Foundation passes with flying colours

HAVING my first AIDS test at the AIDS Foundation centre in Shau Kei Wan was simple, anonymous, and almost pleasant.

The AIDS hotline was quite busy, but a friendly male voice answered, and asked me to hold on. ''Please don't hang up,'' he begged.

When a volunteer was at last available to talk, I felt I had his full attention. He first asked what made me think I might have contracted the disease, and then explained carefully that this was a test for HIV antibodies.

He said it took about three months for the antibodies to form in the bloodstream, so the results of any high-risk behaviour in the past few months would probably not show up in the test.

He also explained that the sample would be sent to Queen Mary Hospital, so would take between seven and 10 days. I would have to collect the result from the centre.

Tests take place on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and take between 15 and 20 minutes. I was told there was a place for me the following night; I would not have to wait if I turned up on time.

I was asked to give a false name, and then I was given a code number.

It was all very comforting; so much so that when I left my office at 8.30 pm it seemed to be just another assignment in the diary: ''Press Conference, Tsim Sha Tsui, 6pm. AIDS test, Shau Kei Wan, 9pm.'' Somehow, when I arrived at the clinic, it wasn't me that was being tested, it was the AIDS Foundation.

That changed when the volunteer nurse asked me questions from a typed list.

''Have you indulged in high-risk activities?'' Well, not for a while.

''What kind and when?'' I answered her rather vaguely.

''Do you know the implications if the answer is positive?'' I said I did, and suddenly thought that I had no idea.

''You cannot get medical insurance easily, it might be hard to keep your job, and some people might break contact with you if they find out,'' she told me.

When I said that I thought the test was anonymous, the nurse agreed, and asked the next question: ''But have you thought about who you would tell?'' Without thinking, I said that I had. But when asked to say whom, I suddenly realised that I did not really know - the enormity of that potential secret seemed daunting.

As she took my blood carefully, I felt far more serious about what was happening; the foundation had already passed its test with flying colours: I would have to wait for at least a week before I knew the result of my own.

I asked how many people did not return to the clinic for their results.

''Oh, they almost all turn up,'' the nurse said.

''They might be afraid to find out, but almost everyone wants to know the truth.''