The blank page stares up at me, “World AIDS Day 2016”. That will be Thursday.
It’s not like it used to be when life was much more urgent, desperate. I think of the dead. I still sorely miss my friends, friends from our twenties and thirties. Gone. It’s like Remembrance Day, but I don’t like the war analogies that go along with that. I wonder what they would have been like had they lived with me into my upper fifties. If only treatments could have saved them. It’s been twenty years since the 1996 World AIDS Conference in Vancouver which was bursting with excitement over the promise of new treatments, combination therapies nicknamed “the cocktail”. I was on three, and then four drug combinations as soon as they became available, eliminating ones with severe side effects only to find new side effects with the alternatives. Lipodystrophy – fatty humps – and lipoatrophy – loss of muscle mass in my face, limbs and butt. So I sit on a cushion a lot. It’s chronic but manageable, don’tchaknow? I remember World AIDS Day 1993 when I took a bouquet of wild flowers to the AIDS Memorial. CBC News followed me around as I placed single flowers by the names of individuals I knew until I tearfully ran out of flowers before I had finished. That was the year of Jim’s last Christmas and I went home and wrote the first of many annual holiday letters in hopes of cheering him up. There was the year I put a call out for writers to submit stories of how HIV/AIDS affected them – and was pleasantly surprised with the response.
HIV is still here and, despite some attempts to downplay it, so is AIDS. HIV, and expectations that I would not live long, have rotted my teeth. As a yes-to-life gesture I am endeavouring to get my teeth fixed which will probably be a wholesale replacement with dentures. This is not merely cosmetic, though it is that, too. I am not eating as well as I could were I to have a full mouth of comfortable teeth. So the good folks at the U of T School of Dentistry have begun to fix me up. I can no longer deny that I might live long enough to need these damn teeth. All that remains is to come up with the funds.
My friends didn’t live long enough to have dental problems. I didn’t think I would either. As crises go, I’ll take this one.
As heard on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning today Wood Haven Country Lodge in the Kawarthas opens its heart next weekend to women and children from area shelters, offering them a get-away in the busy holiday season. David explained to Matt Galloway that when his partner died of AIDS several years ago, he decided to extend an invitation around Christmas to women and children who might enjoy a getaway in Buckhorn.
This tremendous act of generosity reminds me of similar hospitality extended by Sue Johanson, during the 90s, to groups of people living with HIV/AIDS. Sue, of “Talking Sex” fame, turned over her guest cottage on Lake Simcoe to support groups from ACT for week-long getaways throughout the summer. Lifelong memories were made by many people who might otherwise never have escaped the city.
David is challenging other Bed & Breakfasts and lodges to follow his lead at a time of year when bookings are down and the opportunities to spread happiness are way up!
“Scientists from the National Institutes of Health have identified an antibody from an HIV-infected person that potently neutralized 98 percent of HIV isolates tested, including 16 of 20 strains resistant to other antibodies of the same class. The remarkable breadth and potency of this antibody, named N6, make it an attractive candidate for further development to potentially treat or prevent HIV infection, say the researchers.”
“N6 may offer stronger and more durable prevention and treatment benefits, and researchers may be able to administer it subcutaneously (into the fat under the skin) rather than intravenously. In addition, its ability to neutralize nearly all HIV strains would be advantageous for both prevention and treatment strategies.”
I don’t know who you all are, but the blog machine tells me there are 1,013 of you following me here. You can also find me, Kenn Chaplin, on Facebook.
You’ll know that I haven’t been writing much lately so, might I ask, if you have any questions for me?
It was my first visit to the west coast, that summer of 1996, and – given my fragile health – I was determined to make it the trip of a lifetime. I would fly to Vancouver and then take the train across Canada to return home.
My purpose in being out there was to attend the XI International Conference on AIDS. As a “scholarship” recipient, with registration and basic expenses covered, I stayed with others on similarly limited budgets in the residences at the University of British Columbia. A more beautiful university campus I have not seen, built on a large, elevated point of land overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the city’s west end.
