Clearly, back in 1991, as I was just learning that I had been infected with HIV, from a sexual encounter, some two years prior, my daily life was somewhat blur. Living in rural, middle Tennessee, growing up on a farm, I naively believed I was far removed from something called AIDS. Sadly, I was not alone in my belief, in that there were others, who had lived in rural Tennessee, with some, who had moved away to larger, more populated cities across the United States, only to become so sick, that they made their way back home, to die amid familiar surroundings.
Today, 2017, I am still here. Still in Tennessee. I have long outlived my initial prognosis of five, maybe seven years. The phone call I got in October 1991, gave me little hope of ever surviving beyond that prognosis. So, like so many others, who, like myself were diagnosed with HIV during the earlier days of the epidemic, I waited for the downward spiral into sickness and death, as there were very limited treatments.
Senior Discount Included
Having lived to see my first senior discounts, at age 55 now, I have seen my share of ups and downs of the progression of the disease in my body. And, now that I am reaching what many refer to as “middle age”, HIV, is just a part of a very complex health maintenance process. As a long term survivor of HIV infection, my physical appearance, shows the “battle scars” of not only the signs of HIV, but the many years of various treatments, used to combat HIV/AIDS along the way.
The healthcare team I have, now consists along with my Infectious Disease doctor; a nephrologist, who monitors me closely, as I am in late stage 3 kidney disease, brought on by long term HIV infection, and some drugs I have taken as HIV control, in turn has damaged my kidneys. I also see a cardiologist, who again, is treating me for health related issues, previously associated with those twenty years or older than I am. A dermatologist follows me as well, to monitor any weird skin conditions that might be related to HIV. I also see a dentist, of which is an important aspect of care, in that often times, a dentist may see conditions within the mouth, as a precursor to underlying issues, often brought on by HIV.
Living with, and living well with HIV/AIDS, takes a team of specialists, as we age with HIV, and in many cases, we are in uncharted waters, in regards to the long term affects of meds for HIV control, and HIV itself, as it is thought that even with a non detectable viral load, the virus causes one’s body to be in a constant state of inflammation, which in turn may allow the virus to continue its damaging effects to the immune system. With all of this, and by the way, I am not a doctor or scientist, so, these things are merely my opinion, and as one who has lived with HIV/AIDS for about 27 years, I have some insight into what is happening within my own body.
While much progress has been made, in regards to treatment, awareness and education about HIV, we, including myself, as long term survivors, have endured years of profound loss, survivor’s guilt, and many other issues surrounding our own immortality, as we were told that we would not survive very long after we were told we were infected. I have had to “refocus” as I have marked so many milestones along the way. Learning to live again, has been one of the things that I have had to work on, after so much time of preparing to die. Life goes on, whether I participate in it or not. And even though there are challenges, as a long term survivor, I try to maintain a positive attitude.
It appears to me, as I go out and speak as a person living with HIV/AIDS, it seems there is a sense that HIV is something we are no longer to be concerned with, as young, college students for instance think, and have even said, if I become infected with HIV, there is a pill I can take, and life goes on without ever a progression of disease. What is lacking is that while there are a number of treatment options, not everyone can tolerate some of these treatments. And with this, HIV infections continue.
Indeed, I am grateful for both the treatments available that have allowed me to reach middle age, and the healthcare team, who helps me navigate the waters of which is sometimes uncertain. Certainly HIV/AIDS is an ever evolving condition. One that must be taken as seriously as it ever was. There is living proof, that there is life after a diagnosis, yet it must be remembered that there are so many of us, who made it through the early days of the epidemic, who are now entering our “pre senior and senior years”, and with this comes the task of making sure that our healthcare providers are keenly aware of aging issues, as opposed to HIV/AIDS issues, or, possibly a combination of both.
My philosophy has become…. With each new day, comes opportunities, survival, and the ability to dream beyond any obstacle that may come my way.