Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gecko Fever

The previous post does not promote false hopes.

But this gecko fever does.

Geckoes have not been scientifically proven to cure HIV or AIDS.

Spare these poor animals.

Defying Medicine

So, you have had your HIV test. You are done with confirmatory. They did your initial CD4. Your doctors recommended ARVS. You have been monitoring your digits, from hemoglobin to a new CD4 count. You never get or hardly get sick. Then, you suddenly ask yourself, am I really HIV+?

You heard about false positives. Some even go through the length of suing the medical facilities. You heard about the immune ones, whose HIV does not progress even without treatment. You heard about the first functional cure through bone marrow transplant. You even heard about the hypothesis that HIV does not necessarily cause AIDS.

So you start to think. And doubt.

Anything is possible. Life after all is one big movie, with its sudden twists and crazy plots.

Thing is, if you have had multiple HIV exams, then most likely, if you turned out poz, you are poz. But for thousands like me, who only relied on one exam you never even actually witnessed in the lab, you have the right to doubt. It's your little spark of hope. It's your light at the end of the tunnel. It's God answering your prayers. Whatever way or however you want to put it, you can get a second opinion. 

But did you?

Since knowing that my viral load is already undetectable, my post work activities at home did not just include staying glued to delayed US TV series re-runs. While my neighbors sleep soundly, my brain is always racing with my intermittent internet speed. Research here and there. From Googling "HIV cure" every day (oh yes, every day) to volunteer work overseas for poz people, to the latest in vaccine trials, to HIV's natural history, you name it. I would have probably come across it once or twice.

Then earlier, I tried to Google "HIV rare case Philippines". Lo and behold, I found this Pinoy Poz whose case has baffled DOH this year. No idea if there were any developments but this happened some time first quarter of 2011. The poor guy allegedly was deported from France many years back for being poz. Then, for some reason, three recent Philippine tests have all yielded the same results: HIV negative.

So, yes. Life can give you a hard punch on the face at one point, then next thing you know, you get that teeny weeny bit of hope. I am happy for this guy. I am sure he's ecstatic, if not, maybe filled with mixed feelings (around ten years of living a poz life then pffft). But life already is one big miracle, which can give us hope that seemingly impossible things can happen.

Did you have a second HIV test? I am asking because I didn't. Maybe I should have. Testing positive was life changing, yes. But it would be more mind boggling to probably test negative and have your case analyzed by WHO, just like that Pinoy guy from France. 

Nobody is stopping you from getting your second HIV test. Positive or negative, at least you tried to light up that glimmer of hope, which only a few lucky ones are able to experience; only because they got tested again.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Good News, Bad News

My Doctor and partner tried to comfort me, " Huy, okay lang yan, hindi naman CD4 lang basis ng improvement ng health mo."

A few weeks ago, I had my third CD4 test, but this time, not at RITM anymore but at San Lazaro. It was a different experience, in sense that we were like Team PGH in there! I even got to see and chat with an old friend, but that's another story. Normally, at the Hills, it is a quiet passage. You get there, get a form, blood extraction, you leave. But this time around, uh oh, ten people all waiting in an area the size of your bedroom. Awkward.

Last time, I had a 100+ CD4 jump so I was expecting I was gonna be somewhere around thatagain. My doctor had to literally pick my jaw up from the floor when I found out my count dropped by 80 points. Seriously, with a capital S? 

So the doctor explained that CD4 is usually the indicator in the PH, as this is cheaper than a viral load. To the uninitiated, a CD4 test counts how many soldiers you have, and a viral load, how many enemies. So latter should be lower, former should be higher. 

You are entitled to a free viral loaf after a year in ARVs. So I can get one for free now. However, it will be at San Lazaro again. And I would have to go by their schedule again. Beggars cannot choose. Ugh, I hate it! And its location was far more inconvenient.

And then Hallelujah, as if the heaven parted and angels began flying around, playing harps. My doctor said, "You can have it here at PGH."

I asked how much.

"Four thousand eight hundred."

Now, that's more than a $100. A one way ticket to Thailand. Or three nights  worth of stay in a two star Bangkok hotel. Or a roundtrip kontrata taxi ride to the Cambodian border from Silom.

