Road Cycling Saved My Life
In 2014, I was diagnosed with AIDS and hospitalized; it was evident early on that I was in need of care. I had CD4 count of 12, a viral load of 873,000, Pneumocystis pneumonia, Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC), and a host of other infections. I required home-care nursing for three months following discharge, weekly PIC line dressing changes, along with labs. Long story short, my life was hanging by a thread, and honestly, I wasn't expecting to see Christmas. Once the PIC line was removed, I packed up and headed south, turning my back on a life I cherished.
Revealing my status to the first person I ever told cost me everything: my job, my life, but most of all my pride. Having to be cared for, I moved into my daughter's home with her and her man, along with their two young sons. Like I said, in my mind, life was expiring and expiring ever so quickly. Every task was a chore, a struggle beyond difficult. Sleepless nights and days. Comfort, well that was an afterthought. Being skin and bones, looking skeletal in stature, comfort was hard to come by. "Eat," they said, "you need to gain weight." Sure, weighing in at 113 when my normal weight was 185-190 certainly was on my mind. The problem being, I was so violently ill I couldn't stand the taste of food, even the smell gagged me, forcing me days on end with zero food and minimal water. In common terms, I was dying and I knew it. "Make him eat shakes," the nurse said, "Nutrition, you need protein and nutrition."
What those shakes did was beyond marvelous: three shakes a day provided nutrition and protein, but most importantly, they provided me the ability to digest my medications. Through those shakes and staying steady with my meds, my health began improving. Along with that, came my ability to do things. Getting stronger, I was capable of keeping an eye on at least one grandson at a time, when my daughter needed to run a quick errand. That usually ended up being the youngest of the two. In order to entertain him, I began walking him in a plastic playschool car. Each day, we walked a little further, then a little further, and the next thing I knew I was upright and moving each day. As each walk passed, my strength improved, as well as my stamina.
All this was in preparation for what I didn't realize at the time: a simple challenge to ride a bicycle impacted my life in so many health-improving ways. Road cycling on A1A in South Florida has resurrected my life and my health from that ever-so-devastating AIDS diagnosis. Cycling removed me from isolation. Its public involvement made me feel accepted, and trust me, my status quickly became known: I hide from nobody.
That damn bicycle has given me a life back when I thought I had none. It's rejuvenated my creative abilities to record and acknowledge such an incredible, health-rebuilding journey. Spinning my wheels to the tune of 8,880 miles since August, 2015, and I was diagnosed August, 2014. Those miles are accumulated. You see, my bicycle, the Eraser, has become my transportation. I ride to and from all appointments, doctor and dentist, case management, even to the food pantry, as well as my grocery shopping, even to all my advocating events and meetings. All on two wheels.
What's more incredible, after 8,880 miles, I weigh in at 186 pounds, my CD4 is 101, and my viral load is undetectable. And I'm solid as a rock. Amazing how that simple challenge to ride a bike resurrected my life and my health from AIDS. AIDS told me to crawl under a rock, today I am the rock.
Michael "Zee Strong" Zalnasky was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., and currently resides in Pompano Beach, Florida. He has cycled his way out of AIDS, riding a bicycle along scenic A1A, where he's become "Stronger Than Stigma, More Powerful Than AIDS." He is the founder of Heterosexual POZ.