That's what the doctors told my parents when I was rushed the emergency room 13 years ago. And they urged them to come say their goodbyes. It was so surreal, considering exactly one week earlier I had brought Stephen to the same emergency room, where he died 12 hours later.
In my case though, my T-cells dropped to below 46, my viral load over one million copies of HIV, and I had staph, and pneumonia. Little did they know, I like a challenge. They said I wouldn't pull through, and all I could think was, "challenge accepted!"
Alright, maybe those weren’t my exact words. I think they were more like, "mother f*******er" But, I do remember grabbing a nurse's wrist at one point and whispering, "I don't want to die. Please don't let me die."
And here I am, some 4,749 days later, newly 50 years old, with more gray hairs, a kick-ass immune system and an undetectable viral load.
There's not a lot I remember about those 17 days in the hospital. I'm not even sure how I survived it without a cell phone or Facebook. I remember my parents being amazing and loving. My brother flew in. Jayson came by every day with real food.
Some days I wonder why me? Why was I spared? I could spend all day on questions like that. But rather than dwell on it, I chose to focus on gratitude for the gift of a second chance — or in my case, probably a tenth one. So, I decided to live. And not just live for me, but in honor my friends who didn’t get that chance. Stephen. Joey. Andrew. Carlos. Keith, and all my friends who had died from AIDS, or died too young.
Okay. I admit, it may have taken me another year or two to have that epiphany. Still, it’s significance was never lost.
Thanks to my parents, i I grew up knowing that I had a voice to enact change. As a kid it was around my Jewish heritage. As a teen, and in my early adulthood, it was as an out and proud gay person, and as an AIDS activist and ally.
And, since 2001, it’s also been as an out HIV-positive, gay man trying to do his part to end HIV hate, ignorance and stigma, and show there is no shame being positive.
We’ve come so far. People testing HIV-positive today have meds that will keep them healthy, possibly for the rest of their lives. But AIDS isn't going anywhere for a while, and a cure is likely far off.
Still we are making progress. I refuse to be held hostage by it or be a victim. Defeat is not an option. Ignorance can not prevail. And, I remain grateful that as long as I wake up on this side of the grass, it’s a good day, as my father would say. With that, I get another chance to do good and make a difference.
That is a great and magnificent thing.
Jeffrey Newman may now be better known as Positively Jeffrey, but he’s also a respected communications consultant and an award-winning journalist. He played a crucial role in developing the online presence of OUT magazine, where he served as president and CEO of Out.com [Editorial note: out.com is owned by HIVPlusMag.com's parent company Pride Media.]