Took me five seconds. San Lazaro, though free, is again, too inconvenient for me. I am paying for convenience here. I am paying for peace of mind. But most of all, I am paying for special treatment, because my test was on the day after my appointment with the doctor, at 8am. They were gonna start the viral load screeningat 9am so I had to make it before the cutoff.

The viral load test, the one that counts how many enemies I have, was actually done in the UP Manila campus, in an old building. I was there half an hour earlier. They took my blood. No lines, no waiting. Less than five minutes after my appointment, I was on my way home.

So that's where my money actually went. Not having to wait like when I waited at San Lazaro. Apparently, the institute that will process the viral load is not yet accredited with Philhealth. Thus, the cash out.

Two weeks went by. I was packing for my trip (see previous entry)  when I got doctora's text.


It was a real case of good news, bad news. I have come across similar stories. Now, I cannot help but wonder, what if I didn't have the resorces for all of these inconvenience. I still consider myself lucky, to be all healthy and all fit to work. Besides, I couldn't really stop. I am getting impatient waiting for the cure. But in the meantime, all I could do was hang on.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ready, Jet Set, Go!

The plane touched down finally after a few turbulent hours. First time again in another Asian country. It was a bit gloomy outside. The petite flight attendant just announced in heavily accented English that the local time is half past four in the afternoon.

Eager passengers started turning on their cellphones, based on all the weird sounds from rows one to 30+. More eager ones started unbuckling their seat belts to retrieve their carry ons from the compartment. 

I sat frozen in my window seat, with my heart in my throat. Since takeoff, I could not put myself to sleep. All I could do was watch as my fellow tourists were deep in slumber throughout the entire flight.

Yes, it's another trip with my ARVs. They are tucked somewhere in my first aid kit, checked in my luggage, somewhere in the plane's fuselage.

I stood up nervously, almost hitting the young mom who was racing towards the exit. Her kid cried tactlessly throughout the flight. My partner was trying to calm me down, while I pulled my carry on from under the seat in front of me. "Don't worry," and he smiled as if telling me to do the same.

The pretty FAs bade us goodbye and thanked everyone for flying their airline, minus any eye contact.

"You look scared", my partner whispered. All I could do was put my arm around him. Walking from the plane to immigration seemed to have taken forever. By the time we were in line for immigration control, I swear I could have named at least ten local hotels, twelve touristy things to do and five brands of local soda, all due to the gigantic billboards along the way.

"Next!", the officer said. With my best local accent, I tried saying "Hello" in the local dialect. He scanned a couple of my passport's pages before asking, "How long you stay?". With a big smile on my face, I retorted, "Couple of days. We leave on Thursday." 

Wrong answer.

 When  asked an immigration question, you should just provide what they need. His eyebrows met. So to regain my composure, I just immediately said "Four days", before he could ask another question. He stamped my passport and my partner and I were off to baggage pickup. 

Never leave your ARVs in your luggage, is what The Body, an HIV site, says. But my fear of being questioned by Philippine airport security outweighed my fear of my luggage being lost. My partner finally pulled our flaming red suitcase from the carousel. Since I own the ARVs, I had to, of course, face Customs in case they ask what they are for. So I was in charge of carring this big bag. Though I got a medical certificate, which I had to ask from my doctor, it still says that I am immunocompromised. It would be tougher if we were gonna spell it out in bold letters. HIV.

IMMUNOCOMPRO... What? I can just imagine the Customs officer asking. I would just do all the explaining in 300-words-per-minute English, to avoid further questions.

Going through Customs is always like shooting a movie scene for me. Everything I do within that thirty second walk is fake. You may be randomly chosen to open your luggage and next thing you know, they would be questioning everything in your possesion. So to avoid their watchful eye, I tried blending in, faking looking at the airport signs, faking texting, faking asking my partner weird questions, faking scratching my back, until finally, I am past the yellow Customs line with no inspection.

Before they could call me back, I spotted the taxi bay sign and signalled my partner to hurry up. 

The exit door opened. The rain has stopped. The sun was about to set. 

A sigh of relief. 

Another undetected entry into another weird country. My partner handed the driver our hotel's address. All I could say to him was a big and loud, "HA!". As we drove on the expressway towards downtown, I could just imagine my paranoia again flying back to Manila.

 But until then, I have about three and a half days to forget about being detected; three and a half days to discover another culture; and three and a half days to realize that HIV is not the end of my passport stamp collection.