September 2, 2011
As I held my pruner in one hand and the guide book for pruning a bonsai in the other I read that a bonsai is pruned to promote openness. The guide book continued with the helpful hint that the trunk and branches of the bonsai are pruned so that they peek through the foliage. The bonsai I was about to prune is a western cedar whose growth was naturally stunted by a liquid amber tree. It is about four feet high and five feet across and was at one time an elegant addition to my back garden. Now, it looked like a badly pruned hedge.
I set about promoting openness in this little tree with my pruner and slowly an elegant, perfectly proportioned little tree emerged. The work took my mind off my visit to the doctor's office that day during which I was told my viral load was over 1 million and I had 100,000 copies of HIV per milliliter of my spinal fluid. As I promoted openness in my little tree, I thought about the meaning of that conditional noun and my current condition.
I have tried in my life to act without prejudice and not to be closed to new ideas. My doctor told me during our appointment that my condition was in an "emergency" status. I found that statement odd as I have felt over the last 27 years I have had HIV, that I have been in an "emergency" status all the time since every day I have had since my diagnosis in September 1984 was a blessed gift. I have a hard time becoming concerned about HIV as the years with the virus have made it a companion, like a cat that is always there but is seldom demanding.
I have learned over the years with HIV, that the virus does not define me. I do not have to be angry because I am infected nor do I have to be despondent at my prospects. In great part HIV has spring boarded me to a state of self-actualization I otherwise would not have attained. The immediacy a serious condition brings to life can make the journey to self a compulsory voyage.
I had to be honest with myself because in part I had caused my current condition. Over the years I have taken a lot of AIDS meds. I took AZT in the '80s which made me feel as if I was full of ants. I took ddC which made my mouth feel as if it was full of razor blades. Both of these meds I am now told by my neurologist damaged my peripheral nervous system. I took Sustiva which caused intense nightmares and waking psychotic episodes. I have also watched as friends had bad reactions to the meds. Crixivan made a friend of mine into a hideous blob with dangerously high cholesterol and caused him to die of a heart attack in his early thirties. Another friend took abacavir and developed painful lesions on his legs as a result. My face is numb, which I am told is caused by the Norvir I take. As a result of all these experiences, I am loathe to take the meds.
Every day I have to fight an urge not to take the meds because I believe deep in my soul they are not good for me. Who really knows what the long-term effects of taking the meds are? Some weeks I cannot bring myself to fill my weekly pill box with the meds and some weeks I can. Twenty-seven years with the virus has made me less than worried about it. I know I should take the meds, but a part of me says, "You've survived 27 years, what's the worry?"
I am also often tired of the fight. I feel as though I have been chased by a ravenous wolf for 27 years. A part of me wants to turnabout and face the wolf and get the chase over. It is a hard thing to fight a battle for nearly three decades. I am told by my doctors that I have second stage dementia that eventually will become worse. I face the prospect of raving lunacy. Would it be wrong to choose a quicker death?
After I pruned my bonsai, I spent the night crying into my pillow as I slept in the second bedroom to give my partner a break from my crisis. I decided that night to continue to fight until I know for certain that my mind is going at which time I will make a decision to go on. It's said that "When one door closes, another opens." My viral load has never been as high as it is now. I do not know what will happen. I am open to whatever comes. I am like the bonsai in my garden; the virus has pruned me. I am open and exposed. Like my little tree my life goes on and I go with it.