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Author Topic: A Calling Card  (Read 1661 times)

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Offline Nestor

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  • Posts: 430
  • What we love, we shall grow to resemble.
A Calling Card
« on: November 15, 2009, 09:21:54 PM »


Hello everyone,

I discovered these forums a couple of weeks ago and began posting responses in various threads that interested me.  Then, in this thread:

http://forums.poz.com/index.php?topic=29504.0

I saw the following sentence:

"I guess it's considered good etiquette to give a little intro about yourself before posting in the forums."

So that made me feel guilty since I've never really made a formal introduction of myself. On the other hand, I've already included a bit of information about myself in various other threads, so I'm not sure what I can say here without repeating things I've already said elsewhere.  I also don't want to discuss specific HIV-related issues in an introductory post, since the two things (a self-introduction and a discussion of some narrow question) don't seem to belong together.  So I suppose I'll talk a little bit about how living with HIV has been for me since the day when I found out I had it, in the hope that the description may be helpful to someone. 

Shortly before Christmas it will have been four years since I found out that I had HIV, and five and a half since I became infected, so I suppose I can say to anyone who's newly infected and anxious about it that life does go on, even with HIV, and is not without pleasures and interests. 

For me, however, discovering that I had HIV came with a terrible impact for a very particular reason.  Three months earlier, after many years of planning, learning the language, and making other preparations, I had finally moved to the foreign country where I had long wanted to live.  That country turned out to be as good a place as I could have hoped, and during those three months I found a great apartment with wonderful roommates, made lots of friends, had a lot of fun, and generally became filled with enthusiasm for my new life.  I was planning to live there for at least three or four years, and I remember that before leaving New York, which is my home town, I threw away my winter coat saying that a long time would pass before I would need one again!  From this you can see that I am not a great lover of winter that the country where I was living was in a warmer clime, and that that had been one of the attractions. 

Eventually I found a job, and it was in the medical exam which was involved with applying for a work visa that I learned that I had HIV.  I was asked to leave the country within a week.  Late December found me back in New York, sans winter coat, sans money, sans home, sans hope.  I felt as if the whole structure of my life had come crashing down about my head. 

God was very kind to me!  A very good--and in this crisis heroic--friend supported me until I found a job; I got my old job back within a few weeks, and soon managed to find a very cheap and very nice place to live.  But after the initial fear of homelessness and joblessness was over, the greater horror began to weigh upon me.  It seemed horrible to be back where I had started from--especially being in the same job which I had been sick of for some time before leaving my home town!  To the country where I had long dreamed of living, the doors were now, as it would seem, permanently closed.  Not only that, but the two other foreign countries where I had spent much of the past decade would also, now, deny me entrance.  It felt as if a hundred doors had closed permanently in my face with a resounding thud, never to open again.

Dating and sex also seemed as if they were gone from my life forever.  A few months later I ventured to a gay bar for the first time.  I met someone nice and he invited me back to his place.  Suddenly I realised that I had not formed a strategy for "disclosure."  To talk about HIV in a crowded bar seemed inappropriate, but if I waited until we were alone in his place and had begun to be intimate I knew I would not have the strength to tell him, so I told him in the taxi on the way to his home.  He became emotional--hysterical would not be the wrong word for it--and I was soon comforting him.  This was a grim introduction to the sort of thing I would go through more than once in the coming years. 

However, while I am on the subject, I should say that I have since then formed some very good relationships with men who are HIV negative and have no problem with safe sex.  Of course there are also some--more than a few--who have run in the opposite direction when I told them, and that has been painful, but I can say that if quantity has diminished, quality has increased.  Ironically, attempts at relations with the HIV+ men I have met have been completely unsuccessful: they have crashed on the rock of their unwillingness to have safe sex and my unwillingness to have unsafe sex. 

In several of the responses I've made on other threads I've spoken of HIV as having several silver linings.  I hesitated to use that phrase as it might suggest a degree of unseriousness or levity.  I hope the above summary of my experience with HIV will dispel any suspicion of that.  However, even if there are still times--and not a few--when I curse the day and the hour and the moment when I made the one stupid mistake which has introduced so many misfortunes into my life, yet I really believe that all this has happened for a reason and that the end result will be better than what would otherwise have happened.  Because so many avenues have been closed to me, I have been forced to concentrate on those which are still open. 

