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Sunday 26 February 2006
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Antiretrovirals - The Wind Beneath My Wings

Dear Diary,

A recent attempt at shedding some humour on flatulence as a side effect of HIV/AIDS and antiretroviral treatment has made me realise that most people are about as comfortable with discussing farting as they are about discussing AIDS.

While it is safe to assume that everyone has had an embarrassing experience with flatulence at some point, HIV-positive people are unique in that we complain or talk about it more often and openly than most - and rightfully so.

With that said, any knowledge I possess on AIDS-related gastrointestinal distress (a fancy wording for farting) will have to be imparted in the most clinical way possible.

Despite eating, sleeping and exercising correctly, whether we like it or not, HIV and the resulting medication directly fuels the problem of unexpected bursts of wind from people living with HIV/AIDS.

Research shows that the HI-virus contributes to intestinal gas by gravitating towards the gut, which provides a hospitable environment for the virus. A high viral load in the gut will disrupt normal functions and can result in gastrointestinal distress, i.e. flatulence, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting.

The drugs also cause gas by altering acidity levels in the stomach, which normally regulate the absorption of food and medications. The ensuing malabsorption of stomach contents usually results in "one's feathers being fluffed" at the most inappropriate of times.

Admittedly, this acquaintance with the virus has resulted in my sense of humour graduating from 'never getting the punch line' to being slightly more wicked and even caustic at times.

But that's just my way of coping with the illness because, in retrospect, this disease has a funny way of changing everything in one's life, while at the same time making sure that everything stays the same. A regular riot of laughs.

With my viral companion having become a full-time stand-up comic, I find that laughing with it is far less grievous to my wellbeing than having it laugh at me.

I should have picked up on its comedic talents when I was first diagnosed and presented with a steel trolley full of the various treatments that would be at my disposal, when the need arose.

And as if the bad news from my doctor was not enough, most of the drugs on the medicine trolley were manufactured by a pharmaceutical firm known at the time as Glaxo-"Wellcome". How's that for a laugh?

I began treatment shortly after my 'Wellcome' into the world of AIDS, but recklessly decided to quit within the first six months, due to the number of pills I had to swallow and their gargantuan size, in particular the frisbee-like Videx, a 'chewable' (yuk!, how dare they!) tablet produced by Bristol-Myers Squibb.

This medicine contains the active ingredient didanosine (also known as ddi), which lowers the amount of virus in the body (viral load) and slows progression of the disease from HIV to AIDS. One of the drug's many other serious toxicities is pancreatitis, which may be fatal - just when I thought being diagnosed HIV-positive was all the fatality one person could handle.

So, ultimately, it was a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation. Under my hellish drug regime of taking two Videx, three Viramune and three Zerit three times a day, I thought it better to accept my fate than suffer the slings and arrows of the treatment side effects.

Being as impatient as I was at the time, I just wanted it to be over with. But, as it turns out, my short stint with the drugs had been enough to jack up my immune system to a point where it dawned on me that I could be a lot worse off if I were run over by a bus or struck by lightning, however brief the suffering.

This disease and the accompanying drugs forced the coward within to choose life and, while everything has changed, it still remains the same.

Now, a few years later, I have started taking the drugs again - miraculously without a hint of resistance - and I am a picture of perfect health.

Not the same combination though, because since then, new science has seen drugs with the same levels of toxicity being reduced in size and combined so that, instead of eight huge pills three times a day, you now have three tiny pills twice daily.

And, thanks to drug giants like GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Squibb, an arsenal of anti-AIDS drugs for the sole purpose of prolonged life is now more readily available.

Their easy consumption has made it possible for all HIV-positive people to endure the same amount of horrendous side effects, just in smaller doses.

But for all its toxic madness and near fatal side effects, I can honestly say that antiretrovirals have truly become the wind beneath my wings ... and that has nothing to do with farting.

Forever Positive,

Hayden Horner

Previous Entry :: All Diary Entries :: Next Entry
Diary Entries
HIV/AIDS Coping Mechanisms: "What would a mayfly do?"
Beyond the Borders of HIV/AIDS Treatment Strategies
HIV/AIDS Feminisation: A new wine in an old bottle
Antiretrovirals - The Wind Beneath My Wings
The Mis-education of HIV/AIDS Clinicians
HIV Prevention 101: Ignoring the Church's views on condoms
Stigma and HIV/AIDS: lethal bedfellows
In remembrance of our women and children
Maids, madams and the "terrible thing"
Internet love and inter-related HIV-prejudice
Previously eyes-wide-shut on HIV and religion
Love, lies and disclosure
Black pot and blacker kettle
Things better left unsaid on the bus
Food for thought while waiting to die
Test results not all good
Diary speaks back
The truth about disclosure

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