The things you do to get ahead
At first working in the mines really felt like a bit of an adventure. The remoteness of the works site meant that most of us were fly-in and fly-out workers (FIFO). That meant we'd fly-in to work for three weeks and then fly home for two weeks. They say about 9% of Western Australian workers are FIFO. The first 6 months was great and the saving account certainly got a push along.
Over time, the adventure feeling wears off and you realise it's just a job so you try and lose yourself in your work. When you get to fly home that's the reward. Two years into the contract I completed more training, increased my certifications and my wage and allowances increased too.
FIFO Fly in fly out professionals
The remoteness gets to some people more than others. Some guys turn to recreational drug use, others like me just burnt off excess energy at the gym and think about getting another tattoo or three.
One rotation break I flew to Thailand with some workmates for a few days before flying home for 2 weeks off. It was a fun trip and the big thing you start to realise is the cost of living there is significantly lower than Australia. You feel like a bit of a king.
While the guys were off 'doing other things', I decided to look at the local tattoo shops and check out the body art scene. One night when the guys were off getting their souvenirs, I found a clean looking tattoo shop and decided to treat myself to a half sleeve tattoo on my left arm. The outline was done by the tattoo shop owner and the colours were done by his girlfriend. I figured I had another two weeks off work so that was plenty of time for my arm to heal up and it would be a fun surprise for my family.
Getting inked in Thailand and other surprises
The tattoo took about 6 hours but cheap beer took the edge off the pain. I spent the next two days walking around the markets and taking in the sites. I got to fly home a few days later and thought nothing more about it.
That was 18 months ago. I didn't know it then but the visit to that tattoo shop was a life changing one for me, and ultimately my family too. You see once a year I get checked for skin cancers and melanoma.
The last melanoma tested safe as usual, but I tested positive for the HIV virus.
'I felt more isolated than when I was working underground'
At that moment, I felt incredibly isolated and all I could think about were the plans for my family and what was going to happen.
We'd just started a big mortgage that depended upon me to pay it - what happens to the kids futures - at that point life became very real and uncertain.
The news I didn't want my family to hear
The doctor told us that, "all the evidence" pointed to a tattoo received recently in Thailand as being the source of the infection.
Taking back control of my life
So began my new obsession about doing whatever I could to take back control of my life. If there can be any good news about my new situation, it's that medical advances now means HIV is today classed as a manageable chronic illness, not a death sentence.
I've found the learning curve for living with HIV is huge but the people at the local hospital clinic have been really supportive. To be honest I'm still working out the social implications and I have good days and, well crap days.
The social worker at the hospital was really helpful
One of the hospital social workers suggested I look online for confidential support services and while I was googling 'life insurance for people with HIV in Australia' I came across unusualrisks.com.au
How Terry felt when he found unusualrisks.com.au
It was just what a young guy with a big mortgage, a young family and HIV needed. (It still feels strange when I say that). They're an online anonymous pre-assessment service that specialise in helping people like me with HIV or diabetes (and their partners) get their life insurance sorted.
I'd never tell the small town local bank adviser about this stuff
There was no way I was going to talk about being HIV to the local bank manager or some insurance telemarketer or somebody I already knew.
The perfect solution to a shitty problem
Unusualrisks.com.au were the perfect solution. They were happy to work confidentially by email or over the phone and I didn't have to go see anyone. I got my life insurance sorted (you think you’d never qualify because of HIV) and I've now got a low key professional relationship with a financial adviser who I can email or call anytime.
He also has an insurance claims service called Priority 1 so that if something terrible happened to me, my family is looked after confidentially too.
Now I'm actually feeling great. I've got control of that part of my life again. Wife is happy, I'm looking good and the future actually looks safer than the past. I'm a better man now in spite of what's happened.