It is a cliche, but the day I learned that I had HIV I faced those old and uncomfortable facts that I am mortal, that this life does not last forever, and that if I am to accomplish anything in it I had better get started soon because I cannot know how much time has been vouchsafed me in which to do so.  The mundane form which this has taken has been my making preparations for going back to graduate school which I have always, in the back of my mind, known was the thing I should do, but which, because I prefered to procrastinate, and to enjoy the immediate pleasures of each day, I had never before taken steps to realise. 

I cannot say that this is better than what would have happened had I remained in that foreign country.  That would be unfair to the person who arrived in that country, so full of hope, in the late summer of 2005, little knowing how little time was left to him and his life!  On my first morning in that country I sat in a sunny square, had a papaya-and-yogurt drink, and thought optimistically about the future which, so it seemed then, lay stretched out before me.  How little does a mortal man know of what lies before him!  To this day I cannot taste papaya without a sharp pang of regret and sorrow.  It has however to be faced that life in that place might very well have turned into something of a land of the lotus-eaters for me.  If I am successful in going back to school, if doing so ends up leading to my doing the work that I believe myself to have been put on earth to do, and if I am correct in saying that, without the HIV diagnosis and the subsequent "exile" I would not now be contemplating that step, then I am not entirely unjustified in wondering whether it was not, after all, for the best.  In other words: like many people who feel that they did not properly or fully enjoy their youth, I was, in moving to the tropical country, thinking that I would finally have the care-free life of a youth; three months later I found myself plunged into the very care-ridden life of an adult.  But at thirty that was, perhaps, appropriate. 

On another level the life of these past four years has not been without rewards.  I have learned a lot more about cooking. I have become healthier and more knowledgable about health, not, I hope, in a morbid "being-obsessed-about-vitamins" kind of way, but rather in terms of learning what healthy traditional practices are, and what modern habits are unhealthy and fake, and finding the strength to fill my life with the former and get rid of the latter.  I have made new friendships and cultivated old ones.  I have a grandmother who at ninety-two is in excellent health and with whom I have had the pleasure of spending time.  Sometimes I think it was wrong to leave the country while she was here and that my being forced to come back in the way that I was was a way of telling me that.  None of this is the life I imagined four years and three months ago, but it has been a good one nevertheless.

There has been dark shadow over the recent past over which I would perhaps prefer to draw a discreet veil but which I shall mention because to exclude it would seem somehow unjust.  Shortly after I learned that I had HIV my mother learned that she had cancer.  That cancer took her life in less than two years.  What that did to reinforce the lessons which I have mentioned above as accruing to my own HIV diagnosis--an awareness of the brevity, value, and unpredictability of life, a preoccupation with health, perhaps a greater seriousness in approach to things--my readers may judge.  In one of Flannery O'Connor's stories, someone seeing the death of his mother is described as "entering the world of guilt and sorrow"; that about sums it up.  My mother had struggled with a whole battery of health problems, and with depression, throughout her entire life, but her last few years had been happier ones.  She was only fifty-two when she passed away. 

After seeing what she suffered, however, it has at least been impossible to take my own HIV-related issues very seriously.  Tomorrow afternoon, as I do four times a year, I shall go to a clinic to have my blood drawn; I watch as four or five vials fill up with my blood.  Then three weeks later I see my doctor (who is wonderful) and find out the results.  There is a certain solemnity, but no undue preoccupation with self, I hope, in the attitude with which I approach the periodic recurrence of this memento mori.  So far my health "concerns" have been: lack of energy, sleep, weight, and borderline depression.  All of those pre-date my HIV diagnosis by many years, and in same cases have gotten better rather than worse.  I was far more depressed in my twenties than I ever have been now, although then I did not have much reason to be.  None of them has been debilitating.  I work, I cook, I read and write extensively, I hike.   I do need more time alone, and more rest, than I used to.  I still study the language of the country from which I was expelled because of my HIV.  I hope that someday, when I have an advanced degree and the world (let us hope) has more relaxed immigration laws, I shall go back there and find a better job and a better life than I would have had had I stayed there four years ago. 

