Hello. My name is Luis. I was first diagnosed in 1987. I’ve never done drugs. At the time I did have a partner who was very heavy into drugs. He was also very abusive and I knew he was positive. Draw your own conclusions from that combination. It was a very difficult period of time in my life.
I refused to try the drugs. I had a great many friends who were dropping left and right the moment they started on the drugs. I delayed it as long as I could. By the time I actually started the drugs in 1991 I worked at a University Medical Center. I was given preferential treatment for a major study and received the full dosage of AZT, DDi and, at that time, Interferon. Within two months of starting the drugs I went from being a happy, healthy, active 24 year old to someone who could not climb a single set of stairs to a 2nd floor office. I was losing my vision, I had peripheral neuropathy in my legs, and I was constantly feeling debilitated and out of breath.
Many of you may (or may have not) heard the stories of the doctor who was in charge of my care: Dr. Margaret Fischl. She fancied herself the premier expert on the subject and many companies were throwing money around in order to find “the cure.” Compared to the other doctors I had seen (they all wanted to “date” me) she seemed like a dream.
When I complained to the doctor’s staff that I no longer felt well (in fact, I had gone from over 900 t-cells to less than 180) they informed me I could not stop taking the drugs. It was just a hiccup in the treatment. I should stick to it.
I continued the treatments for another few weeks. I was so weak some mornings I could not get out of bed. At the time President Clinton had enacted a policy that would allow for someone with my symptoms and lab results to go on disability. Since I needed to pay the rent, I chose disability.
Deep in my heart I knew what was wrong with me had nothing to do with a virus. It had everything to do with the chemicals they were forcing into my system. Still, I kept following the doctor’s orders.
The morning the government official called me for my disability interview, I could barely hold up the phone. As he (a very obviously gay guy on the other end) kept asking me questions, something snapped inside of me. He was talking to me like someone who would be dead in a matter of months. I had already seen so many dear, wonderful and fantastic friends pass away in such a short time. I decided then and there, I would not take disability and I would not, under any circumstances ever take those drugs again. I was adamant. I would be alive long past the expiration date given to me.
Here I am. Almost 29 years after that mo-fo’s condom “broke.” I am fine. Not only am I fine, I can bench press 320 lbs. I can lift over 450 lbs. with each leg. I am 5′ 9″ and 179 lbs. And frankly, quite the daddy at 48 years of age.
Every now and then my T-cells drop dramatically. Normally, it is if I get the flu. I am one of those people who still get the flu after the vaccine. I always come back.
I smoke (menthol, please), I drink (normally scotch), I cuss frequently, and I lift weights. I work a lot outside and have the tan and body to prove it.
Going to the doctor today is always a great fear for me. The smallest thing wrong with me and they insist it is AIDS. Were I a Muslim, Asian, heterosexual female the thought would never cross a doctor’s mind. Sadly, I am of Hispanic descent, gay, and Catholic my whole life.
Those are the cards you are dealt.
There have been times in my life when I have gotten sick. All the old paranoia comes forward. But, I remind myself, after almost 30 years, and a lot of living, I was right. The doctors were wrong.
I cannot say the same would apply to everyone. I believe there is a correlation between heavy drug use and HIV/AIDS. I know, for me, taking the facts floating around me, and bringing them home to a reasonable conclusion saved my life.
I wish many of my dear friends had done the same.