David Patient (51) has been HIV-positive for almost 30 years. David lived in the US when he was diagnosed. He later returned to SA. This is his story.
When it all happened
In the 80s doctors didn’t know how HIV had spread, and the health community at the time diagnosed HIV patients with what was then known as GRID (Gay related Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Late in 1983 the name was changed to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
David had many tests done at the time and explains how in that time there were no actual testing kits available for people to test for HIV. “I have had about 35 subsequent tests done for various research programmes I was involved in from 1983 onwards and all confirmed my HIV status,” said David.
How he found out
David had a friend who underwent surgery. He died while under the knife. It made David more determined to get tested to see if he had the virus. “On the 13th March, my 22nd birthday, the doctor told me I had this disease called GRIDS (Gay related Immune Deficiency syndrome).” He explained how he had to get his affairs in order.
He told his family within days of finding out. “Me and another friend were publically ‘outed’ in Las Vegas when the news headlines read ‘Gay Plague arrives in Las Vegas.”
David later explained his family’s reaction: it was of disappointment and fear. At that time the virus was still in its early days and not many people knew much about it. They just knew it was deadly.
He had to move. “I left Vegas in mid-1984 and went to Florida. I hid my HIV-status for the next few years and never really came out publically till around 1986. I have been fully out about my HIV status ever since.”
When he found out he was HIV-positive he had a very low self-esteem. “When I was told I was dying, I was relieved… strange reaction, but the truth nonetheless. I had visions of me being a young handsome corpse with my family and friends grieving over losing me…all in my head!”
Staring death in the eye
David knew that he had to face the facts and started taking better care of himself, and his health. In the beginning he continued living in denial and at the same time he had to face the facts that were in front of him.
“My initial response was “Great, I’m finally going to die’...I was very self-loathing back then and death made sense...live hard and fast and die young...how very Jimmy Dean of me! It took me the best part of three years to really get my head around the reality of what I was dealing with. I went into denial and all the other emotions.”
Turning to drugs
After going through the phase of denial, he turned to drugs. “I was using cocaine to avoid my life and became an isolated addict, going from one high to the next. It wasn’t until late 86 when I finally kicked my coke habit that I started to fully engage in life and doing whatever I could to stay alive.”
When he eventually stopped using, he took charge and embraced life fully. This is when he went public with his status.
HIV and discrimination
In the early days people discriminated against him because of his status. He didn’t mind, because people weren’t informed about the virus. Now he says, he won’t allow it.
“I had a surgeon in the Nelspruit area refuse me care [about 10 years back] so I sued him for discrimination through the medical council and that took 6+ years to even get to court [they were hoping I’d die before we ended up in court]. I was suing for an apology and nothing else. I never won the case, as there were no witnesses to back either of our positions.
Where I did ‘win’ was the doctor had applied to emigrate to New Zealand and also Canada [whichever came up first]….both were turned down once they investigated the doctor and found out there was a discrimination suit against him…so I may have lost the battle, but I won the war.”
Importance of getting tested
David urges people to get tested in order to live a long and healthy life. The sooner you know, the better he says. “Early detection means all sorts of things can be done to help you. The earlier you know, the more you can do to help yourself. This can also delay the need for ARVs for many years and when you need the ARVs, go on them when you are still healthy. It is easier to keep healthy than it is to try and bring you back from the verge of death.”
Maintaining a healthy diet
David continues to live positively, taking his ARVs, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. He exercises at least 30 minutes- 4 hours a day. “I follow the Paleo eating plan. So nothing processed at all! No wheat, flour, rice, pasta, potatoes ,tomatoes, maze, beans/legumes, eggplant, no dairy. Lots of lean protein, lots of veggies and lots of fruit, nuts and seeds.” He takes full responsibility for his life and living positively.
He advised all HIV-positive people to talk to someone when being diagnosed – whether it's a doctor, a clinic sister, or a religious leader.
“I take full responsibility for my infection even though I knew nothing of HIV back in the early 80s. I see no point in blame, yet I do see the point of taking responsibility for my actions that led to my infection…I am not a victim.”
HIV/Aids in South Africa
According to stats SA 16.6% of our population is HIV- positive. The majority of this group is between the ages of 15-49. As of 2011 5.38 million people in South Africa now live with the virus. The government is making a continuous effort to fight the disease. Many health organisations and the international community also contribute with awareness campaigns and their funding.
You can get tested at your nearest clinic, or you can contact your GP.
(Graig-Lee Smith, Health24, November 2012)
(Sources: HIV stats in SA)