World AIDS Day

“There will never be a cure! Big Pharma is making too much money stringing me along from one treatment to another.” – Sam W.

In order to help keep AIDS awareness in the minds of people around me, I thought I’d share some of my personal experiences, and how HIV/AIDS has affected people in my life. The following is pulled together from casual conversations with my friend Sam, whom I’ve known for almost two decades. I’ve entered direct quotes as I remember them. Everything you read here is fact.

Sam, quoted above, has been living with AIDS for a little over twenty years. He tested positive in 1991. His survival, he says, is a double edged sword. He feels fortunate to be alive but, like many LGBT folks our age, most of his close friends are gone. “There’s no one left!” he says. “In the early 90s my friends were dropping like flies, one after the other. I thought I was next. My doctor told my parents to make my final arrangements. I was prepared to die.” Sam told me that when he didn’t die, he went into a depression. Psychologists call it Survivor’s Guilt.

Though ten years younger than Sam, I can easily empathize. At the height of the pandemic, AIDS took most of my friends. But the friends that I lost were relatively new friendships. Sam had known most of his friends for ten, fifteen years. You’re not supposed to lose so many friends at such a young age.

Sam says his biggest lament is the cost of survival. He was fortunate enough to have had a decent enough employer who provided him with healthcare, and who was understanding enough to alter his work schedule as needed. He worked for as long as he could, but by the mid-nineties his health had so declined that he had no choice but to go on Social Security Disability and wait for death. Then Protease Inhibitors came along.

The new drugs that saved his life cost a small fortune. Sam takes three Anti-HIV pills which cost about $900 per bottle, and a handful of medications to handle side effects that cost between $20 and $150 per bottle. And that doesn’t include regular blood tests, doctor visits, and medical procedures.

“Remember the assisted suicide controversy in the 90s?” he asks. “All those conservatives wanted to hang Dr. Kevorkian! Now they want to cut my benefits! (Social Security, Food Stamps, Medicaid, Medicare) Where’s their compassion for the sick and dying, now?? If you don’t want to help me live, then allow me to die!”

Sam assures he doesn’t really want to die. He’s understandably frustrated by a system that has failed him. It would be difficult for him to go back to work. He couldn’t even afford a part time job. If he went back to work, he’d lose his healthcare. If he lost his healthcare, he’d get sick again and most likely die.

In a perfect world, Sam could rejoin the workforce, keep his healthcare, and maybe pay an affordable percentage of his salary back into Medicare. The trouble is the cost of prescriptions. As long as he has to take those expensive medications, he can never leave Social Security.

I reminded him of the recent advancements in developing a vaccine. “There will never be a cure!” he says ” Big Pharma is making too much money stringing me along from one treatment to another! It’s a scam, and the American people are too blind to see it!”

Though careful what I say to him, I can’t help but think perhaps he’s right. There’s no money in cures. The money is in treatment. If you cured cancer tomorrow, all those Cancer Treatment Centers would go bankrupt within months. Susan G Komen would cease to exist. I hate to sound pessimistic, but I have little faith in a system that values money over people.

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The best I can offer is try to educate people around me and hope that they pay attention.

AIDS (Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome) has been around for three decades. Some of the biggest myths about AIDS that still persist today include, “It’s a gay disease” “It can’t happen to me” and “There’s a cure”. AIDS is not a “Gay” disease. It CAN happen to you. There is NO cure.

Treatment has it’s own issues. Side effects of Anti HIV medication include, fatigue, neuropathy, fungal infections, liver damage, heart disease, kidney disease, body fat re-distribution (buffalo hump), chronic headaches, nausea, vomiting, vision loss, blindness, high cholesterol, diarrhea, constipation, dementia, calcium deficiency, loss of bone density, death and more.

  • Sounds fun, right? Especially when you consider prevention is as simple as proper condom use.
  • And ladies, because men are so reluctant to wrap it up, there’s a condom designed just for you. – Introducing… The Female Condom!

Knowing all of this, would you rather protect yourself and your loved ones, or spend the rest of your life at a doctor’s office?

To learn more about HIV/AIDS, check out the NIH AIDS info page.  http://www.aidsinfo.nih.gov/

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What is it about drugs that makes people stupid? …oh, right.

Can someone please explain to me the need to roll and smoke a blunt -or do any drug for that matter- on other people’s property? Seriously. Is this just a South Philly thing? …or does this happen everywhere?

I wasn’t brought up this way. I was raised to respect others. I was taught that people treat you the way you treat them. If you act like a thug, you can’t get angry when people treat you as such.

I often lament having to live within blocks of a crack house simply because we can’t afford to move. Don’t get me wrong. we live on a great block – mostly. But every once in a while reality comes wandering along with the sweet smelling cloud of ganja gas suspended above his head.

I’m not a prude. Mary Jane and I are old friends. It just would never occur to me to get blazed on the steps of a stranger’s house. It’s arrogant. It’s inconsiderate to your neighbors. It calls attention to yourself, and it’s just plain stupid. Why do it?

At the risk of sounding like the old head that I am, when I was young we smoked weed in private. We knew it was illegal, so we kept it on the down low. These days, young turks think nothing of whipping out a crack pipe while strolling down the street! What the hell, man? Get it together! Little kids live on our block! Do that shit in your own house!

Hanging out on our steps is usually enough to dissuade anyone from toking up on the street. But every now and again some idiot will think we don’t notice and light up. In those cases, just asking the person if (s)he can “please do that somewhere else” is usually enough to send them on their way. But occasionally, some little punk thinks his need to get high is more important than the rights of our neighbors.

The worst is when they try to hide on the steps of the small pentecostal church at the end of our street. Here’s where insolence rises to new heights! What the hell is wrong with people? Seriously! Have some f*king self respect!

I grew up in an Italian household. Wine was served with every meal. It was a normal part of life. As children, we were never made to feel left out. Our wine glasses were somewhat watered down, but we each had one. If we wanted to taste any of the “adult” beverages, all we had to do was ask. My family knew that the way to make something more desirable is to ban it, so nothing was forbidden. As a result, the mystery was taken out of alcohol. If there’s no mystery, it’s no longer special. We were free to pursue more important things.

Any child psychologist will tell you, the quickest way to get a child to do something it to tell him he’s not allowed to do it. When you remove the restrictions you take away it’s importance. I’m a firm believer in the legalization of marijuana to abate it’s importance. Decriminalization will help reduce drug related crime. Taxing it will help add much needed money to our treasury.

But when I see these kids hiding in doorways or shuffling down the street like zombies, I have to wonder if maybe I have it all wrong.