By Robert Levithan
An acquaintance, who has had a rough time medically in recent years with his HIV condition, sent me a link from his wellness coach. It was challenging the most commonly held beliefs about HIV and its treatment. Reading these arguments against the validity of HAART make me crazy'I want to scream at people who believe them to get real! And then I remember that I myself used to be a serious doubter' that I resisted the belief that AIDS was always fatal as stated in the media for years, and that I, too, have embraced alternative and holistic approaches to maintaining health. What's dangerous is the rigidity, the all-or-nothing approach to pharmaceuticals and the pharmaceutical industry. I do not blindly trust big business, but I do see that treating HIV has saved many lives, including my own.
In recent weeks, I have dealt with the effects of denial: A man went into a coma a few days after finally being diagnosed with HIV after several years of mysterious illness. Since he was a monogamous heterosexual no one had tested him for HIV'in 2005! He is recovering, I am happy to report, home from rehabilitation. And there was another man, who was so adamant about not taking anti-virals that he, too, ended up in the hospital with multiple opportunistic infections, all of which are treatable, but which hadn't been responding to his natural doctor's care. He, too, is also home and doing better. And still I read that HIV is an illusion, that it's caused by medications and that the medications' side effects cause more deaths than HIV does. Death by side effect can be a luxury'
I remember the days before the identification of HIV, when seemingly healthy people got sick one day, went to the hospital the next, were on life-support the next, and were dead shortly thereafter. They were dying of AIDS, not medications. In the next few years progress in treatment of infections and prophylaxis were made, but it was only 10 years ago that the new AIDS paradigm arrived with HAART'and for 10 years people have been surviving, often thriving with HIV, even after an AIDS diagnosis.
Side effects from HAART can be devastating, even fatal, but most people are having greatly increased longevity and quality of life. I am one of them.
Ten years ago this week I began HAART. My T-cell count was 22. I was highly functional, but tentative about my long-term future. I couldn't have dreamed that today my T-cell count would be over 800, that I would have an undetectable viral load, and that I would be privileged to be living such a rich vital life: In this decade I have traveled to Europe and Asia, and bought property in Brazil during one of my 11 trips there. I have developed a satisfying career as a counselor and group leader, and I have designed homes for clients and myself. I am in my healthiest relationship (he's HIV-, by the way) and I even have the opportunity to write about it!
I attribute this to my refusal to accept HIV as a death sentence, and to my refusal to be in denial about what is available. It all comes from God: That means wheat grass and AZT, acupuncture and MRIs. I embrace everything that my intuition/gut tells me to do. Which is what I encourage people dealing with HIV or cancer or other illnesses to do. See the surgeon, see the Dalai Lama's doctor, see the shaman'put together a comprehensive program for the mind, the body, and the spirit'and live as fully as you can with the resources you have'internally and externally.
I am so grateful for this past decade, for the present, and for the prospect of a future. My goal is not to live forever, but to be as fully alive as I can be until I die.