Well, all of this is my best effort at an introduction of myself.  As I said, possibly someone newly diagnosed and wondering what life after HIV might be like, or someone else with HIV who wants to know about the experiences of a fellow traveller, will find it not without interest. 

I have found it quite helpful and interesting to read the various discussions in these forums.  Many of you have responded politely and helpfully to various questions that I have asked and that has been quite valuable.  Thank you! 
Summer 2004--became HIV+
Dec. 2005--found out

Date          CD4    %       VL
Jan. '06    725    25      9,097
Nov. '06    671    34     52,202
Apr. '07    553    30      24,270
Sept. '07  685    27       4,849
Jan. '08    825    29       4,749
Mar. '08    751    30     16,026
Aug. '08    653    30       3,108
Oct. '08     819    28     10,046
Jan '09      547    31     13,000
May '09     645   25        6,478
Aug. '09    688   30      19,571
Nov. '09     641    27       9,598
Feb. '10     638    27       4,480
May '10      687      9    799,000 (CMV)
July '10      600     21      31,000
Nov '10      682     24     15,000
June '11     563    23     210,000 (blasto)
July  '11      530    22      39,000
Aug '11      677     22      21,000
Sept. '12    747     15      14,000

Offline GSOgymrat

  • Member
  • Posts: 5,002
  • HIV+ since 1993. INTJ
Re: A Calling Card
« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2009, 09:39:30 PM »
Thanks for sharing your story. I hate that your dream of moving to the other country didn't happen. I'm also so sorry to hear about your mother.

Ford

Offline leatherman

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  • Posts: 6,065
  • Google and HIV meds are Your Friends
Re: A Calling Card
« Reply #2 on: November 15, 2009, 10:05:48 PM »
Thanks so much for sharing nestor  :D
I got my positive results the day after Christmas 17 years ago, so happy (early) anniversary to us! ;D Keep the faith, and keep your dreams of returning to that country once more. With life ahead of you, anything can happen.  ;D
leatherman (aka mIkIE)


chart from 1992-2013; updated 2/09/13  Reyataz/Norvir/Truvada

Offline WildcatCC

  • Member
  • Posts: 91
Re: A Calling Card
« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2009, 12:04:57 PM »
Nestor, thanks for sharing your perspective. It's refreshing to delve a bit into each others' lives and to understand what makes some people tick. I also enjoy your prolific writing style.
Apr  08 - Diagnosed
Apr  08  cd4 8, vl 150k
Meds: Prezista/Norvir/Truvada
June 08 cd4 250, vl 1600
Aug  08 cd4 275, vl 450
Meds: Atripla
Nov  08  cd4  386, vl 255
Jan   09  cd4  415, vl 2100 (spike?)
Feb   09  cd4 460, vl 212
May   09  cd4 515, vl 1200
Aug   09  cd4 717, vl 1535 % 23
Sept  09  cd4 535  vl 1710 % 18
Oct   09  genotype shows mutation. Discussing w/ ID Doc
Nov  09   cd4 480  vl 650   % 19
Dec  09 genotype slight mutation to Epivir and Retrovir
Jan 10   cd4 508 vl 250 (21%)  low vitamin d - on supplement 2000 iu/day
Mar 15 Change to Isentress and Truvada
May 5 cd4 498 vl 1485
June 16 cd4 550 vl undect!!!! (finally dammit)

Offline Inchlingblue

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  • Posts: 3,119
  • Chad Ochocinco PETA Ad
Re: A Calling Card
« Reply #4 on: November 17, 2009, 10:04:13 AM »
Thanks, Nestor, for sharing your experiences.

I can identify with a lot of it. It was nice to read someone else's experience, it helps in giving more perspective in one's own life.

Offline Assurbanipal

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  • Posts: 2,173
  • Taking a forums break, still see PM's
Re: A Calling Card
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2009, 05:13:24 PM »
Nestor


Seems a little late to welcome you to the forums, but thanks for telling us more about yourself.  It helps the conversation along.

