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Shit Storm: Treatment Trauma With No Umbrella

September/October 2006

Jim Pickett
Jim Pickett

Okay, it's official. I can now say with complete confidence that I have at the tender and vulnerable age of 40, experienced the most humiliating, degrading event of my life. And hon, there's plenty of embarrassing competition for that honor.

As of this writing, I am back on meds after a year-and-a-half holiday. The regimen I had been on for a couple years was wonderful, no side effects, stratospheric T-cells, decimated viral load. But one day, it just stopped working. I couldn't bear facing a new drug cocktail so I decided I would take a break, give my body a rest. I had done this before, I would do it again.

I pushed it a bit too far this time, and am kind of shocked with myself at how far I let things slip. The whole first half of this year I've suffered from extraordinary fatigue, now that I look back on it, really major league exhaustion. The kind where you go to bed at 7 p.m. and sleep straight through the night 'til 5 a.m. the next morning. But instead of thinking, "Hmmmm, HIV progression?" or pondering, "Hmmmm, should I maybe go back on meds?" I instead chalked up my debilitating energy levels to an intense work schedule and lots of running through airports, lots of projects, lots of commitments. I was giving tons of my energy to work, there just wasn't much left for anything else. Even a viral load of over 300,000 in April didn't really faze me. I had a major conference on microbicides in Cape Town to attend and numerous exciting and gratifying projects to finish, and start, and finish, and start ... I was going to be doing the AIDS Marathon Training Program again, and I had a triathlon for the Gay Games in Chicago to prepare my mind and body for. There was no time for drug-related nausea, diarrhea or those annoying rashes that kill you.

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Shit Storm: Treatment Trauma With No Umbrella
Time to go back on meds, Missy. Vacation over.
Well, a series of health issues, including severe strep throat and a middle ear infection in both my ears (on-going) beginning in early June, coupled with a blood test that indicated I was now slightly anemic (actually HIV-related fatigue), startled me into a major reality check. Time to go back on meds, Missy. Vacation over. You have been slipping, your T-cells are sliding toward the "Danger, Will Robinson" zone ... do you enjoy feeling like a train wreck every day?

As depressed and worried as I was about the notion of being ball-and-chained to pill bottles once more, returning to the stark, toxic realities of treatment also theoretically offered sweet, sweet relief from the Coma Coma Coma chameleon I had become. They would be dispatched to trample the virus and bump up those T's, give me back my energy so I could accomplish everything in my Outlook.

And huzzah, they have done just that.

But with the price I indicated earlier.

So it's the middle of June and I am in Washington, D.C. for meetings and Hill visits to push for the reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act. I've just begun my new regimen (Kaletra and Invirase) and have had just a few moments of intense nausea and some "loose stools" in the morning. No biggie. Yum, yum, yummy, I got love in my tummy.

It's Sunday morning and I am running late for a meeting in the god-awful Crystal City suburb. I take a small bit of half a donut from the free (and a little scary) hotel breakfast "buffet" and down my dose running out the door. Continued very poor decision-making leads me to purchase a sweetened iced coffee on the way to the Metro, but it's hellacious hot and I do need some caffeine. My stomach starts to gurgle ever so slightly at my train connection, but I think, "Oh, I can make it to Crystal City, I will use a restroom at the mall there when I exit." The train is scheduled to arrive in three minutes as a few more insistent gurgles call for my attention. I now realize that I will have to exit the station here and just be a little more late for my meeting than I already am. Sorry. I head for the escalators when it becomes very, very, adrenaline, deer-in-the-headlights clear that I better start running, fast. As fear sweat pours down my back, I sprint towards the second set of escalators and with no other warning, no pushing back, no fight whatsoever, the shit storm breaks and my light tan, slightly snug Capri Culottes start to fill with the spicy chicken, guacamole and bean super burrito from yesterday, the half donut, and the sweetened iced coffee.

I have had close calls, I have had near misses, I have been forced to take dumps next to dumpsters in full view of passenger rail lines, wiping my ass with newspaper from the ground, but never have I been in a situation as awful as this. It has to be noticeable to others. I can certainly smell what is happening, and besides, I swear flies are swarming around the enormous brownish, green dripping mess that is the back of my light tan, slightly snug Capri Culottes.

Full panic. Try to hold my backpack behind me to hide the aftermath, look totally idiotic, fooling nobody, flies too smart. Dripping. Brown and green. I am in Chinatown, everything is closed. No! There's a McDonalds, and an open bathroom, the kind designed just for one person, with a sink. Hallelujah. What luck. But God, I am a disaster. I don't know where to begin and what I am going to do with the destruction I have caused, and the shame of it all, the shame. I am barely into assessing next steps when the insane, obsessive compulsive employee begins to pound insistently on the door, wanting to clean the bathroom now. I say, "Gonna need a minute." And she pounds some more. This routine goes on for a quarter hour as I desperately try to clean myself up and say goodbye to my favorite pair of going-on-a-date Diesel pantaloons.

After rushing past McOCD and returning to my hotel after another quarter hour trying to hail a cab, showering and dressing anew, I am a little later for my meeting than I had intended. But the shit storm that is national AIDS advocacy takes my mind off the depths I had sunk to just hours ago.

My T-cells went up 100% the first month, my viral load down to 1,000. My energy and then some has returned, and yesterday, at 7:48 a.m., I completed my first triathlon, swimming a half mile, biking twelve and running three along the beautiful Chicago lakefront with hundreds of other lovely gay men and women from all over the world.

I treated myself to some cute new under things while I was still in D.C. The light tan, slightly snug Capri Culottes washed up just fine.


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This article was provided by Positively Aware. It is a part of the publication Positively Aware. Visit Positively Aware's website to find out more about the publication.
 
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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Metoo (Lancaster Pa) Mon., Nov. 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm EDT
I have been HIV+ for nearly 24 years and have had similar experiences many times.
Although I have not taken drug holidays, I have had some compliance isues. God, after almost 24 yrs of an ever changing drug regimen, who wouldn't have compliance issues. I have had an irritable bowel since I was about 23 yrs old and now at 53, I find I can't quite figure out what exactly causes the urgent need for my bowel to evacuate at the most inconvienient times. I regularly experience the fatigue described above and my body seems to know when I am 15 mins from home on my drive home from work. On numerous occasions, I have literally put the key in my front door and filled up my shorts simultaneously. The worst episode was in a traffic jam due to an accident on my way to work. Traffic was stopped for an accident and the normal 50 minute commute took almost 3 hrs.I did manage to make it to a convienience store just in time, but it took me almost 30 minutes to recover and clean up.
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