When considering that the HIV clinic was a mere five minutes away on foot, the walk there last nothing short of an eternity. The torrential rain blasted everything in sight, blown horizontally by an icy wind. Umbrellas inverted as poor individuals stood helplessly waiting to cross the road, entirely at the mercy of the elements, impatient for the little man to change from red to green.
Stumbling into the Unit, the building that housed the various sexual health services, I reported to reception and was subsequently directed up four flights of stairs before being re-directed back down eight flights of stairs.
“Have you done much sexual health before?” enquired the consultant, Dr Aarons, a tall man with comically round features. His circular eyes sat above a circular nose that perched on lips concealing rounded teeth, as though he had been drawn by a four year old.
“I can’t say I have to be honest”, I replied, wiping a trickle of rainwater from my forehead. “We had a case unit focused on the HIV virus in second year but-“
“The what, sorry?”
“HIV”, I stated, thoroughly confused.
“Right because you said the HIV virus before, which wouldn’t be correct”.
Of course. How foolish. Hopefully Dr Aarons would find it within himself to forgive this most heinous of crimes, such a grievous slip of the tongue. After all, unlike most of its namesakes, RAS syndrome has no place in the clinical environment. In his defence he was absolutely correct, but coincidentally it was around that moment that time stumbled in its relentless march.
After more equally-riveting conversation the first patient arrived, and decided they would prefer not to be under the observation of a medical student, but at least the pharmacist sat in the waiting room was a pleasant conversationalist.
Up next was an Austrian man that insisted on repeatedly raising the ever-so-slightly concerning topic of the perfect murder. As it happens, the candlestick in the drawing room has nothing on an axe composed entirely of ice. No need to be alarmed though, the discussion served only as light chit-chat between the man and his eight year old son.
The clinic passed rather uneventfully, until it was time for the final patient. A thick-set man he had a plump face framed by a nest of ginger hair and a large beard. As he took a seat the wind forced a volley of raindrops against the glass windowpanes. Harvey had been HIV positive for a number of years despite being in his early thirties, his diagnosis the latest in an extensive list of STIs acquired through his interaction with hundreds of sexual partners. Cheerfully he narrated his current circumstances, until he reached the topic of his occupation. The emotional strain of working at a school for children with special educational needs and a stormy family dynamic had ground Harvey into the dirt to the point where he could comfortably sink multiple bottles of wine each evening and feel precisely nothing the following morning.
Promptly he burst into tears. “I bet you didn’t expect to get amateur dramatics today, did ya?” he half-laughed, half-sobbed.
It was impossible not to lament his situation. Despite some irresponsible choices he seemed a gentle soul, too sensitive for his current niche in the world. Although in fairness, being unable to tell your family about a HIV diagnosis, combined with a challenging professional life and the impact of the bottle would overwhelm even the most resilient of individuals. Thankfully following a lengthy conversation, he resolved to quit his job and put a stop to his alcoholism. Whether he would actually be able to do so was another matter entirely.
That afternoon was reserved for surfing, but conditions were demanding. The sea was choppy and the sky angry and before long I had consumed my body-weight in salt water whilst struggling to stay above the undulating surface of the water, the elements and my own stupidity the architects of my misery. Dragging the board out of the water and flinging it aside, it landed on the sand with a dull thud, a constant in the ever-changing conditions be they land, deep water or the shallows. It floated, entirely oblivious. That was the simple, indefinite purpose that it served.