I found the following thread very helpful that way when first browsing the forums -- have you seen it?
http://forums.poz.com/index.php?topic=338.msg2806#msg2806

Best
A
5/06 VL 1M+, CD4 22, 5% , pneumonia, thrush -- O2 support 2 months, 6/06 +Kaletra/Truvada
9/06 VL 3959 CD4 297 13.5% 12/06 VL <400 CD4 350 15.2% +Pravachol
2007 VL<400, 70, 50 CD4 408-729 16.0% -19.7%
2008 VL UD CD4 468 - 538 16.7% - 24.6% Osteoporosis 11/08 doubled Pravachol, +Calcium/D
02/09 VL 100 CD4 616 23.7% 03/09 VL 130 5/09 VL 100 CD4 540 28.4% +Actonel (osteoporosis) 7/09 VL 130
8/09  new regimen Isentress/Epzicom 9/09 VL UD CD4 621 32.7% 11/09 VL UD CD4 607 26.4% swap Isentress for Prezista/Norvir 12/09 (liver and muscle issues) VL 50
2010 VL UD CD4 573-680 26.1% - 30.9% 12/10 VL 20
2011 VL UD-20 CD4 568-673 24.7%-30.6%
2012 VL UD swap Prezista/Norvir for Reyataz drop statin CD4 768-828 26.7%-30.7%

Offline BlueMoon

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  • Posts: 665
  • Calling from the Fun House
Re: A Calling Card
« Reply #6 on: November 17, 2009, 07:46:59 PM »
Hello Nestor, thank you for your 'good etiquette', and welcome to the forum.   ;)

If you seek 'silver linings' then consider that if you hadn't moved then you may not have learned of your HIV until you became ill.  And you did realize your dream, if only for a few months, and who is to say that circumstances won't change again, and allow you to return what sounds like a tropic paradise.
...................VL.....CD4.....%
-----------------------------------------
08/10-- ......<40.....290.....42
05/10-- ......<48.....290.....46
02/10-- ......<48.....481.....44
10/09-- ......<48.....277.....46
07/09-- ......<48.....300.....38
05/09-- ........51.....449.....39
03/09-- Added Isentress
02/09-- ........65.....299.....34
11/08-- ........62.....242.....40
08/08-- ........66.....212.....29
05/08-- ......202.....217.....27
03/08-- ....5210.....187.....21
02/08-- Began Truvada/Reyataz/Norvir
12/07-- 273,000.....157.....22
11/07-- 229,000.....209.....22
10/07-- Diagnosis

It's a complex world.

Offline Nestor

  • Member
  • Posts: 430
  • What we love, we shall grow to resemble.
Re: A Calling Card
« Reply #7 on: November 18, 2009, 08:08:11 PM »

Thank you all for the kind replies!  And thank you for the compliment, Wildcat.

Assurbanipal, I had not seen that at all--I shall look at it as soon as I have the time. 

Ford, I notice from another thread that you too have lost a mother, so I am sorry for your loss as well.

Leatherman, the anniversaries--for I suppose I have two--becoming infected in July, and finding out about it in December--are not happy ones for me, but thanks for the greetings!

Blue Moon, it is probably true that if I had not had to be tested in applying for that work visa, I would not have found out for a long time.  I suppose I should be honest with myself and others on one point, however.  In the summer of 2004 I had unprotected sex for the first and only time in my life, and three months later I had all the classic symptoms of seroconversion.  Therefore I knew that there was a possibility.  I did not get tested initially because I was living in (another) foreign country and I did not know what the immediate consequences of diagnosis would be there.  After that I did not get tested because with the passage of symptoms I more or less allowed myself to forget about the fact.

