Last week I told about how Andy (finally!) got appropriate surgery for my warts and how we learned that it wasn’t the same as a cure.
That was twenty five years ago.
At the time no one dared dream it would be possible to live this long this well with HIV.
For a year or two after the surgery, Dr. Bradley and Andy both kept a sharp eye on me. Occasionally one or the other found a small wart or two in me and each time Dr. B destroyed them with an acid called TCA. Eventually they stopped finding warts and it seemed like I was done with that pesky HPV.
Finding out that he had chronic hepatitis B and HIV put a damper on Andy’s sex life for a while. The shock of the news and the angst that came with suddenly facing mortality had as much to do with that as the viruses. Andy was also really nervous about me. He worried that the surgery might have left me vulnerable and wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to heal.
About six months in, something occurred to Andy. Wouldn’t he feel ridiculous if he moped around for months only to realize he still felt fine?
It seemed sort of twisted to count his chickens before they - what? - died?
Whether he had two more months or two more years to be healthy and happy Andy was going to focus on living. Eventually his desire came back and then so did his sex life. At the right time and with the right guy, there was a “grand re-opening” for me. The sex felt great and I handled the fucking just fine. I was finally back in the game!
Andy was working for a friend in a small company now. He saw the doctor regularly and when his numbers declined, Dr. Bradley thought it was time for Andy to consider taking the first and only available HIV drug, AZT. His boss was supportive, but Andy was afraid that filing for reimbursement might mean trouble. He worried that there could be an outrageous increase in insurance premiums and they even discussed paying for the expensive medication directly out of the company account.
Dr. B told Andy about a possible alternative. There were openings for a clinical trial that would provide AZT at no cost. He might or might not also get the herpes drug acyclovir – the study would find out if it could help fight HIV. He decided to participate both to help the cause and to avoid the insurance issue.
Andy’s T-cell counts nearly doubled at the beginning of the study, but then went back down in a matter of weeks. Meanwhile, his blood tests showed a problem with his liver and everyone was worried. Treatment was stopped and then restarted at a lower dose.The liver tests got closer to normal then, but not close enough to let him continue in the study.
Together Dr. Bradley and Andy decided that he would stay on the AZT at a reduced dose. Andy was able to postpone buying drugs and filing insurance for quite a while. He still had some AZT from the study and more than once the nurse clandestinely slipped him leftover bottles of pills in brown paper bags. For years, Andy’s liver tests would occasionally climb above normal but they never again spiked like they had that first time.
The end of the 80's had flown by. Several guys from his first support group had passed away. Although he was tired a lot, Andy continued to work and have fun. But the 90's began with two funerals for closer friends and Andy often wondered, “Why am I still here? Am I some kind of exception?”
Andy had dated a number of guys, but one night out dancing he met someone special. Jack was younger and HIV-negative, but the two were in love and it wasn’t long before Jack moved in.They struggled with being over-cautious at first but they eventually got good at using condoms so Jack’s anus and I both got plenty of action.
Unlicensed raves started to spring up around town and some weekends that’s where Andy and Jack partied. They called hotlines for directions to unused warehouse spaces where they drank “smart drinks” instead of cocktails or beer. Young DJs played songs by groups like 808 State and the Future Sound of London and new‘intelligent” lighting machines sprayed vivid color in every direction.
One night, some guy they’d never heard of (Moby!)showed up to perform and when the lights finally came up they were drenched from dancing. The sound of a distant ice cream truck came from the speakers, freezer pops were handed out, and they headed home to collapse into each other’s arms.
Andy’s CD4 counts, as they were now called, slowly declined. Dr. Bradley prescribed a second drug. Once again, Andy lucked into an underground source. “Expanded access” drugs set aside for a now-dead patient were given to him. Dr. Bradley told him there was a chance the Epivir would work against
Andy’s hepatitis B as well. Eventually they added a third similar drug with the hope it too could buy time.
He didn’t know if it was the difference in their ages, the difference in their HIV status, or a fascination with club drugs Andy didn’t share with Jack, but after a few years they grew apart. Andy began to surf online services like CompuServe and AOL and met a few guys that way.
Half way through the decade, Andy’s CD4 counts got down to to dangerous levels. He wasn’t an exception after all. Medically, it seemed like he was just waiting for something bad to happen. Just in the nick of time, stronger drugs became available, and adding one to his regimen stopped his decline. Andy had never given up hope.
And what about me, you ask?
I enjoyed a relatively trouble free decade. Once in a while Andy overdid things, leaving me a little sore, and occasionally I had what he assumed was a minor hemorrhoid issue.
These small problems resolved themselves quickly, though.
In fact, 20 years would pass between the appearance of those last few warts and the time when Andy and I would once again confront the human papillomavirus.
(to be continued... stay tuned)
Read previous installments.
As told to Mark Hubbard