My viral load is detectable again.
But in reviewing my lab results with me a few weeks ago, my doctor did not warn me that my viral load was also now tangible.
So imagine my surprise the other night in bed when I woke up and found a multilegged, insectlike creature somewhat resembling Pauly Shore clumsily straddling the fleshy end of my nose, and picking his own.
"Who are you?!" I demanded.
The Pauly Shore creature appeared startled. He released a shriek -- a surprisingly strong one for something its size -- and then slid forward, slamming his crotches against the bridge of my nose. In a struggle to upright himself, he planted one foot over my right eye socket, causing my right eyelid to clamp over the leg like an animal trap. All the while he was screaming like a brat whose mother had just turned off "Teletubbies."
When he scampered back up my nose, I realized who he was.
"Why, you must be my viral load!" I exclaimed. "I recognize you from the photos in medical journals!"
"Pipe down, will ya!" the Pauly Shore creature snapped. He put his hands on his hips and glared at me. I felt an uncomfortable "In the Army Now" flashback wash over me.
"And don't be ignorant," he continued. "I'm not your entire viral load -- I'm just one copy. You've got God-knows-how-many more copies like me surging through your veins. And if my commanding copies knew that I was A.W.O.L., they'd assign me to colon detail again."
I felt him curl up inside one of my nostrils. "You have no idea what it's like in there," he complained. "Fighting all of the time. And every eight hours, another HAART attack. Fresh enemy reinforcements roll in and a new round of chemical warfare begins."
He released a heavy sigh. "I'm just not cut out for this line of work," he confessed. "Sometimes I just feel like, you know, metastasizing." I felt the soft pop of a nosehair being pulled.
"Thanks," I said. "I'd been meaning to pluck that."
"What are friends for?" he said, leaping onto my mattress. "You know, it's kind of nice out here. If it were not my lot in life to annihilate each and every cell in your immune system, I think I could enjoy life on the outside."
A siren then began to wail. "What's that?" I asked.
"That's the signal for all troops to report to the base in your central nervous system. We have to get into position. You'll be taking your pills again at 0330." As he disappeared into my ear canal I heard him say, "I hope you don't take any of this personally."
Everyone scoffs at me when I tell them of my encounter with my viral load. They tell me that next they expect me to say there's a tiny man in a boat living in my toilet tank.
I came up with a snappy comeback to use on these nay-sayers. But the cell in my brain that stored that line went poof. I think that's just my viral load's way of saying "hi."
This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).