I will admit that over the past five years, my absence of symptoms has led me more than a few times to think "Damn that test! If I hadn't had to take it, this is several more years I could have spent in blissful ignorance!"  Of course I'm not recommending that as a strategy!  On the other hand, if I had been "responsible" and gotten tested when I had the usual post-infection symptoms, I would never have had any of the experiences of that year and a half between infection and testing, including the three months I mentioned in the initial post--and I would never want to have gone without that, however traumatic the sequel was.  This is why, while I feel strongly that everyone should be encouraged to be tested and at least to be conscious of the realities, I feel equally strongly that people should not be coerced into being tested at a time when they are not mentally or situationally prepared for it. 


Summer 2004--became HIV+
Dec. 2005--found out

Date          CD4    %       VL
Jan. '06    725    25      9,097
Nov. '06    671    34     52,202
Apr. '07    553    30      24,270
Sept. '07  685    27       4,849
Jan. '08    825    29       4,749
Mar. '08    751    30     16,026
Aug. '08    653    30       3,108
Oct. '08     819    28     10,046
Jan '09      547    31     13,000
May '09     645   25        6,478
Aug. '09    688   30      19,571
Nov. '09     641    27       9,598
Feb. '10     638    27       4,480
May '10      687      9    799,000 (CMV)
July '10      600     21      31,000
Nov '10      682     24     15,000
June '11     563    23     210,000 (blasto)
July  '11      530    22      39,000
Aug '11      677     22      21,000
Sept. '12    747     15      14,000

Offline MWCLTonline

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Re: A Calling Card
« Reply #8 on: November 23, 2009, 02:27:33 AM »

INTRO: The Journey Begins
"Coming OUT of Hiding:
A Retrospective Journey Through AIDS..."
 
A Memoir * Michael W. Connett

“On Coming Home”

“Home is not a place; it is an attitude.  It is an attitude which depends on how much we are able to feel at home with ourselves as well as with others.  Home is something which happens to a person; homecoming has less to do with geography than it has to do with a sense of personal integrity or inner wholeness.

The most important of all endeavors in life is to come home.  The most terrifying of fears is loneliness.  It means that one has become a stranger to himself, and consequently, to others.  To be lonely is to feel fear, to be forever unsettled, never at rest, in need of more reassurance than life can give.

Someone truly loves us when he brings us home; when he makes us comfortable with ourselves, when he takes from us the strangeness we feel at being who we are.  We are loved when we no longer are frightened with ourselves.”

“Dawn Without Darkness” - Anthony Padavano

This story is about my most important endeavor in life.  To experience that greatest love of all; to truly love myself, to shed the strangeness I feel at being who I am and to no longer be frightened with myself.  This is my attempt to finally get myself home before I die.  Much of the strangeness and the fear I’ve felt has been the result of the beliefs, words and actions of the people around me.  Naturally, the most important and influential of those has been my family.  I’ve never really felt at home with them because I’ve always been a stranger to them.  Now, I think I understand why and that there was never any malice intended.  But the hurt and pain have been real.  They need to understand that, and how it has affected my life.  They also need to know that that understanding is my only motive; because if they understand me and my life, maybe they’ll finally love me enough to bring me home.

Part 1 - The Test Results

Looking back at it; the most important thing that led me to finally take the HIV Test was that I was not afraid, and was actually ready, to face death.  I simply wanted to know for sure so that I could begin to settle my affairs and be in control when it came.  “Magic” Johnson has said that if he died tomorrow, he would have no regrets because he’s had the greatest life he could ever have imagined.  I felt that I had also reached a point where I would have no regrets either, but for opposite reasons.  In fact, it seemed it would be more of a welcome relief.  My life has been disappointing; it hasn’t been all that happy, hasn’t made any worthwhile contribution, hasn’t changed anything, hasn’t made life easier or better for anyone and nothing I’ve done in my life has seemed to have had any meaning to anyone but me.  That may or may not be true, but what’s important now is that that is how I truly felt as I approached the test.

“On Death”

“Then Almitra spoke, saying; ‘We would ask now of Death.’ 

And he said; ‘You would know the secret of Death, but how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of Life.  For Life and Death are one, even as the river and sea are one.

In the death of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond, like the seed dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.  Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gates to Eternity.   

Your fear of Death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the King whose hand is to be laid upon him in honor.  Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling that he shall wear the mark of the King, yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?     

