One Day I Woke Up With HIV
It was the summer of 2001, July 27 to be exact. As I drifted in and out of consciousness in a quarantined room at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston, I could hear my oldest sister whispering on the telephone. She had this intense sadness and disbelief in her voice. Poor Ana, she had traveled all the way from Berkeley to be with my family during my sudden mysterious and serious illness. I could vaguely make out what she was saying ... "I just can't believe this. ... How am I going to tell her ...? How could this happen to my family?"
I wasn't sure what she was talking about, or to whom, but could it be about me? Oh, I was just so tired, and the meningitis, fever, and pneumonia made my head hurt so badly; everything ached, and I just wanted to sleep forever. Couldn't the doctors just find out what was wrong with me and make it all better? She continued to whisper to whomever it was she was talking to on the other line. "It's just so ironic that you and I will now share this connection between us, that we will have this in common, that our families will suffer the same pain," I heard her say. What connection? Who are you talking to, I thought to myself, and what are you talking about?
Then it dawned on me that she was talking to her husband, David, a physician in Berkeley. Because he was communicating with my doctors, he must have just told her the news. I thought to myself, what connection did they have that involved me? As I lay there and pretended to be asleep so I could hear the rest of her conversation, I started to realize that the connection she was referring to was her brother-in-law, Andy, who had lost his battle to AIDS just a few years before. Andrew was a beautiful man who had dedicated his life to the ballet as a dancer. A tragic story, like so many others, but was this going to be my story too? Is this what she meant?
I laid there trying to understand and accept what was happening. Was I HIV-positive too? How could this happen to me? I had recently divorced my high school sweetheart of 20 years, and we had 2 children. I could count the men I had been with on one hand. This didn't happen to people like me, it happened to people like those I saw on TV. It happened to white, gay males. It happened to people who shared needles when doing drugs -- I didn't do drugs. It happened to people in questionable professions -- I was a "good girl." It happened to poor African Americans, didn't it? I am NOT the "face" of AIDS, am I?
Well, yes, I am. That was my rude introduction to the world of HIV/AIDS.
That was 4 summers ago, and I am as strong, independent, and content as I have ever been. Although my battle thus far has been more emotional than physical, I know the day will come when I will be medically challenged, and I will take that in stride as well. Until then, I am here. I am alive. I love my life, my children, my family, and all those who surround me, who love me, and who accept me as I am. I have forgiven the man whom I loved, who told me he had leukemia knowing that he did not, but was too afraid to disclose. I refuse to dwell on the tragic sadness of that betrayal. Instead, I have accepted and embraced what God has chosen for me. I make no excuses, I make no apologies, but I do take responsibility. I may not like it, but I have stopped asking myself, "Why?"
HIV/AIDS does not discriminate. It sounds like such a cliché, but it just doesn't discriminate. I am here to say that it happens to simple, middle class, educated, professional people. It happens to people who live in nice houses. It happens to people who drive nice cars. I didn't think that it could, but it does. I'm here to say that we all share the face of AIDS, whether we are infected or affected. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool. And, if HIV/AIDS has not affected you personally at this point in life, then what of the next generation? Your children, their children, and their children -- a new infection is just one person away.
So, now what? Here we are 25 years into this epidemic, and what has changed? Not a whole lot, in my opinion. If anything, we've become complacent.
But what can be done by one person, one organization, one government, or one medical community? We all must work together, even though it can be so overwhelming at times. I believe there is much we can do, little by little, bit by bit. We can start by having faith, love, acceptance, forgiveness, education, and compassion when dealing with this disease. We cannot lose sight of what we all have endured since the beginning of AIDS. We cannot forget the millions who have died, and the many more that will follow. We can talk about HIV and AIDS, instead of acting like it only happens to people who somehow deserved it. Nothing hurts more than that. We cannot forget that this disease will eventually touch everyone in a personal way, if it hasn't already. You can start by making a difference, your difference, today.
Lucy Falcon is a 2005 graduate and valedictorian of Project LEAP (Learning, Empowerment, Advocacy, and Participation).
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This article was provided by The Center for AIDS. It is a part of the publication Research Initiative/Treatment Action!. Visit CFA's website to find out more about their activities and publications.