Hospitals and Doctors and Death, Oh My
March 01 2010 1:00 AM ET
My T-cell count isn't a mere 116. I don't have a dangerously high fever. I'm not fighting back nausea. My skin isn't red, inflamed, and trying to tear itself from my body. I'm not weak and listless with sharp muscle pains. And I haven't been wrestling death in a hospital bed for the past five days, crying and praying and only seconds away from histrionics. This is not the story I have to tell -- at least not this week. But guess what happened last week? Remember that tooth (see my last article)? It tried to kill me!
Last week I was quickly and unapologetically reminded of what it means to be HIV-positive. I know we don't like to talk about it, especially in the age of one-pill-a-day treatment and vibrant and healthy living, but HIV is a disease. It makes us acutely vulnerable to infection, and if circumstances get out of control, we can die! Yes, even of a benign broken tooth.
To all of you who are newly infected, scared, and needing to be comforted -- who think that talking about the possibility of death and long-term complications and hospital stays and the aching feeling of being alone and the constant reminder that every moment of every day this disease is trying to take you out is harsh -- I would say, 'Yup! You're right! It is harsh! Deal with it.'
Since you were man or woman enough to bend over or open your legs without a condom, I figure you are ready to hear the truth. I'll be nicer next time (once my mouth stops hurting), but in the meantime, here's a bit of 'gentle' advice: Take care of your shit!
I let an infection fester in my mouth for two years because a doctor told me it was OK. And it was. Until he pulled my tooth. Then with all the stuff going on with my body -- including the hep C treatment, the multiple medications being filtered through my liver, and another doctor deciding he would give me an antibiotic that I'd told him I was allergic to -- my poor little antibodies gave up after trying their very best, God bless them! And within 45 minutes I was in a quarantined hospital room (yes, they still do that) with a slew of doctors fumbling about trying to save my life.
I'd forgotten that I was sick. I'd become too comfortable and let too many people tell me I could handle something that I couldn't. So what that they were doctors! The fight against this disease is our -- mine and yours -- sole responsibility. And I've been lax.
I have a great relationship with my primary care doctor; we work together perfectly, and I trust him immensely. But when I wound up in the hospital and had seven new doctors asking me questions about medications, infections, medical history, and obscure references to hemoglobin levels, I didn't have the answers. I expected them to know, and they didn't. And it almost killed me.
It is my responsibility to know the best treatment, the newest studies, and what's going on in my cute little immunocompromised body. Because regardless of what we try to pretend -- and not disclose and hide with a new pair of Diesel underwear -- the truth is that if we don't protect ourselves, intellectually, spiritually, and medically, by knowing what we need to know to make active and timely choices, this immunodeficiency virus will take us out!
And I ain't going down without a fight!
Saucier is a writer, performance artist with a focus on theatrical activism, and blogger (MySpace.com/BeautyInMyEyes) who lives in Los Angeles. Through workshops and performance, he cultivates his personal histories in a public voice that echoes themes of gay minority identity, neopositive perspective, queer faith, and the crystal meth epidemic.