every day. I’ll return to the clinic
periodically for blood tests to check that the tablets are doing their thing
and other monitoring. I’ve now got “high iron levels in my blood” (they’ll have
to drain some blood) and the kidneys are being checked closely as well.

I’m not embarrassed by what I’ve got and I’m aware future sexual
partners might have a problem with having sex with “a once infected person” (if
that may be discussed). I simply want to get better, be able to exercise, consume
alcohol (perhaps moderately) and have sex. I must have got it from someone who
was probably unaware that they had it.

I encourage you to get tested and use the clinic facilities
for which you will not be charged. Enquire at the clinic if you have concerns
about having any funding and do your best to stay positive. You’ll probably
find more support than you think but know that there are people and
organisations out there that want to and will help you.

This article was written by a contributing
writer for Health4Men. Health4Men is a project of the Anova Health Institute
NPC, funded by USAID through PEPFAR. This article represents the contributing
writer’s personal views.