For what is it to die ,but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun.  And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tide that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered.     

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.  And when you have reached the mountain top, then shall you begin to climb.  And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance’.”

“The Prophet” - Kahlil Gibran




On Thursday (10/3/91), I got the results from my first and only HIV test.  In preparation, I had told myself that it was a 50-50 proposition with an equal number of reasons whit it could be positive or negative.  It was positive.  I was, and at the same time was not, surprised.  I was not surprised because gay men are still the most at risk and because for the last two years I’d had swollen glands (lymph nodes) that I couldn’t explain.  On the other hand, I was surprised because I didn’t think I fit my perception of the profile of the gay men who are most at risk.  I had been “out” since 1978, at least out enough to have discovered that I was not alone and where to go to be with my own kind.  True, in those early days of my new found freedom in the bars there were instances when I had been somewhat care free about who and what I did.  But that was before AIDS came along and I was always primarily interested in pursuing a monogamous relationship and never considered myself to be a slut.  I had never been the type to go home with someone new every night I went out or to participate in kinky or group sexual scenes.  I never thought that my behavior had been risky enough that it would happen to me.  And even though my glands were quite noticeably swollen, they weren’t painful or causing any problems and I felt as healthy as I’d ever felt. 

“The Bar”
Come to the BadLands,
Haven for those who differ.
Step thru the door into a world
Aglow with fascinating intricacies.
Where facades are thrown off,
And the flight to freedom begins.
Drown the tenseness of a secret life,
In the sweet elixir of same-ness.
Wallow in the warmth of acceptance,
Shed your fears of rejection.
Live these hours to their fullest,
Let not the outside world interfere.
Be sustained by the smiles,
Tainted smiles that, out the door,
Fade into secretive defense.
Until the next flight...
M.W.C. - 2/78

Since then; I’ve discovered a lot about this disease and about myself, and I continue to be both surprised and not surprised at the way both are perceived.  For myself, I have discovered that this is not an automatic death sentence and that I still may have enough time to accomplish something with my life.  There are still things I’d like to do and, for once in my life, I’m going to do what I think is right for me and not what my family thinks I should do because they need to be spared any embarrassment from my actions.  At this point, knowing my HIV status makes me feel empowered, optimistic, not afraid and ready to live the best I can for as long as I can.  I want to start by sharing the things I’ve experienced and learned, the myths and misconceptions I’ve encountered in the hopes that others may benefit from it.  If I can help just one other person get through this by dispelling some of the misconceptions that I myself had and preventing them from making the same mistakes, I will have accomplished something worthwhile that I can be proud to leave as my legacy.

I begin here with my biggest mistake and one of the most important and difficult lessons.  At the time I got my test results I had been working at Perkins Restaurant for about three months.  The dining room manager, Ms. Jimmi Coulson, had come on board a month after me and in the two months that we worked together I had established a good rapport with her and thought that we were friends.  She knew that I was gay and had no problem with that, in fact she had confided in me that she had relatives who also were and that she understood.  At the same time I became aware of and was dealing with my HIV status, her husband had been in a serious accident and she was also going through a personal trauma.  Four days after I learned I was HIV positive, we were standing in the lobby chatting as she was preparing to leave for the day and go to the hospital to see her husband.  I felt very empathic to what she was going through and as I hugged her good-bye I told her I understood, that we all had crises to contend with and that things would work out and we’d all be okay.  She asked me what was wrong with me and I told her that I had tested positive for the AIDS virus.  She was my friend, she had said she understood the difficulties of being gay and I didn’t hesitate to tell her.  She hugged me again, said something comforting and then told me not to tell anyone else in the store about it.  I replied that I had told Ron C. (another gay waiter), but that it was okay because he understood, would be supportive and someone that I could talk to about it.  She again admonished me not to tell anyone else; we said good-bye and she left.

