Today is August 15, 2017. My name is Joaquim, I am Brazilian, single, homosexual, 25 years old and I write this to express my experience with HIV / AIDS.
In my social circles – family, friends, school – I was encouraged to preserve my health, especially when in a sexual relationship. Even so, in early May 2009 I had sexual intercourse without a condom. Unprotected sex was unusual for me, but I agreed because my sexual partner at the time showed his blood donor card, and it showed a HIV-negative test. Unfortunately, I only realized my mistake days later, when that partner began to talk about the possibility of having HIV.
Two weeks after the exposure, I began to feel sick. The main symptoms were high fever, inflammation of the tonsils, swollen glands and physical weakness. I went to the hospital where I was diagnosed with tonsillitis and received intravenous meds. My research on the internet scared me a lot: I had the symptoms of the so-called “acute phase” of HIV. I sank into despair and spent the next 3 weeks thinking about the possibility of having contracted the virus.
About five weeks after the exposure, I did the HIV test, which returned inconclusive, so I had to do a new test. The second test was completed on June 29, 2009 and had the phrase “Reagent” highlighted. I always had a revulsion towards the disease, and associated it with dirty and reckless people, but after seeing this result I had to start reviewing my understanding. And that was not so easy.
After the result, I was immediately sent to a doctor, where I was advised on how the virus works and what would change in my life from then on. The doctor had made it clear that I would have to have tests to monitor the progression of the virus in my body (viral load) and my immunity (lymphocyte count), and that at some point it might be necessary for me to start antiretroviral treatment.
After that my life followed normally. I started working in September 2009 without telling anyone that I was HIV-positive. I believe I have performed well in my academic and professional career: I have always had good grades in college and praise for my work. Medical examinations and follow-up consultations became a part of my life, and after missing work so many times, I told my bosses that I had HIV. Fortunately, they continued to treat me well. Even so, I still felt embarrassed by the situation.
On December 7, 2010, I had routine tests for HIV and two days later I received the result. To my surprise, my CD4 was very low (128 / mm3). In consultation with my infectious disease specialist at the time, the interpretation was that I had AIDS and I needed to start treatment. I was confused about how the treatment would help me, because the viral load test was still, “Below the limit of detection”. I asked the lab if the test could be wrong, and the response was negative.
Since I always tried to have healthy habits, I went to another doctor and, after insisting that I did not want medicine, he requested several tests to see if I had contracted another disease recently, which could have caused the immunity to drop. Also, he requested a new lymphocyte count. To my surprise, the examination performed on December 18, 2010, less than 2 weeks after the previous one, showed that my CD4 was now normal (669 / mm3). I was relieved, but confused with the result, so I performed the CD4 test again, which again showed a normal value (696 / mm3). These large variations (from AIDS to perfectly healthy) and in such a short time (11 days) made me question about how much I really understood the disease I had.
After the examination on June 8, 2011, my doctor said that I should start treatment. I felt perfectly healthy and my test results were good, but he said early treatment would be best in fighting the virus. With the previous scare, I began to feel that eventually I would have to take medicine. I looked at the possibility of starting treatment before getting sick as a privilege, at least that’s what the doctor said.
On June 11, 2012 (approximate date), I started ART with the following drugs: Biovir (lamivudine + zidovudine, 150 + 300 mg) and Efavirenz 600 mg. The first I took every 12 hours and the second before bed. I never forget the first few nights, they were horrible. I woke up often scared due to nightmares and drenched from night sweats. I had to ask a few days of sick leave because I could not work.
During the first weeks of ART, I strongly felt the side effects: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, weakness and memory, reasoning and concentration problems. I was afraid of these symptoms at work, as they would impair my performance.
Most of the side effects went away over time, but, soon after, I started feeling depressed and having suicidal thoughts. Unfortunately, my doctor did not care much about it.
In February of 2013, too stressed to continue my job, I resigned, giving up the entire career I had developed there. Fortunately, I got into another company soon after. In this second company, in the last week of the experience contract (third month), I explained to my boss that I was depressed and thought about killing myself and so I would stop my work there to seek psychological help.
In October of 2013, I moved to Florianópolis (SC, Brazil) and started working in another company. I started psychotherapy in the same month and, satisfied with the results, I continued it for a few months.
With the change of city and of employment, I again had to endure the embarrassment of getting the medicines from the public health system in my new location. Again I had gastrointestinal problems, with severe abdominal pains that passed after a few months.
Realizing that my ART was causing lipodystrophy, I started researching more about HIV / AIDS. Trying to understand the exam results – which I considered strange – I found on the internet interpretations of my condition that I had not encountered before:
- people who said that ART should begin immediately after HIV detection (David Ho’s hypothesis);
- people who said ART should only start in patients with AIDS (Robert Gallo’s hypothesis);
- people who said that HIV is a harmless virus and does not cause AIDS (Peter Duesberg hypothesis); and
- people who said that HIV does not exist (Stefan Lanka).
After continuing my scientific research, I was convinced that:
- medicine has often failed for important diseases;
- no one has proven that, beyond a doubt, HIV, if it exists, causes AIDS;
- unhealthy behaviors can lead a person to develop AIDS, as it is defined today; and
- the remedies I was instructed to take were damaging my health.
On January 12, 2014, right after reaching these conclusions, I stopped the treatment, 19 months after I started. I was afraid of the side effects that could happen after stopping ART, but I stopped anyway because I could no longer swallow what I then saw as poison.
Today, August 15, 2017, 3 and a half years later, I’m alive and well. I practice physical activity, sleep well, eat well, and love what I do in my life. Although so many people scream aggressively in my ears that I am going to die for not taking the HIV drugs, I intend to continue having a natural lifestyle (hence no remedies), as I still believe it is the best way to deal with HIV (and other diseases).