It's morning, I open my eyes
And everything's still the same
I turn to the guy who stayed last night
And ask him, "What's your name?"
-- "So Many Men, So Little Time," Miquel Brown, 1983
I must admit, when I read this title quote by the much-lauded British performance artist and TV personality David Hoyle, I thought it must be something from a late eighties politician, and one not exactly gay-friendly. In fact, the very gay David Hoyle said it in 2007, on the day before World AIDS Day ...
Neuropathy is one of those diseases that affects millions of people (20 million in the USA alone) and between 30% and 40% of people living with HIV and yet if you ask 100 people on the street what it is, the vast majority of them won't have a clue what you're talking about. This article is based on some of the commonest questions from people new to the disease and is meant to establish some facts and clear up some misunderstandings, especially in relation to people with HIV.
As you get older things come back to you out of the blue. They do. Unannounced, unexpected and unwanted most of the time and usually in the quiet, more contemplative moments when you just want to switch off and not think of anything. When you're young, you're busy building up libraries of experiences and memories and filling your head and heart up with trivia and absorbed knowledge. When you're older, your memory banks are stuffed to the gills and although you may not be able to remember what you did yesterday, your childhood and later years will burst out of dusty memory files, in spontaneous clips of recollection and without apparent rhyme or reason.
So what is the 'real and present danger' to us as people living with HIV, its co-morbidities and any resulting extra health problems? If your pain does not respond well enough to analgesics and other drugs (anti-depressants, anti-convulsants and other drugs meant to interact with nerve signals to the brain), you may be advised to move onto opioids of one sort or another. This shouldn't alarm you too much, despite the content of Part One of this article.
A nightmare for some and a godsend for others, some people become addicted to opioids because opioids have become their recreational drug of choice, while others become addicted because their pain symptoms are so severe that they have no choice. Either way, a problem has arisen which threatens social stability in whole communities, especially in North America, and makes authorities unsure which way to turn.
With over 100 possible causes and over 100 possible forms, neuropathy is nerve damage that affects roughly 30% of people living with HIV. If you're really unlucky, you may also be diabetic, or have also been treated for cancer, or are a heavy drinker, in which case your chances of suffering from nerve damage unfortunately become exponentially greater.
Give or take a year or two and depending on your personal history, we've been living and dying with HIV and AIDS for 30 years. Every year on World AIDS Day, we remember those who fell. However, in this morally topsy-turvy world, we don't always remember those who picked up our men, wiped their arses and their tears and unselfishly gave help, humanity and dignity during what for many were last weeks and months. We damn well should because without the thousands across the world who gave their time when nobody else would, a lot fewer of us would be around to talk about it today.
As far as the United States and Canada are concerned, the HIV criminalization cases there have been well documented; leading to various degrees of outrage from LGBT and HIV groups alike. Probably the best known is the homeless man who was given thirty five years for spitting at a police officer in 2008, with his saliva being declared a "deadly weapon." This in spite of the fact that nobody has ever proved that saliva is a medium for transmitting HIV and the fact that the officer didn't contract HIV. This case was highlighted in the same year by South African judge, Edwin Cameron, in a speech about criminal transmission at the international AIDS conference of 2008.
There are times when many people outside the United States and Canada experience National Enquirer levels of disbelief at what's goes on in parts of North America in the field of sexual behavior and politics. The current criminalization of people with HIV who fail to tell their partners of their status is just such a moment in time. The sex may be safe and the viral load may be undetectable but you can still be charged with using your body and your virus as a murder or assault weapon, if you don't pre-warn that you're living with HIV.
Sometimes a sort of HIV-related sixth sense kicks in and you get that feeling in your water that the latest advance regarding prevention and treatment just doesn't ring true. Do you feel that occasionally? This story about Truvada, being used as a prevention tool, just gives me the chills. It's as if they just haven't taken into account the foibles of human nature when it comes to doing what you're supposed to do.