Not My First Pandemic
I got my blood work results back from the lab at Eisenhower Hospital today and the news was good. My A1C, the marker that determines diabetes, is 5.9. That’s nearly normal. My viral load for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is undetectable and my T-cells sit at 700 which is within the normal range.
HIV has had a profound presence in my life for nearly forty years. Ever since 1981 when the first opportunistic infections appeared such as Kaposi’s sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that develops from the cells that line lymph or blood vessels. I can remember waking up at night worried that I might get sick. Back in those days, AIDS was nearly always fatal and no one knew how it was spread. To date, HIV has killed 750,000 Americans alone.
I remember dressing like astronauts to visit friends in the hospital sick with AIDS. Like today, hospitals in major cities were overwhelmed with patients. In San Francisco, where I Iived, those early AIDS patients were put in isolated rooms and left there. It’s the truth of those terrifying times. I can only imagine how many died alone without the comfort of family or friends. I didn’t suspect that the nurses or attendants there were homophobic. They were just terrified like the rest of us of dying themselves. Evangelicals like Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority in Virginia, routinely stated, “The AIDS virus isn’t just God’s punishment for homosexuals, it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.” I wonder who his son will blame for this pandemic?
I feel sad and angry that so many people will die needlessly in this COVID-19 pandemic. I honestly believe it could have been stopped. It should never have gotten to this point. It doesn’t surprise me with regards to the current administration’s lack of urgency.
It was six years into the HIV epidemic before President Reagan gave a speech in 1987 about AIDS. Only after his friend Rock Hudson died in 1985 did Reagan take it even remotely serious. Nearly 90,000 Americans died of AIDS while Reagan was President.
For 15 years, from 1981 till 1997, I worried that I would succumb to HIV. Why would I think otherwise after I watched the love of my life die in 1987? I remember vividly the day when the first KS lesions appeared on his body. I was sure that I was next. It wasn’t until 1997 when safer medications became routinely available that I began to hope that I might survive.
Now, there’s a new pandemic. And many of the leading AIDS doctors and scientists and activists are now being interviewed on the nightly news, sharing their experience in the fight to cure AIDS from years ago. It’s surreal, honestly. Dr Fauci is one of my heroes in the HIV battle and now here he is once again the face of knowledge and understanding about the novel COVID-19 virus. The man most of the country trusts for advice and a strategy.
Dr. David Ho, of Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, was a leading scientist in finding HIV treatment. Now he is leading the charge to find treatments for the corona virus.
Gregg Gonsalves, a Yale University epidemiologist and health care activist was also an AIDS activist. He was part of ACT-UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. I was a member of ACT-UP as well. Time Magazine called ACT-UP “the most effective health activist (group) in history” for “pressuring drug companies, government agencies and other powers that stood in their way to find better treatments for people with AIDS – and, in the process, improving the way drugs are tested and approved in the U.S.”
Now, thanks to all that past research and programs at the NIH and the FDA that were funded to prevent AIDS, that research is now being applied to the novel COVID-19 virus.
We can thank ACT-UP for this triple drug combination attack against this virus. We’re hearing phrases like “viral load”, protease inhibitors, attacking the virus at different places! The HIV medication Kaletra is being tested against COVID-19 along with other AIDS medications. All of these are familiar terms. I thought that these words were in the past; that they were behind me. Now here they are again on the nightly news.
The coronavirus has a lot of folks freaked out, and rightly so. But I have to admit, I’m not that worried about my own health. I live a life framed by a pandemic all ready. I can’t worry any more than I already do about HIV. I’m not careless or nonchalant about it. I am wearing gloves and now we have protective masks to wear out of the house.
I’m confident we will get through this new pandemic if we listen to experienced experts such as Dr. Fauci and take this threat seriously. Stay home, stay safe, and as a pandemic survivor I can tell you there is hope.
Great post Dan. Glad you, James and Morgan are staying safe.
Thanks Annie. You stay safe. Virtual hugs to you and your girl!!!!
I share every single one of your concerns, Dan, especially with the dick-head in the WH who only deflects, accuses others of his own malfeasance. I miss you so and pray that you, James and Morgan all stay safe during this era. Love from the mountains of western Pennsyltuckey.
Thank you Casey. You stay well also. I miss you and love you. We’ve been here before and we will get through this. You stay safe. We’re riding it out in Palm Springs at least through mid-June.
Every day that I wake up is a wonderful day no matter what is going on. I am truly thankful. This doesn’t mean that I have no fear, it means I put my trust in Jesus and live cautiously during this pandemic. I love to see pics of Morgan and his dads.
It truly brightens my days. The love you all share is palpable in your pics!
So thank you! Be well and stay well!
Working in retail, Wal-Mart, I see customers not only shop for food but clothes and other non essential things. A lot of customers didn’t buy any food at all but non essential things as well. Kids and teenagers play in toy department, riding skateboards and bikes. We had to have police officers roam the store occasionally, to get the kids and teenagers back home. I truly believe that one sure way to get the virus out, if not 100%, is to close all retailers down for 2 weeks. Only thing working are hospitals. That’s almost 100% isolation on most people. Yes, there goes the foods but, if the government gives an advance set date, giving people time to set themselves up, then all would be well with the store closings. Plan ahead. Set yourself up. A lot of my friends did. This can work if everyone set themselves for store closures for 2 weeks.
Thank you Dan for giving us all perspective and Hope. Love you and Uncle Mike always.
Thanks for your comment Heather.
Thank you, Dan. We very much relate from those early 80s on.
Dan, I so appreciate reading your post and remembering back through all we went through. It gives me hope that we made it through impossible times before, thanks to the dedication of heroes like you. It’s hard not to despair, but seeing the dedication, love and perseverance of friends like our neighbors raising two children – 1 and 2 – besides being a night nurse in the emergency room at SF General and her husband – a doctor at Kaiser – has inspired us to support them, friends and neighbors through this so we will all make it through together! We all need each other — after all it does “take a village”. Continue writing — sharing — and be well. Our best to you, James and Morgan!
Thanks for your support Dave. I’ll always remember our class together at UCSF.
Really great post Dan. Thank you.
Thank you Steve. It’s been a long road!
Dan, so glad you are writing about living now with reflection. You made a difference during those critical times where fighting for basic survival was necessary. Loved the quote “I live a life framed by a pandemic all ready.” Yes, it does give perspective that life is for living. Lessons learned from the 1980’s through today are making difference in dealing with Covid-19. I appreciate all you do to encourage smiles, laughter and enjoyment of each day. Love to you, James and Morgan.
Thank you Magi. Thank you so much. I appreciate your words.