Angelo Perry says he wants to get back to his regular life. He misses his friends, family and having time to build roller skates speckled with glitter. Perry’s world changed on July 22 when he was diagnosed with monkeypox. More than 80% of cases in Georgia where racial data is available have affected Black men who have sex with men, which includes Perry.
The 33-year-old Portsmouth, Virginia, native has called Atlanta home for the past five years. For more than two weeks he has been in isolation at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. Perry spent the time sharing his journey online from his hospital room. Via Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, he’s been hosting live Q&As, and documenting his recovery process. He says doctors have been unclear about when he may fully recover and be discharged, but on Aug. 4, Perry was transferred to a quarantine facility away from Piedmont, in Riverdale.
Perry, who identifies as gay, started a GoFundMe to account for his lack of income while being away from work as a stadium security guard. His goal in telling his story publicly: inform the LGBTQ community and everyone else about the seriousness of monkeypox.
He spoke to Capital B Atlanta about his experience, addressing stigma tied to Black gay men and why he feels it’s important to get the word out.
Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.
The first sign of a problem
“I woke up and I had a fever, a really high fever. I can’t tell you the temperature, but I just knew that it was not a normal temperature. I was having night sweats, and I was having chills. So I just stayed in bed all day. I hydrated myself, and the fever and the chills lasted for a whole day. I woke up the next day and I was feeling absolutely normal. So I got up, I changed my linens and went on about my day. July 18 is when I started not having bowel movements.
“That night, the [pain in my lower abdomen] started. … During that time, I had noticed maybe just a small hair bump or something on my forehead, nothing to worry about. I was like ‘Something’s not right. I’m gonna go to the emergency room.’ So I skipped work that night, and I came into the hospital.
The emergency room visit
“At this point, I’m crying because it’s so painful. I’m sitting in a waiting room for about eight or nine hours before I was even seen, and I’m slouching. I’m not sitting down right. I’m still not thinking it’s monkeypox.
“I took my shirt off (so doctors could listen to my heartbeat), and I saw two similar bumps on my side, which were still looking like regular bumps. They took me back for a CAT scan. At this point, the pain is excruciating. After the CAT scan, maybe an hour or so had passed, and they were telling me that it was proctitis (inflammation of the rectal cavity).
“They took a Q-tip and scraped it across a few of the bumps. They admitted me into the hospital and told me that the monkeypox test will come back between three and four days. And that third day of me waiting, the pain had gotten worse with the proctitis. I started losing a lot of blood when I was trying to do a bowel movement, so much blood that they were considering giving me a blood transfusion.
“July 22 is when I was diagnosed with monkeypox.”
Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Monkeypox
He had just learned about monkeypox before his diagnosis
“Days before I started having fever and the chills symptoms, I had just heard about it! Like it was really my first couple of times hearing about it. I have the CNN app and some news apps on my phone just to keep me in the know about things back home and other places that I may have lived. So I hadn’t done any research on it, other than what I’ve heard on the CNN news broadcast, so I had just heard about it.
He’s not sure how he contracted the virus
“We have thousands of people [at my job] at a time. How did I contract it? There’s really absolutely no way for me to narrow it down as to how I contracted it. Because there’s so many different ways, and they’re all such easy ways for anyone to contract it. … Now the three sexual partners that I’ve had within the last month, the moment I found out, I let them know. They don’t have it to this day.”
The experience in the hospital is surreal
“I feel like I’m in a scientific lab. They say [my isolation room] contains a filter that separates my breathing air from the general public and the hospital’s breathing air. So I guess the air that I’m breathing in this room is filtered out directly outside instead of inside the general population of the rest of the hospital.
“So when I got transferred to this room, and I saw them come in, I’m like, ‘Hold on!’
“They come in with hazmat suits. They’re covered from head to toe every time. Their feet are covered and their faces covered, and then covered again with a plexiglass type of mask. They’re gloved up. And anything that comes into this room has to leave out in one of these blue biohazard bags.
“If I was to order some food right now and I didn’t eat it all and be like, ‘Hey, can you warm this up in a microwave?’ They will not take it back out.”
His mental state
“[My emotions are] up and down. Sometimes I look at my body and I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m healing!’ And that will kind of raise my spirits. Then a day later, I will have two more bumps somewhere and then it kind of just brings my emotions back down. I’m like, ‘Hey, I thought I was getting better yesterday. But today I have two or three more pox.’ So it’s kind of up and down. I try not to have my hopes too high as far as healing as quick as I want to instead of healing as quick as I’m supposed to. At this point, I’m just trying to do any type of regimen that won’t conflict with my body and will not conflict with any of the medications that the physicians are already giving me.
“I consider myself desperate. I consider myself desperate for not only getting better, but I consider myself desperate for more information from the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control]. And I consider myself desperate for more general knowledge to the public that this is not a gay man’s disease and anybody can catch it.”
Losing income in isolation
“Shifts are event-based. It’s not guaranteed you’ll work 40 hours a week, so I haven’t been paid. The only income that I have is from my supporters. I haven’t been to work in about three weeks. The day that I came in here, which was July 18, I started a new job that night. That was my first time at the job. I’ve been keeping in touch with human resources there. They’re telling me that I’m still employed, but I was kind of nervous because I wasn’t able to log into the portal that I once was [able to] like during orientation and stuff. So I probably won’t even have a job when I leave here.
“With the numbers rising, I do feel that they should be starting to brainstorm some type of alternative for the people that have jobs or that can’t go back to work because of the monkeypox.”
Sharing his story on social media
“I really think that people are misinformed. And you know, there’s always a lot of heat on Black men, period, and [especially] Black gay men. So the first thing that someone hears about somebody being gay or got something contracted from someone being gay, they just kind of run with it without even doing further research about what the situation is.
“Because I’m a Black gay man, because this virus is so stigmatized around our sexuality, I feel like it’s my duty to not only keep women, children, and heterosexual men in the know about this virus, but being that it is stigmatized about my sexuality, most importantly, black gay men. Because if we are the prime carriers of this virus, then we should be the most informed, and we should be the most treated.”