I worked my shift, actually I worked a double because we were short-handed, and then went home.  I had the next two days off and in that time I can remember feeling good about having confided in her about my HIV status.  Even though I did not yet know all the details or ramifications of my infection, it made sense to me that someone at work should know.  What it I had an accident and was bleeding, or came down with one of the opportunistic illnesses associated with AIDS.  There should be someone who would know to take precautions and I could be candid with about any sickness.  So even though I was unsure about my future in some ways, I felt secure about my job and my ability to financially support myself through it.  And with that mind set I showed up two days later, exactly one week from when I learned my test results, ready to go to work.

When I walked in the door, Jimmi was waiting for me and said she needed to talk to me.  She ushered me into a closed dining room and introduced me to Peter Arevalo, one of the vice-presidents of the corporation that owns the Perkins’ franchise in the Greater Cincinnati area.  She apologized for betraying my confidence and said she felt that it was the only thing she could do to help me.  They said that the restaurant business was very stressful and that stress was the last thing I needed now.  I countered that even though I was unsure about my future and what I needed to do next, I could handle that normal stress as long as I could work and be able to support myself.  I told them that at this point there was just a series of blood tests and a physical that I needed to undergo, but I felt fine and wasn’t sick in any way.  They persisted in their claim that the best thing for me would be to get out of the restaurant away from the stress, to begin the tests and take care of myself.  Then they said that they were willing to help me so that it would be possible financially.  At that point I realized that I was about to lose my job, one way or another, because they were afraid of me working in the restaurant.  They wanted me to sign a termination form that stated I was voluntarily quitting due to personal problems.  In return, they would give me a check toward my medical expenses and would support my claim for unemployment benefits.  And, of course, I was asked not to discuss this matter with anyone else.  The dollar amount that had been tossed out at that point was $1000.00.  Since I had already figured out that I was going to be without a job, I now knew that I had to either take what they were offering and leave with some resources in my pocket or refuse their offer and wait a day or two for them to come up with some reason to fire me.  And since they had all the paperwork on the table, it was also apparent to me that they wanted an answer right then.

My mind was spinning, weighing all the options.  I told them that I understood the nature of the business and their fears, that they really didn’t have to do this and could probably get away with just letting me go and that I appreciated their concern.  I asked them to reiterate what they would do and what I needed to do to accept.  Mr. Arevalo did and I agreed to sign the termination form and take the money.  He offered to put the unemployment agreement on a company letterhead and send it to me or to write it out now on a plain piece of paper.  I said I’d rather leave with it in my hand and he wrote it out while I signed the form.  As he began to make out the check, they again told me that this was the best thing for all concerned, that it would enable me to get the medical attention I needed and that they appreciated my cooperation.  He then handed me the check and said that since none of us really knew what I needed or what it would cost, he had made it out for a little more.  When I looked at it, my head began to spin again and I turned numb.  It was for $1,500.00.  I thanked him, stood up, shook his hand and turned to leave.  Jimmi walked me out, told the supervisor I wouldn’t be on the floor that night, reminded me not to tell anybody anything and said that she’d stay in touch to see how I was doing.  She asked if I was okay and could I get home allright?  I had walked in to work because I was out of cash and said I’d be okay walking back home.  She gave me $20.00 out of her purse, told me to take a cab, gave me a hug, said good-bye and I left.  I went and got some cigarettes and decided to go ahead and walk back home so I could think.  As I proceeded, the thought came to me that they could change their mind and stop payment on that check.  So when I got to my bank I deposited it through the ATM.  In retrospect, I should have waited and made a copy of it first, but I wanted it to clear before they had a chance to change their mind.

The next night I got a call from Ron C., the other gay waiter whom I had told  about my test results.  I wasn’t home but there was a frantic message on my machine that when he had gone to work that night, Jimmi had left word for him that he was fired.  He wanted to know what was going on.  I met with him the next night and told him what they had done with me.  We both came to the conclusion that their fears of an “AIDS scare” in the restaurant had prompted them to fire him because he knew of my test results, we were friends, I’d probably tell him about their deal and he might let it slip to someone else in the store.  They wanted to remove that risk and just fired him.  Unfortunately, it turned out that he had also tested positive and didn’t go as quietly and cooperatively as I did.  He began to fight back and one of the ways he did was to start spreading the whole story through the gay community.  That’s another factor that motivated me to tell my story, because people have asked me about what happened and what I was going to do about it.  The most important reason, though, is to prevent someone else from making the same mistake by pointing out the necessity to be extremely careful about to whom and how one reveals their test results.

