Partnership Is His Prescription
Being frank with his care-providers has built resilience, says Michael Sausser
Michael Sausser, who stands at 6' 2", weighs 220 pounds and has a dazzling smile, has been living with AIDS for 15 years. Although he is in excellent shape, a slow walk and a limp, the result of the degeneration of both hips, betray his HIV condition.
Sausser's T-cell count, once 187, was 430 when it was last tested. His viral load, which recently measured at 2,000 copies, is detectable but low. Currently, he is on Nevirapine, hydroxurea, DDI, 1592 and steroids, along with a regime of vitamins and supplements.
Although Sausser tires easily and fades by 8 o'clock, most of the time he feels rather good. He attributes this to his three doctors: Elyse Singer, his neurologist at UCLA; Margaret Carlson, his infectious disease doctor at UCLA and Scott Hitt of Pacific Oaks Medical Group, another infectious disease doctor. Singer and Carlson confer in person, and at times they will do a conference call with Hitt.
Does not take good fortune for granted
Sausser realizes he is fortunate to have good communication with all three doctors who are also in touch with his parents and David, his partner of three and a half years.
"I knew Scott Hitt before I had dementia," says Sausser who experienced dementia few years ago -- a situation that may now be returning. "I am very comfortable with Scott. As for Elyse Singer, I can say anything to her. I am not inhibited about any physical problem with her."
Sausser realizes many people with HIV do not communicate well with their doctors, or are in such a state of anxiety during a medical visit that they do not ask everything they should or understand everything they are told.
"If you can't communicate well with your doctors, find a friend or an advocate who will go with you," advises Sausser. "And you should be comfortable with your doctor. Your family doctor may be using AIDS information that is a few years old whereas a specialist or someone who has several AIDS patients is more likely to be up on the newest procedures and medications. Exercise your freedom to choose your doctor."
Although he did not test positive until 1988, Sausser is convinced he contracted HIV in 1984 while a student at UCLA. Sausser's partner, David, is negative. "I pursued him while I had dementia and he was worth it. He is wonderful and understanding. There aren't many negative men who would enter into a relationship with a positive man but he did."
At first David was reticent about sharing in his partner's celebrity when Michael did interviews in newspapers and on national television shows. Slowly, however, David went from being the anonymous partner in the background to being introduced to the press as "my partner, David." In addition to being interviewed by the media, Sausser spoke at a media presentation on World AIDS Day last December. He often speaks before high school and college students as well.
Living for today
Dementia has permanently impaired Sausser's brain but because he is aware of the damage, he knows his limitations. "If I moved and had to unpack cartons in order to put away personal things, I'd have a difficult time deciding what to do after I opened the box. However, if you opened the box, I could tell you where to put things."
He sees a psychiatrist once every six weeks and suggests that any HIV-infected person with depression follow the same route.
"If you are depressed, get help. Don't be isolated from people and society. Force yourself to get up and get out. Shave, shower and go out for breakfast as opposed to eating alone and watching television. Be out in the world."
When Sausser is not busy, he enjoys puttering around the townhouse he just fixed up with David and playing with his three cats and dog.
While others may anticipate what the new millenium may bring, Sausser does not dwell on thinking about the future.
"I live for today," he says. "I try to get the most out of right now. I am timeless."
This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).
This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.