From the Executive Director
Every HIV-positive person who is taking meds has their own tale of what it was like when they first started, and I am no exception. When I seroconverted five years ago, one of my greatest fears was of having to take handfuls of pills every day. The thought of debilitating short- and long-term side effects haunted me every time I had blood work done. But last year, when my numbers began to deteriorate rapidly and I had my first two opportunistic infections, my doctor at Callen-Lorde flatly informed me that I had to start taking meds immediately. After a few sleepless nights and long discussions with my partner, David, and my HIV-positive friends, I swallowed my fears and went on what my doctor said was the best and most successfully tolerated regimen to date -- Kaletra and Combivir.
Problems arose for me immediately. Since I have trouble swallowing large pills, I just couldn't get those monstrous Kaletra horse pills down. It seemed easy enough for me to simply switch to the liquid form, but it tasted vile and made me violently ill all day. I was told that these side-effects would be temporary until my body got used to the medication, so I toughed it out for two miserable, gut-wrenching weeks. My doctor finally took pity on me and took me off of the Kaletra.
I was switched to a Sustiva-based regimen, and was really looking forward to the wild, vivid dreams that I'd heard so much about. Alas, no cool dreams for Eric. I was one of the lucky few who instead developed a crushing case of major clinical depression. I refused to leave my apartment and didn't answer the phone or go to work for three weeks. An alarmed and upset David finally called Callen-Lorde, and my doctor immediately took me off of the Sustiva. It was like someone had flipped a switch -- within a week the depression had vanished and I was completely back to normal (no jokes please!).
At this point my doctor switched me to my current regimen (Combivir, Viramune and Viread) and informed me that I was now being used as a case-study for HIV patients who have trouble acclimating to their meds (lucky me!). But now I am tolerating my current meds quite well, my numbers have improved dramatically, and I went through the initial adjustment period with very few side effects.
The moral of this story? Well, in hindsight, I can think of three lessons learned that I would like to share with you. First, don't be too embarrassed or afraid to talk to your doctor, as I had been. You'll just make yourself more miserable and suffer needlessly. Second, remember that HIV is a very individualized disease; a treatment that one person swears by may not work for you. And third, hang in there! With the support of loved ones, a stubbornly upbeat outlook, and a caring health care provider, you too can handle starting or switching meds. I hope that this issue of Body Positive Magazine, with its focus on managing your treatments, can offer some of the support and guidance you may need.
This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.