Life Before HIV/AIDS

In May of 1986 I completed my masters of science degree in Child Life from Wheelock College and relocated to New York City (NYC) to further pursue my child life career at Schneider Children’s Hospital of Long Island Jewish Medical Center on the Division of Adolescent Medicine. Since I moved to NYC not knowing a soul and without a social or support network, I joined the New York Front Runners as a means to meet others who share my lifestyle and interest in running. Although I was not out about my sexual orientation, I also found comfort and a sense of belonging in the gay bar/club community.  I was like a kid on the giant playground of Manhattan and like most kids I like to play and did just that. I found the perfect balance of personal and professional happiness. Life was good!

Five months later in October, out of nowhere I received a phone call that my dad had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Dad—a man of few words, but an awesome father full of unconditional love, my hero—at age 53 was now gone, leaving me without a male role model at the age of 27. The most difficult part of Dad’s passing for me was that I had known in my heart that summer I was ready to come out to my family. Now Dad was gone and I couldn’t physically tell him. On New Year’s Eve 1986 I spent the evening writing my coming out letter and sent it off to my Ma. A few days later I returned home from a long day at the hospital and noticed there were several voicemails on my answering machine. (Yes, back then people still used answering machines.)

Who could be calling me? It could not possibly be Ma telling me she already received the letter.  Or could it?  Sure enough one of the callers was Ma.  At the end of that very emotional conversation was
the positive outcome I hoped for. I recall clear as day taking with Ma
imageand through my tears and gasps for breath, she just kept on saying over and over, “Whatever you do don’t hang up this phone.” She ended the conversation saying, “And you know if your Father was alive he would feel the same way I do. Anyone you want to bring into this house is welcomed here.” Ma has been and always will be my number-one inspiration, cheerleader and head of my trusted support network. I still have a copy of my coming-out letter and read it frequently.

Fast forward to 1989 and I was turning 30. I was advancing in my career, I had an awesome social network and I was truly enjoying life as a New Yorker. On the thought of being “old” and at a dare of a friend I started training for the 1989 New YorkCity Marathon. I set a personal goal to simply just finish and 4:35:46 later I achieved my goal by crossing the finish line. At the finish line, all finishers were awarded a medal. To this day I have that medal prominently displayed in my home as a visual reminder that I can achieve any goal that I set for myself. For the next four years I was living and loving life as a Manhattanite.

I’ve always been pretty athletic and health-conscious and like most Manhattanites I walked everywhere, including to and from “work” at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center (SLRHC), approximately one mile away. It was in early November 1993 that I noticed I was increasingly fatiguing on my walk to and from SLRHC, as well as having great difficulty climbing the seven flights of stairs to the Pediatric Unit. I would at times have to rest a few moments on my walk and when I reached the hospital I could barely make it to the second floor and would have to get an elevator the rest of the way up. I’ve always been in tune with my body and proactive about my health and wellness, so I immediately contacted my primary care provider Dr. Richard Amiraian for an appointment. A few days later at that appointment, Dr. Amiraian and I discussed any recent changes and/or behaviors in my life that might be causing this and he recommended an HIV test in addition to routine lab work to get to the root of my increasing extreme fatigue. I refer to it as “stop, or drop, and fall.” If I did not stop right then and there when it hit for a few moments, then I would literally drop. Since I tested HIV-negative less than six months earlier I was like sure, why not. I have always been an advocate of testing and knowing my status. Well the why-not was I knew that I had engaged in high-risk msm (men who have sex with men) behavior, without consistent and correct condom use.

Photo: Graphix For Change
Photo: Graphix For Change

However, for my own peace of mind I wanted and needed to know my HIV status.  If I again tested negative then I could follow a healthy lifestyle, minimizing my risk of exposure. If on the other hand I tested positive, I could get into treatment immediately and focus on keeping my immune system strong.  Equally as important was avoiding transmission of the virus to others. With the confidential and trusted support of only Dr. Amiraian and my direct supervisor Teryl Lowinger, RN, Director, Maternal Child Health at SLRHC, I signed the required written consent and received my pre-test counseling. My blood was drawn and sent off to the lab. Back in 1993 there was no rapid HIV test. The only HIV test available was the conventional or serum test, with an average waiting time of ten days for the results. Those were the LONGEST days of my life!

 

Living Openly with HIV/AIDS