The first time I went to my current doctor’s office, I was as anxiousand excited as a teenager waiting for a blind date to ring thedoorbell. She was a highly recommended AIDS specialist, and, despiteeight doctors in as many years, I was still optimistic about finding“the One.” After a short wait, the nurse led me to an office and left,closing the door behind her. When the door opened, I smiled and said,“Are you going to take care of me?” My new doctor touched my shoulderand gently replied, “Only if you let me, dear.”

And then I exhaled.  

Findingthe right physician is as daunting a task as finding the right lover.Every person with HIV brings their unique personality to the examiningroom—and so does each doctor. I’m a warm, gentle, passionate,44-year-old same-gender-loving man of African descent. I can also bearrogant and unyielding—I was born with an attitude. MDs can bedifficult, too: Many forget just who is living with HIV and react withhorror if you miss taking a pill. That’s a shame because HIV docs aremore than medical professionals. They are our nutritionists, safer-sexgurus, therapists and, if we’re lucky, friends.

I wasdiagnosed in the winter of ’94. Though I was asymptomatic, I becameterrified and obsessed with death—like Tupac and Biggie, but for adifferent reason. My first physician was, like me, a strong believer inholistic health. Yet he never asked me how I felt about AIDS. So I wasafraid to be honest with him about the difficulties of my life: I wasnewly in recovery, frightened of HIV meds and uncomfortable talkingabout my sexual behavior.

When I checked in one afternoon, thereceptionist casually informed me that the facility no longer employedhim. Damn—no letter, no phone call, nothing. I felt like a dumpedboyfriend. The staff dutifully referred me to a same-gender-lovingblack female doc, which gave me hope that we might connect. But when Ishared my fears around taking meds, she barked, in front of three otherphysicians, “Well, don’t call me when you end up in the emergencyroom.”

I felt like Rodney Dangerfield.

By ’97, I wasfeeling better about myself: I’d added acu-puncture, workouts, prayer,meditation and vitamins to my health regimen. My physician at the time,though, was cold and distant. I dreaded each visit. He rushedexaminations and talked too fast. I’d enter confident and leaveconfused.

Such experiences make me realize how blessed I am tohave my present doc. That she’s fiftysomething and Latina puts me atease. She’s also warm, caring—and don’t take no shit from me. When Itold her I’d had unprotected sex with a positive partner, she said, “Doyou love him enough to die for him?” She was right: The risk ofreinfection or an STD wasn’t worth it.

A few years ago, rightaround the time I found my doc, I started having serious health issues:night sweats, pneumonia, weight loss, skin problems. Her unwaveringsupport and assurances that others have recovered from similarillnesses have made all the difference. My doc affirms the value of myongoing healing and empowerment and helps me to be a person with HIVwho is joyous and free.

During a recent visit, she saidsomething that made me certain she was Dr. Right: “Mark, you’ve madetremendous progress: You’re so serene now. When we began workingtogether, you were such a bitch.” I laughed so hard my stomach was inknots. The truth hurts—and it sets you free.