Part 2 - The Aftermath:

Learning The Truth

About a month later I went to the AIDS Treatment Center at Holmes Hospital to have the blood tests, a physical and get signed up for the clinical trials program.  The staff at the ATC were very understanding and supportive and the first to clue me into the fact that Perkins had screwed me over.  My T-Cell count was pretty good at about 650 and I was, indeed, in good health and able to lead a relatively normal life.

“Can an employee with HIV be fired or transferred because he or she carries the virus?
NO!  In the workplace, AIDS and AIDS-related conditions are legally seen as disabilities.  It is against the law to discriminate against a person because of a disability.  If the person with HIV can do his or her job, then there is no reason for a change.  People with HIV may be able to work for many years, and should be allowed to continue in their jobs.  Unfortunately, some companies may not be aware of handicap laws, or just do not follow them.”
                              Ohio Department of Health Brochure

If I’d had this important piece of information when I got my test results and before I was confronted by the management at Perkins, the situation would have turned out quite differently.  I may still have my job, my health and my sanity.  But I didn’t have it, they knew it and took advantage of that to get me to sign the voluntary termination form which put them in the clear when I filed a complaint with the State of Kentucky.  As it says above, some companies just do not follow the laws, especially when they think they can get away with it!

Since I’d already lost my job, which was the only thing of value that I had feared to lose, I became quite candid in discussing my situation with people I felt were interested and would be supportive.  That included friends, family, doctors, lawyers, AVOC counselors and community leaders.  Through this, as I mentioned before, I’ve discovered a lot about the myths and misconceptions about this disease.  And again, while I was not surprised by those of the straight community, I was most surprised by those of the gay community.  Most people believe that (Full-blown)AIDS = Death and, tragically, that is usually true.  A great many also believe, as I once did, that being HIV positive = AIDS (which in turn = Death).  That is simply not true, there is a big difference between the two.  To understand this, consider the T-Cell Count which is a primary indicator of health in HIV infection.  A normal, healthy count falls in the range of 900-1200, while a count of 250 or less is the norm when a person becomes sick, is diagnosed with AIDS and eventually dies.  That leaves a range of about 250-900 where a person is below normal yet still healthy.  The accumulated research now shows that being HIV positive is a condition similar to Diabetes and, as such, is classified as a Chronic, Controllable disease.  The key to being controllable, however, is Early Detection and Intervention.  And that, my friends, is the single most important reason why everyone should take the HIV test.  Especially anyone who has ever engaged in what is now considered unsafe sex, even if it was years ago or not very often.  This virus has been around a lot longer than we think and it only takes one contact to get it.  Look at this as being as important as voting, if not more so, and apply the same slogan; “There’s no good excuse!”

And speaking of excuses, I’ve probably heard them all and even used a couple myself at this point.  They include, but are not limited to, the following:

*I’m healthy,  I have the usual little illnesses which I get over normally and have none of the major symptoms of AIDS.
*When I first came out years ago I had  unsafe sexual encounters, but I was never a bed-hopping slut with multiple contacts or engaged in group or kinky sex.
*When AIDS hit here in 1985 and we became aware of it and learned about safer sex; we changed our behaviors.
*What if a couple gets tested and one is and one isn’t, what’ll happen to the relationship?  Knowing isn’t worth the trouble it may cause.
*What about my job, my home, my friends and family?  There’s too much that could be lost if I’m positive and it gets out.
*If I’ve got the virus I’m going to eventually get AIDS and die and there isn’t anything I can do about it, so there’s no reason to bother being tested.

However, many of these excuses are grounded in the myths and misconceptions about HIV and AIDS that many people still believe.  If they would learn the truth, they would realize that there are things that can be done and much more to be gained than lost.

 

Copyright©: The Michael W. Connett Living Trust
"HIV is something you live with every day for the rest of your life. You may never die of It, but you will always die with it..."

 


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