Darkroom Hangover: Getting PEP When You Have No Health Insurance
Image with caption.
Spending New Year’s Eve in Berlin has (as always) been epic. A week later I’m in reflection mode as I still don’t feel 100% — my kidneys and liver are furious about the overload and my chest still hasn’t forgiven me for the chain smoking. Having said that, it was totally worth it — I danced, saw friends that I love and spent the right amount of time on my knees.
As a Londoner visiting Berlin a lot of time is spent looking for sex and having sex either in saunas, dark rooms or toilet cubicles in clubs. Let’s face it, Berlin offers gay Londoners every possible sexual experience which my dear city has given up in offering. However, what London (or the NHS in this case) does offer is reassurance — if you have a darkroom fuck up there’s always a help in hand.
Two days before going to Berlin a friend of mine from London on holiday in Berlin calls me in a panic:
Babes, I’m stressed. I was so drunk yesterday at Ficken3000, I fucked a guy for like a second without a condom.
A second or a minute?
More like a minute.
So more like five minutes…
Fuck – what should I do?
Honey, go to a walk in clinic – and get PEP.*
So this friend, a British citizen on holiday in Berlin with no EU Health Card or private travel insurance, spends an entire morning trying to get PEP in Berlin and after paying 100 euros to see a doctor at a walk in clinic and being given a day’s worth of the course, he’s told that he will have to pay €1,600 for the full treatment. He calls me crying: what the fuck do I do? I can’t afford this. In short, if you don’t have health insurance in Germany you are officially #screwed. After hours of research and finding out that the NHS would not reimburse the treatment because it’s not an ‘emergency’, we activated plan B.
Since I was flying to Berlin the next day, I sprinted to the nearest sexual health clinic in South London where I was seen swiftly by a health advisor. He asked me what was wrong and I fed him a pack of lies: Four days of undiluted Christmas boredom at home had made me go crazy so I got drunk, went to a sauna and ended up getting fucked without a condom. I need PEP!
After an hour and a half of blood tests, chats and all the necessary lies, I left the hospital with three boxes full of pills. Mission accomplished: 24 hours later my friend was in Berlin taking his second dosage of PEP.
A friend rightly described this as similar in premise to Dallas Buyers Club when gay HIV positive individuals in the ’80s smuggled illegal but effective HIV medication to the US.
During the AIDS crisis a key value that prevailed was the importance of friendship and communities sticking together. I felt terrible lying to the kind, non-judgemental health worker. However, in the dark times we have just entered in 2017, communities need to stick together because if we don’t look after each other, who the hell is going to?
*PEP – Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a month-long course of HIV drugs that someone takes very soon after sex which had a risk of HIV transmission. The drugs are the same ones taken by people with HIV.