Question

Hi, When I read articles on this forum, people keep saying that Aids is a horrible death. Thankfully, I have not yet seen anyone die of Aids but it freaks me out to think how horrible my death is going to be. So I guess what I am asking is how horrible is it? I know that you are probably going to tell me about not dwelling on it or that I could get hit by a bus. But I am dwelling on it because the pictures look horrible, the movies are terrifying as well as the footage of the epidemic. I thought that when you went to the hosipital they gave you pain killers or something so that "the end" was not so unbearable. Now I completely expect to be covered in lesions, have my skin falling off, way 30 pounds and not be able to breath. I guess we just pray it goes quickly. Josh

Answer

Hello Josh,

HIV itself doesn't do us in. Rather, it slowly decimates our immune system leaving us vulnerable to a wide range of opportunistic infections and malignancies. They are called "opportunistic" because they take the opportunity of our immune system being deficient to cause problems. A normal immune system would be able to control many of these problems. Death from AIDS in essence results from complications of HIV disease. There are a wide variety of opportunistic processes that can lead to death. That said, death from any cause doesn't have to be either painful or horrible. Palliative measures and hospice care can provide death with dignity and without pain. Everyone, HIV positive or not, should have advance directives for what they want or don't want at the end of life. Your horrible vision of death does not have to be your reality. Talk to your HIV physician about advance directives and end of life care. Once you've had that discussion, I would urge you to stop worrying about dying and start focusing on living.

Dr. Bob