Campus maps clearly showed several beaches nearby. They did not, however, indicate changes in elevation. So it was that I set out to find Wreck Beach, a place of some considerable legend, in Canada anyway, that I knew to be “clothing optional”. I left my room, at the Gage Residence and Conference Centre, in the early morning of my first full day there, skipping breakfast – as was my habit back then – even though it was already close to noon by my jet-lagged body clock.
I took my time, walking around the campus to establish some landmarks in my mind, being admittedly wasteful of physical energy which was at a premium. I continued to recover from a serious AIDS-related illness, cryptosporidiosis, a parasite which gives understated meaning to the expression “feeling shitty”.
Crossing NW Marine Drive, loosely wrapping its way around the tip of the campus, I found myself in which, for what I mistook to be a more urban park, did not seem to have a lot of signs. Looking for a path to the ocean, which I could unmistakably hear through the sky-high Douglas fir trees, I came upon a trail I would only later discover had been created by nothing more than rain run-off. It seemed like a path to me. I could forgive the Parks Department for such a primitive trail, given the unspoiled nature evident everywhere the eye could see.
I began my hike downward, stepping over fallen branches, carefully walking around patches of mud, all the while trying to absorb the sheer beauty of the lush plant-life; the unfamiliar songs of the coastal birds. The terrain was becoming progressively steeper and this path I had found did not zigzag across the hillside the way I would have expected. It soon became necessary to grab hold of trees just to keep my footing. I was glad to be wearing comfortable sneakers, although hiking boots would not have been an overly cautious choice to have made. As the grade of the slope increased – calculating such things has never been my strong suit – I began to let myself slide from tree to tree, grabbing on for dear life. Then I fell – still upright, such was the steepness – and began a precipitous plunge. As alarmed as I was, and I cannot overstate my initial sense of panic, I kept my wits about me and watched for obstacles that might injure me. I don’t recall how long this took but I don’t think twenty or thirty seconds would be an exaggeration. Finally I felt my back brush lightly over a patch of rock and I landed in a thicket of ferns, small twigs, coming to a stop with sand kicking up between my legs and spraying my face. I lay there quickly doing a mental checklist of any injuries and, finding none, I stood up only to realize that – somewhere between standing upright and falling upright – I had let go of more than a few trees. To my horror my pants were, uh, soiled.
After quickly forgiving myself, given my health and the excitement of the last few moments, it seemed quite fitting that I should need to wash my clothes on this clothing optional beach even if my very first walk in to the Pacific was to do laundry! I cleaned myself up, using the clothes as I peeled them off, and then tip-toed in to the pounding surf, scrubbing as I went. Now, completely naked and with no dry clothes to wear, I claimed an isolated part of the beach and draped my jeans and shirt across a couple of large rocks. It would be a few more minutes before the sun would come from back behind the trees I had just fallen through. It would be some time more before my clothes were dry. That’s how I got one of the worst sunburns of my life, on parts of me which had not seen the sun for an extended period of time, and how I learned – later from another delegate to the conference (who did not get the whole story of my first day at Wreck Beach) – that vinegar works wonders on taking the sting out of a sunburn!
Much more could be written on the time travel-esque atmosphere created by some of the Wreck Beach regulars.
Bright and early this morning, before I could slip into dishonesty, I volunteered to my diabetes specialist that I was depressed. Actually it was more like joining in conversation with her as she wondered aloud if any ‘black dogs’ were about.
There’s always something cathartic about admitting this after circular self-arguments about whether I am or am not. What’s with the shame? Jeez, I’ve been treated for major depression for over twenty-five years – what’s the big deal if I have a flare-up that meds, at least temporarily, don’t seem to be helping?
She asked if I had a friend I could talk to when I’m feeling down. Several came to mind.
Not unrelated, my diabetes is not controlled at this time (it would help if I did what I was told). I promised her I was already back on track and showing positive results. That’s true.
My weight is down about three kilograms. This is not good as my bony ass feels tremendous discomfort in typical meeting chairs. I can’t find a good cushion.
I’ll see my HIV doc on Friday when more of my blood test results will be revealed. I can’t say I’ll be surprised if there’s a problem.
Affirmation: I deserve to take the best possible care of myself.