Op-ed: Brave New World

By Advocate Contributors

Originally published on Advocate.com December 06 2011 5:00 AM ET

It
was eight years ago, on October 13, 2003, that I was afraid I was going to die.
I remember the phone call from my doctor telling me to come to his office to
talk about my blood work. I remember sitting in his office and seeing his white
coat sway with the breeze of the door closing. I remember him telling me, “Tom
I’m really sorry to have to tell you, but your HIV test results came back
positive.” As long as I live I will never forget that moment.

Three
years after my diagnosis and with the consultation of my infectious disease
doctor, I began antiretroviral therapy. My first series of HIV medication was
two pills, three times a day. But it didn’t work for me, and my busy schedule
prevented me from adhering to the routine of three times a day. I then switched
to two pills once a day, at night before bedtime. This was much better; it was
far more convenient when they combined these two medications into one pill. For
me the side effects, including vivid dreams, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues,
and being a bit sluggish in the morning, are just something I got used to,
something I accept and hardly even think about now. I confess my experience is
nothing compared to some, and we don’t have a magic pill yet. Richard Powell, a
19-year-old contributor to the “Infected, Affected; Real Stories, Real People”
series of journals on the Who’s Positive website, at one time had literally
bags of medication he couldn’t use as a result of his body rejecting the
various regimens that are available.

Some
are challenged with the side effects or affording the cost of these lifesaving
medications, but we need to think where would we be today
without them. We are living much longer, fuller lives. And earlier this year a
National Institutes of Health report showed that HIV-positive men and women who
began antiretroviral therapy soon after becoming infected significantly reduced
the transmission to their HIV-negative sex partners — by a staggering 96%.
Treatment as prevention? This is an enormous scientific discovery that will
help reduce the transmission of HIV to noninfected partners. Until there is a
cure, living longer and protecting the lives of our loved ones — or those we
hardly know — is a winning proposition for everyone.

I
don’t want to think about life without these lifesaving medications; the world
is literally a different place because of them. How many of the 33.3 million
people with HIV worldwide would still be alive if we didn’t have these
medications? And who would share the struggles of those who have gone before
us? I can’t imagine a world without longtime survivor Dab Garner (of Dab the AIDS
Bear Project) and all the stories of those we’ve lost and who had no access to
these medications. I recall his stories of the early days of AIDS, when
hospitals would not allow anyone in the rooms of folks who were HIV-positive.
The very sick would die alone with no family or friends by their side. I can’t
imagine that loneliness.

I
know I am lucky — I am feeling great, and my viral load is undetectable. I just
know that one day I am going to speak in front of a group and take the stories
of Dab Garner as well as many others and talk about the time in the past when
there was no treatment — a time before we conquered HIV and AIDS.

 

TOM
DONOHUE is the founding director of Who’s Positive, a national organization
that humanizes HIV through firsthand accounts of people living with the virus.
He also sits on the board of trustees of the National Association of People
With AIDS.