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My First Pill: Starting HIV Treatment for the First Time

About This Series: Whether it was AZT or Atripla, the 1980s or the 2010s, a person living with HIV who is on treatment always remembers his or her first pill. And we want to hear about it! Did you deal with side effects? Were you hesitant to begin treatment? Did you have to do some tinkering to find the regimen that was just right for you? Write out your story (between 200 and 1,000 words, please!) or film a YouTube video, and email it to Read user-submitted stories that are part of this series below!

By Jason Q
For me, my first pills were psychologically challenging. I did not believe that these pills would save me, but that they would damage me. This is primarily due to the fact that I am somewhat against taking prescription drugs when at all possible.
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By John Poole
Before taking my first pill, I had mentally defeated myself into believing that I was just delaying the inevitable. After hours of fighting I managed to take my medicine.
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By Sleepless in Brazil
I've been diagnosed since late 2008, but it was not until December of last year that I started treatment, when my CD4 count dropped to 320. As an active member of an online forum on HIV/AIDS in Brazil, as well as a biomedical researcher, I knew all of the meds and possible side effects, so nothing was new to me.
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By Anonymous
Looking back now, after almost two years on treatment, occasionally, I feel a little disappointed with myself. Should I really have started on the medication so quickly? Should I have read more, learned more? Am I playing into the hands of big pharma? I don't know.
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By Hopeful in LA
I picked up the pills with just enough time to go eat and take the pill before a first rehearsal for a play. I was kind of a mess and knew I needed to pull myself together.
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By Brad Dalton
I immediately began feeling dizzy, and I am still dizzy every day; it's like being on a boat at sea. My nausea only began after 10 days and I have to be very careful not to eat heavy foods. If I feel the need to go to the bathroom, I have to go immediately or the urge becomes uncontrollable. Trust me, if you feel the need to go, do not wait!
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By Marcel Gil
That day stands out in particular, because it snowed for a few hours, and the last time it snowed in Johannesburg was June 1981. I joked with my specialist that Mother Nature was giving me something pretty to watch to take away the stress of getting that first prescription.
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By Ron Carpenter
My first pill was Atripla [efavirenz/tenofovir/FTC] and I took it Feb. 18, 2008. Still afraid of what it meant to start treating my HIV, I had no choice but to do so as I had a raging hepatitis B coinfection with a viral load of over a billion.
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By Mike Hellman
I'll never forget my first pill, because of my own fears and I saw what it had done to my partner those so many years ago. I have to admit now that without AZT I would not be here today.
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By Alexander
I had some nightmares that night, but I am not sure if it was because of the Atripla or just because I was so scared. The next day nothing happened to me and since then Atripla does not give me any side effects at all, except once in a while I have some vivid dreams (not nightmares).
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By Charles D. Klemm
I knew the medication had to be strong to combat HIV, but I was wondering if I'd be able to live my life or if I was destined to be bedridden. They had me take the pills in the clinic to show that they weren't going to be wasted. Other than the taste, which was an awful metallic taste, there was no problem.
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By Bob Doyle
He said I should start AZT because I had just 236 T cells. He said I needed to start then. But I had friends who started AZT and they had terrible side effects. I listened to my gut and said, "No." Instead, I waited and watched my T cells drift down.
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By Nombeko Cynthia Mpongo
I started the pills exactly at 19h00 when SABC Zulu news started. It was a good experience, having chosen that specific date to start. It was the exact same date I got HIV in my body in a brutal gang rape.
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By Joseph P
Every night for 3 nights I tried to take the pill. I would open the bottle and stare at it or hold it in my hand. My dinner would get cold and I wouldn't eat.
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By Marco Benjamin
The past seven years, I did not have to take a pill every day that acted as a daily reminder that there is a virus inside of me that will only lead to AIDS if I don't treat it properly. I found myself coping with my status once again as I did seven years ago.
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By Aaron Laxton
Starting on ARVs [antiretrovirals] wasn't an option. From all the research I had done, I knew that the quicker that I started medications, the better chance I would have to remain healthy. I was diagnosed on June 6, 2011, and almost a month later I started on Atripla [efavirenz/tenofovir/FTC]. I remember that I was still trying to wrap my head around the diagnosis while comforting others.
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Image credit: Domino, Hector Toscano. 2013. See more art by Hector Toscano at his Visual AIDS page.

Copyright © 2014 Remedy Health Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

See Also
More Personal Accounts Concerning HIV Treatment