Happy “Few” Days After Thanksgiving
So, “Happy Thanksgiving” to all. I’m very grateful for my wonderful family and friends. I’m grateful for so many things, including the years living, surviving and learning HOW to live with this little virus called HIV.
The campaign and election, of course, took up a good deal of my time and energy. I’m very happy about the outcome and hope that President elect Obama will help heal our nation. I’m now suffering from P.T.E.D. (Post Traumatic Election Disorder). The campaign was a very nasty one and showed a side of America that isn’t pretty. The racism, sexism, gender bias and class divisions were put right out there for all of us to see. It was ugly. But, I believe that we need to look directly into the ugly eyes of "America The Beautiful", so that we can finally see the hard truths that are holding us hostage to ourselves and look into our own nation’s soul. We can’t go on believing in a fantasy. Our nation has many problems and I hope that the healing process will begin.
I truly believe that we, as a “nation” have elected a leader that will FINALLY implement a “National AIDS Policy” in the United States. It’s actually surreal to fathom that after 25 grueling years of an AIDS epidemic within our own borders, the United States has not reconciled itself to the fact that AIDS is still infecting its citizens at an alarming rate, a rate that has been underestimated by well over 15,000 per year. I also find it deeply disturbing and hypocritical that the United States will not send emergency funds to hard hit nations if they don’t have a National AIDS Strategy in place when we don’t have one ourselves!
Please, as a nation, let us finally face the ugly facts that the policy of our departing President was a NATIONAL DISGRACE. Although I do give kudos to President Bush for signing the PEPFAR bill, I’m disgusted with his failed “abstinence” based policy to stop the spread of HIV in the U.S.A (and abroad!), the slashing of critical funds for scientific research, the flat funding and cuts in the Ryan White Care Act and his complete sellout of our outdated healthcare system to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. I believe that the hands of time and progress were set back. We’ll never know how many lives could have been saved if this administration addressed the epidemic scientifically instead of succumbing to the pressures of the religious ideologues. Many of those same ideologues were given high government appointments that set our current abstinence based (ABC) AIDS policies. Sadly, the ABC policy increased infection rates in the US and abroad. Instead of declaring war on AIDS, our President declared war on “terror”, a figurative word that has no real rhyme or reason. We attacked entire countries, bombed villages and killed innocent people all in the name of “preemption”. History will reveal the results of the rest of these preemptive policies. I wish Bush and other administrations before him would have preempted an attack on the AIDS virus. I can’t help but wonder how many more lives would have been saved if just a portion of the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was spent towards research, care and prevention of HIV/AIDS. I wonder if bombing entire villages in Afghanistan and Iraq, killing thousands of lives helps us more than saving millions of lives infected with HIV/AIDS?
And that is the basis of my argument with this administration and with those who don’t want to address the real issue of HIV/AIDS. “Are some lives worth more than others?” If so, whose lives are considered worth investing in and whose lives should be discarded or ignored?
Do we as a nation really believe in “equality and justice for all”? Perhaps we’re so brainwashed that we really want to believe, as we’ve been told, that America has the best healthcare system in the world? Do we care that many of our own citizens do not have access to care and cannot afford the high cost of HIV medications? Do we really treat all people equally and with justice, as our Constitution guarantees? Can we ignore that some populations are disproportionately infected, such as African Americans, hispanic, Latina and black women, MSM, IV drug users and their partners? Does our government really care about these populations, as they claim? Does society really care? These are the questions that I would like our leaders to answer and our society to address. And this is exactly why I am studying and am trying to understand “political science”. It’s not “politics” that I’m after, it’s the “science” behind it. I want to know the facts, the history of our government, how and why policies are made and what needs to be done to change them.
This semester at Rutgers has been pretty tough. I’m only taking two classes, but there’s so much reading involved - and I’m having difficulty retaining all the information. I’m noticing problems with short term memory and concentration. Sure, It could be my age (gasp!), but I’m most concerned that it’s HIV related. I don’t want to admit the fact that although my blood work has improved, my brain may be “impaired”. I try to laugh it off, stay busy, make excuses and keep a positive attitude, but I know that I’m forgetting things too often. Although it’s frightening, I try to look on the bright side. Some things are definitely best forgotten! I’ve been reading a few new clinical trials and know that this could apply to me. I’m certainly no dummy and prefer to face my illness rather than pretend everything is fine. If there’s something I can do to improve my cognition, then I’ll do it dammit! So, I’ve asked my doctor if he thought a lobotomy would be the best course of action at this point in time. He told me to wait a few years and we’d discuss it.
I just celebrated my 47th birthday on November 20th. I’m usually pretty upbeat, but this year was a bit different. Maybe it’s because I realized that I’ve crossed the point in my life where I’m living with HIV more than I’ve lived without it? It all came crashing down on me at once. For some reason, it hit harder this year than others.
In the midst of all this, I’m waiting for the results of my latest labs. You’d think that after so many years I would just relax, not worry or think about the replication or mutation of my T-cells, viral load and T4/T8 ratio every damn day. I went to New York City last week to see my doctor and get my blood drawn. I try to make the day an adventure instead of a chore. Since I hate to drive into the city (I have no patience with slow drivers and enjoy cursing at them too much), I decided to take a bus, which is less expensive and less stressful than driving. Besides, I absolutely love “people watching” and I think that “bus people” are just fascinating. Once I got into “Port Authority”, I felt the adrenaline rushing through my veins. I felt fear, anxiety, excitement... I was unsure, lost, confused ... but confident and secure at the same time. And that’s how I feel about living with AIDS.
Sometimes, usually most of the time, I don’t know where the hell I’m going. I’m lost, confused and terrified. But at the same time, I’m secure in that chaos. I trust my instincts and know that I will somehow find my way. I’m not ashamed to ask for directions. For the past 23 years I’ve been living with AIDS this way. I don’t know where I’m going with this virus. According to my first doctor (who “broke up” with me), I’m supposed to be dead now. But I’m not, so I have to keep moving forward, even if I don’t know exactly where I’m going. I just try to stay on course and keep following my “North Star”.
After my appointment, while walking back to Port Authority, I found myself in front of a beautiful house, a mansion in the middle of New York City. I just knew it was special. So, I walked inside the gates and sure enough, it was the Frick Museum, which was opened that day to show a special Goya exhibition to the public. Goya is not one of my favorites, but viewing his paintings that day helped me understand my own state of mind. Over the course of his career, Francisco Goya changed his style from lighthearted, upbeat and bright to deeply dark and pessimistic. Looking at art is always subjective. I believe that we relate to art by finding something of ourselves in each expression, color, movement, background or style. Goya’s darker, violent work disturbed me so much that I had to leave. I decided to walk back into the bright, clear, crisp day, leave Goya to his darkness and get back to a brighter life. I choose to see and paint my life with brighter, not darker colors.
The semester is ending in a few weeks, thank God. I’ll be able to breathe a little easier. The Innaugaration of our 44th President will take place in a little over a month. I hope we’ll all be able to breathe, and live, a little easier. I hope we can stop the ugly, dark and destructive policies of our past and start looking towards a brighter, more peaceful future. And I hope that our future will include a policy that will mark the beginning of the end of AIDS