Hep B and Me
Published: 27 July 2017 Tags: hepatitis b, sexual health, experience By John Walding
For World Heptatitis Day 2017 we asked people how Heptatitis has affected them. In Martin's own words, he talks about a Hepatitis diagnosis has informed his approach to sexual health.
Martin Glackin is a Sexual Health Officer at LGBT Foundation.
On the Tuesday morning I was woken by voices coming from the nurse’s station near my bed. “If the next set of liver function tests show no change then he’ll be transferred to the liver ward in Leeds for dialysis.” I froze. They were talking about me. ‘I could die. I am not ready to die’ flashed across my mind. The next few hours were some of the longest and darkest in my life. I was in deep sh*t. Deep sh*t which could’ve been easily prevented.
The Sunday before had begun much like any other; up early, coffee, opening the restaurant I worked in, more coffee. The antacids I was taking for heartburn weren’t working. The constipation meds weren’t working either. Why I was getting heartburn and constipation for the first time in my life anyhow? I had no appetite and I was feeling pretty run down. I hadn’t taken a sick day in 6 years but about half way through my shift I asked my boss if I could go home early; the answer was no. That evening I rang NHS direct. They asked if my skin was looking yellow and, you know what? It was. I made my way to A&E and my case was fast tracked. The consultant was stern but reassuring. I was given some crazy meds which were supposed to flush the Hepatitis B from my system – they made me feel high as a kite on the Monday evening. By Tuesday morning I was down to earth with an almighty bump.
About a month earlier a wild weekend ended with a trip to the sauna and a patchy memory of what happened next. Like many LGBT people I had (and still have) a complex relationship with sex and with my own sexual health. Though I had practised safer sex consistently lately there were times when I was drunk or high that the rules I had made for myself went out the window. I couldn’t tell you exactly what happened that night, exactly how I contracted Hep B and for a long time I was really ashamed about that. But I’m not ashamed any more.
A few years before all of this I got the first part of the Hep B vaccine, but I failed to go back and get the other two shots needed to give me full immunity. Why? I can’t say for sure. What I can say is though I constantly worried about HIV I also wanted to think about looking after my sexual health as little as humanly possible. Just thinking about going to a Sexual Health Clinic brought up a whole host of scary and negative feelings.
Later on that Tuesday morning the consultant came with the news that the treatment was working; with the help of the meds my body was working to clear the Hepatitis B. I was discharged 2 days later. Recovering from Hep B was a long, slow road. I was off work for 3 months. In the first few weeks I was weak as a kitten; I could only walk for 2 or 3 minutes at a time. I remember the sense of achievement I felt walking to the corner shop and back – a 10 minute round trip! I thought often about the choices I had made – about that night in the sauna and about the vaccine shots I missed. Sometimes events place us at a crossroad. We can either carry on as before or we can seize the opportunity for change. I wouldn’t change any of it; contracting Hep B, the hospitalisation, the long recovery – because these events changed me for the better.
In my work as a Sexual Health Officer here at LGBT Foundation I have realised the value of talking about our experiences with sex, the good stuff and the bad. The shame that we are made to feel about who we are and the sex we have festers and grows unless it’s brought out into the open. This shame can often create a barrier to accessing the help we need – especially around our sexual health. Now I know that openness reduces shame, that knowledge fights fear and that screening regularly helps me manage the anxiety I sometimes still have around my sexual health.
If you are a gay or bi man reading this and you haven’t had your Hep B vaccination please, please make a plan to get it – and be sure to get the follow up shots too! You have the power to look after your own sexual health – and at LGBT Foundation we’re here to help if you need us.