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Mick Mason, 40, who has haemophilia, caught HIV and hepatitis in the early 1980s from contaminated blood products
âI discovered I had HIV by chance in 1985 when I was sent a double-sided diet sheet by the hospital. On one side it said, âThis is what to eat if you are HIV positiveâ and on the other, âThis is what to eat if you have AIDS.â They just assumed that somebody had told me that IÂ had HIV.
"I phoned the Haematology Unit, who refused to talk about it over the phone. In the end, I had a two-minute appointment with the consultant, who said, âYou have got Hepatitis B and HIV. Go away and enjoy yourself but donât have sex.â I was just 18. It really did not seem real and I went onto autopilot.Â
"In 1985, HIV was a death sentence. There was no support or counselling. You were just left to get on with it. My way of coping was to try to forget about it. I would go to work then out to the pub and stay there until I was chucked out. I didnât imagine I would ever meet anyone let alone get married.
"I never really thought about death or dying; I just stuck my head in the sand I suppose. I told my mother, who thought it was the end of the world, and a few close relatives, but I didnât tell any of my friends for three or four years.
"I met my wife, Caroline, in 1989. I didnât tell her IÂ had HIV at first, as I was afraid she would reject me. What I didn't knowÂ was my thatÂ cousin, who I metÂ Caroline through, had already told her.Â At first we were just friends but one night as we were becoming closer she asked me.
"I was so afraid that she would push me away that I tried to deny it, but eventually I came clean and told her that yes, it was true, IÂ had HIV and she may as well leave now. But she didnât and we talked and cried about it until about 4am.Â She didnât seem that shocked really, but was very upset and felt the injustice of it all.Â I think she had already read up on HIV before she confronted me so had some knowledge.
"Weâve always had protected sex but my HIV status has never stopped us doing anything. Itâs about always protecting yourself and the other person. We are all responsible for our own sexual health and if youÂ have HIV it is your responsibility to always use a condom.
"We got married in August 1990. It was Caroline who told her parents as I chickened out of the task.Â They were shocked and devastated but were fully supportive of our relationship. At first we lived from birthday to birthday and Christmas to Christmas. I would go to the hospital every two or three months and they would say, âYouâve got another two or three years,' until around the mid-90s.
"But there was to be another blow. In 1994, I was sent a letter telling me that I had tested positive for hepatitis C. Understandably, I felt very angry but not really that surprised. I suspect that they knew I had hep C back in the early 80s. I have had treatment for it but unfortunately, it failed. I kind of went into this thinking it wouldnât work andÂ that way I wouldnât be too disappointed when it didnât, so I really wasnât that bothered.
"I decided to start treatment for my HIV in 1996 because we wanted to try for a baby. I think I may be one of the lucky ones; I never had any major side effects.Â I had some internal bleeding with one of the drugs but then they just changed them and I was fine.Â Well, I say fine I just had what I would call the normal side effects that most people get: nausea, joint pain, lethargy, dodgy bowel movements etc. Weâve had several tries at fertility treatment but without success and have now decided to give up.
"I have had a few life-threatening times. They make you see things in a different light. Some of these have been caused by my haemophilia, which was a shock as I had spent so many years worrying and concentrating on my HIV status that I had forgotten my haemophilia could kill me.Â
"Having HIV can be debilitating physically and mentally. At one point I had a problem with the muscles in my arms, which they put down to the HIV, and I couldnât raise them above my head. I couldnât hold anything tight including cups, or even peel a potato.Â I have had three bouts of intussusception, which again, they told me, was down to the HIV. But itâs not a death sentence any more thanÂ itâs a chronic illness. As a haemophiliac, I tend to be seen as a victim unlike people who have contracted HIV sexually, who tend to be blamed. But the truth is, it is no oneâs fault â" no one set out to give me HIV.
"Having HIV is not the end of the world, although I do have dark moments, especially if things go wrong. It does affect my life. I canât get life insurance, although I have been able to get a mortgage. There is also the issue of who to tell. Due to the stigma that comes with HIV, you have to be careful who you tell and to be honest, who really needs to know? If you were asthmatic, you wouldnât go around telling everyone so why would you if youÂ had HIV? In the past I didnât tell employers, although these days I am open about it.
"We used to foster teenagers and the team knew about my HIV status. When deciding whether to tell people itâs a case of thinking who needs to know. Obviously your partner and your children and maybe a close friend or two, but people who are not close donât need to know. You are not putting them at risk.
"The more people who are open about HIV the less stigma there will be. I went public with my condition in 2000 and am at the point in my life now where I really donât care who knows about my status. I often do radio, television and newspaper interviews. I feel unless you are open about your status nothing will really change. If you hide your HIV status in a dark corner then that's where you'll feel you are.â
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