Conventional AIDS wisdom was fuzzy (but not warm) in 1987. If you didn’t feel well, if you had swollen glands, you had AIDS-Related Complex, or ARC. If you had a KS lesion or pneumonia, you had AIDS. Months later you were dead. I desperately made AL-721, one of many home “remedies,” in my kitchen. Every medical utterance fanned embers of hope. But each time I looked at my lover, Joe, hope was harder to hold onto. Then in March of that year something real -- not rumor -- appeared out of medical science and was approved by the FDA: AZT. But it was hard to get, and there was a wait. The drug’s cost of $10,000 a year was unprecedented. We waited and waited for a call from the doctor’s office, and when the call finally came, we brought it home. Joe peeled off the label and found someone else’s name underneath. We must have gotten his prescription -- he died before he got his meds. Joe swallowed his first dose. But it was too little, too late: Joe died a few months later. For me, it felt like the promise of medical science died, too.
February 1, 2001 • By Mark Senak