I volunteer at an anonymous AIDS hotline, where people call in with inquiries about HIV, AIDS, STD, and the like. Typically, when someone calls, there's a good handful of questions about some genitalia abnormality or funky discharge and though we can offer some advice on what it may be, we're still not physicians at the end of the day.
The other night, however, was different from the mundane calls from the past. Not only did I speak with a couple of individuals with HIV but also, had a conversation with a man of high risk exposure. Today, I want to speak about three calls that resonated with me.
The first call, though extremely brief, was probably the most consequential. A woman recently diagnosed with HIV recently got turned down by her insurance to proceed with the following and necessary medications to hold her infection at bay. Her tone was angry, and her frustrations came through in her voice. I wanted to fight along with her; she had every right to be so. We fantasize and glorify the notable headway we've made in the medications, the progress we've made to find ways to prolong the life of a person with HIV, and even some new prophylaxis measures that would change the face of the AIDS epidemic. And yet, though there are these exhilarating solutions in our present world, it all comes with a monstrous cost and now, an insurance-company Cerberus that will DICTATE the prognosis of your HIV diagnosis by withholding your treatment. Sickening.
The second call I received, I had to recommend Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). A procedure, used for those that may be exposed to high risk scenarios, are given a cocktail of drugs that may decrease the chances of the virus transcribing into one's cells. Sure, I get a bunch of calls about the best time to wait to take an HIV exam (about 6 weeks, for "reliable" results. Gives the body enough time to create the antibodies needed to measure in an HIV exam. CDC recommends 25 days, however, this is only the majority of people. 3 months for those that are immuno-compromised, e.g. chemotherapy, auto-immune disease, transplants, etc.) or about how HIV is transmitted, but rarely and I mean rarely, do I actually get a call where there is someone that may be at high risk of HIV. I can hear the quivering in his voice, his sometimes nervous giggle as I attempt to make the situation seem less like a death sentence.
During training for these calls, we learn the facts, what to say, how to say it, et cetera. But you just never think that you'd need to pull the big guns out of your arsenal. I hope he listened and considers this option. Not just for the possibility of preventing other infections but more simply, for himself and his health. This is the imperative. This man, this individual case is not a statistic, not a potential risk of infection. He is a human being that has the options available to him to use to not become a person with HIV. The crazy thing is, what was on his mind was his partner and what he'd say to him about this and not him. I hope he can understand that though as important as his relationship may be to him, if he does not take care of this now with the resources available for him (i.e. PEP) there will be no him that would be enjoying any relationship.
The last call was a man with HIV for over a decade that resembled the story of my father. He was ousted because of his diagnosis and now, is exhausted with fighting this thing. At this point, the infection has allowed a number of O.I. (i.e. opportunistic infections), which now spread to his brain. He wants to end it, right then and there. He joked that now that he said he wanted to kill himself, would there be an ambulance at his door. I said, no since we were an anonymous hotline, I did not have access to him or where he may be located. I think he wanted to see if I would, though, had I had the resources. I almost felt a sense of disappointment when I told him there wouldn't [be someone with him] because I think in the end of the day, he just wanted to be with someone. To talk with someone or to sit without a reason or agenda.
People eventually identify themselves to be their diagnosis. He has forgotten who he was as a human being, because let's face it, this diagnosis has consumed his life, his hope, and his ability to fight for anything, let alone his own life. This man was suicidal and even more scary, he found a few good 'friends' willing to euthanize himself and take him from his pain. We spoke about the stigma of HIV and how prevalent it still exists in the 21st century, the gay community, Stonewall Uprising, in between all the suicidal thoughts. We ended the conversation sort of obscurely. I wanted to pray for him. I know he didn't ask for a prayer, nor did I tell him I was going to do so. I know, I know prayer doesn't erase his diagnosis nor the feelings he had today, but I pray that he remembers or experiences the life without the diagnosis. Even for a day. I think anyone deserves that, that freedom that lies in a healthy life. Makes you appreciative when you can wake up and not have to worry about your health.
If you didn't know, my father had passed away with AIDS. I do this [volunteering], so that I can help those that faced the same hardships as my father. I unfortunately was unable to give him the support that I'd like to believe I give these people, even if it may across a phone line.
Feel free to send me any questions about HIV, AIDS, etc. what constitutes as high risk, and so forth. My blog line is open.