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 creative director and Gays Against Guns cofounder Kevin Hertzog, who’s left New York City for a friend’s empty house far upstate in order to protect himself against COVID-19 while he completes his cancer treatment. He and his dog, Buddy, spend half the day hiking in the woods, and he’s surprised to find that he’s spending less, not more, time on Facebook despite his isolation.
Kevin Hertzog, creative director and cofounder, Gays Against Guns, 55
New York, NY
Diagnosed with HIV in 1994
Tim Murphy: How have you been affected by the COVID crisis?
Kevin Hertzog: I’m a COVID refugee, for one. I’m at the end of my cancer treatments, and that combined with having HIV made me decide to seek shelter outside the city, upstate in Pottersville. I’m alone here in a friend’s house with my lovely canine companion, Buddy. I’m naturally isolating anyway. If I don’t have to get up and go to work, I’m very happy to spend my day shuffling between the bed, sofa, and toilet. That’s my idea of a good time. So I’d have stayed in the city. But now with having to take the dog out four times a day, I didn’t think I could stay in the city safely without an endless supply of disposable gloves and masks.
TM: How are you getting social interaction and staying connected?
KH: I’ve been making a lot more telephone calls than I usually do, Zooming like I’ve never Zoomed before, texting away. When I first got to this house upstate, there was no cell or Internet service. We had this guy come and hook up the cable. I’ve actually been on Facebook less than the usual amount, which is a lot. I’m taking the opportunity to do less of that. I’m only reading articles I think would be useful, nothing to get me worked up or terrified.
TM: How are you getting exercise?
KH: I’ve been getting more than I’ve gotten my entire life. When I wake up, the dog and I go for a one-hour hike, then eat, then nap, then drive to a better hike, usually for an hour and a half, sometimes up the mountain with snow and ice on the ground.
TM: What kinds of foods are you eating?
KH: I didn’t want to be that person that brings the virus from the city to the country by going to the supermarket, so I brought with me all the food I will need for at least a month, probably more. Mainly oatmeal, pasta, and peanut butter. I’ll be fine without a vegetable for a month.
TM: What books, TV shows, music, etc. have been getting you through?
KH: I wish I could say endless nonstop books, but no. I am reading this one book, The Grammarians, about two oddball sisters. I’m also a member of the Doc Club on Amazon Prime, which has really good documentaries. My favorite is The Competition, about this very elite film school in Paris, La Fémis. It’s so good—it gets super behind-the-scenes. Last night I completely binge-watched Unorthodox. It was so good I couldn’t stop watching it.
TM: How scared are you, on a scale of one to 10? What specifically are you scared about?
KH: I’m not scared. That may sound ridiculous, but that’s my ethos. I don’t think that being scared helps you at all, so I’ve made it a lifelong goal to reject fear.
TM: What is giving you hope and strength?
KH: Nothing. I just think that the government fumbled this so badly. It’s gonna be really bad. I’m hopeful for myself. My whole industry where I work freelance, photo and video production, has collapsed. How do you just go back to set? What’s that first day going to look like? How is a make-up artist going to be putting on someone’s mascara? We’re up in each other’s faces all day on set.
TM: Tell us any other corona-related stories you might have.
KH: When I was still in my apartment, my dog’s best play-date friend lived on another floor. But his owner was sick, probably with COVID—a fever, no sense of taste and smell, a headache. So he would leave his apartment, put his dog in the elevator, and I would press the “down” button and meet the dog on the first floor for a play date with Buddy, then send him back up on the elevator. That’s doggie play-date in the age of corona!