Obviously, our current COVID-19 crisis brings up a lot of anxiety, even PTSD, for folks living with HIV/AIDS, especially longtime survivors. All the talk of who’s spreading it and how, the daily nationwide sickness and death toll, the dread that oneself or loved ones will suddenly take a turn for the worse, and the frequent examples of government incompetence and apathy amid a crisis—let’s face it, it’s all a little too reminiscent of a certain epidemic many of us remember too well from the 1980s and 1990s.
But the flip side of all that devastation and grief is resilience and grace, and that’s what so many folks living with HIV/AIDS—nationwide and globally—are exhibiting as we hunker down through this pandemic of indefinite length and scope. TheBody spent the past few days talking to 10 people living with HIV nationwide to find out how they’re affected and why they’re scared—but also how they’re coping, adapting, and staying connected in these challenging (and isolating) times. Send your own COVID-19 stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to stay on top of how the community is faring.
Today, we check in with Chicago peer-group leader and pizza deliveryperson Lee Kidd, whose work hours have been cut and who finds that he’s putting weight back on now that he can’t access the gym in his apartment building. But bike rides, calls with family, comfort TV like Seinfeld, and his staunch faith in God are getting him through this moment. (OK—and more pancakes, too.)
Lee Kidd, HIV peer-group leader and part-time pizza deliverer, 65
Diagnosed with AIDS early 1980s (pre-HIV test availability)
Tim Murphy: How have you been affected by the COVID-19 crisis?
Lee Kidd: I’m sad, because I’d just started losing weight. Smoking weed had made me eat everything in sight. My suit didn’t fit anymore. So, late last year, I said no more chips, sweets, etc. I cut it all out and started losing weight, went back to the gym four times a week. My belly started disappearing. But now the gym in my apartment building is closed due to social distancing, and I’m lying around the house, eating everything in sight. Today I’m going to ride my bike, because it’s nice out.
My pizza delivery hours have also been cut. People are either scared to order takeout or they don’t have the money for it. I’ve also not been able to go to my usual support groups.
TM: How are you getting social interaction and staying connected?
LK: I’m not. I’m not on Facebook and don’t care about a lot of people on there anymore. I’ve been single and living alone for so long. I’ve become lonelier. I do things by myself. I’m a volunteer in my building if someone can’t go to the grocery, but haven’t been called yet. I’m getting some phone calls from my kids, siblings, cousins I haven’t heard from in a while. Everyone’s in the same mode, looking for things to do to pass the time.
TM: How are you getting exercise?
LK: I do stretches in the morning, then some sit-ups and push-ups and jogging in place. I’m going to go out and bike today if the weather’s nice. The mayor shut down all the parks and the lakefront trails.
TM: What kinds of foods are you eating?
LK: I’m still eating a little bit of stuff from the pizza place where I work—pizza and chicken. I did the Impossible Whopper at Burger King the other day. I’ve been baking more, trying to avoid fried foods to improve my cholesterol. I may do a baked chicken with a few vegetables, or I’ll bake my own French fries. I’m doing more pancakes, too. At the grocery, I haven’t been able to find some of my usual things, like wraps.
TM: What books, TV shows, music, etc. have been getting you through?
LK: No books. I’ve been reading a lot of articles that come along about coronavirus. Then my regular TV stuff, Mike & Molly, Seinfeld, the talk shows. I’m glued to the TV every time the government people come on to talk about the crisis.
TM: How scared are you, on a scale of one to 10? What specifically are you scared about?
LK: I’m not scared at all, because I don’t walk in fear, which comes from the Devil. I walk with God. I just want to get back to my gym, my support groups, and the cheap $1 movie theater.
TM: What is giving you hope and strength?
LK: I know that this too shall pass, and we won’t talk about it anymore. Look what happened with anthrax, everyone scared of the mail and the white powder. Then it just stopped. Same with SARS. Nobody talks about it anymore.
TM: Any other anecdotes?
LK: I’m sad for people graduating or turning 18 who can’t do anything to celebrate, like my granddaughter. Her mom gave her a drive-by birthday party. She brought her out to the garage and had all her friends pass by in their cars to wish her happy birthday. She was in tears. She just loved it.