9 Years Between Diagnosis and My First HIV Pill

Part of the Series My First Pill

Mike Hellman
Mike Hellman

Despite testing positive in 1985, I did not take my first pill until 1994. I tested early, but treatments in the 1980s were very toxic. My partner was taking 400 mg of AZT [Retrovir, zidovudine] every four hours. By the time I was first diagnosed with AIDS, I was prescribed 200 mg of AZT every eight hours. I had Pneumocystis pneumonia and a T-cell count of 88. During that time, I remember going back to work and flying between Pittsburgh and work in Philadelphia. I'd get up at 4:30 a.m. and run to the bathroom to throw up then take a shower, get dressed and drive to the airport to catch my 6 a.m. flight. I can't imagine doing that today, but we must do what is necessary to keep healthy.

After two years on AZT, I became anemic and went through three blood transfusions and Procrit [epoetin alfa] injections for a year afterward. I moved on to 3TC [Epivir, lamivudine]. AZT saved my life to prepare me in time to take the triple cocktail including taking the very first protease inhibitors. I'll never forget my first pill, because of my own fears and I saw what it had done to my partner those so many years ago. I have to admit now that without AZT I would not be here today.

What was your first pill? Whether it was AZT or Atripla, we want you to tell your story! Write out your story (between 200 and 1,000 words, please!) or film a YouTube video, and email it to editor@thebody.com. We'll be posting readers' My First Pill stories here in our Resource Center on Starting HIV Treatment.

Read other stories in this series.