Have you ever considered that many contract the HIV virus on accident, through no fault of their own? It is something I personally never really thought about until recently, that there are people out there who are responsible and take precautions but still can be exposed and infected. Both tragic and somewhat scary to think about, I sat down this week with a person who had that very thing happen.
Due to the confidential nature of this person’s story I have left a lot of the personal details out to protect their anonymity.
A Life Well Planned Out
We all have plans for our lives and what we want to accomplish both professionally and personally is something we often think about far in advance of those “life happenings” that set us off our track. Seldom do we think about the “what-ifs” and often we are not prepared. For the purpose of telling this story I will refer to him as John.
John always knew that he wanted to serve his country and that the military was where he saw himself having the most impact on the world he lived in. At a very young age he believed that joining the service was his purpose and giving back was something he had passion for. For years he did just that. As many soldiers do, come time for reenlistment, John’s passion to serve remained and without pause made the decision to continue after his duty had been complete. In the process, it was discovered that all of John’s medical records had been lost and that in order to reenlist he would have to go through all of the standard testing he did when he first joined. John believes that was a sign. Life was about to change.
A call was placed to John shortly after his results had come in and he was notified by administration that he would have to come in for further evaluation. Frightened and confused he agreed and after further evaluation he was informed that he was HIV Positive.
John had been married and committed to both his wife and family throughout his service. He knew that there was nothing he had done to compromise them or his own health. While in service and overseas, John had emergency dental work performed under what he described as unsanitary and not of standard procedural conditions. It was the one and only time that he could think of that he was at risk, and that one time was enough in the 90’s. John was diagnosed in 1999. No longer able to serve his country in the way he had desired his entire life and faced with the fear of losing everything he’d worked for, John was lost.
Though his marriage survived for quite some time it eventually came to an end because of other reasons which he explained. He maintains that his wife was supportive but the relationship was no longer working and they both decided to move on. Alone for the first time, John faced the fear that it would be impossible to find love again, to find someone who would understand and support him. I myself wondered that very thing as we was talking. Emotional wreck that I am, I’ve often wondered who would love me with all of my tattoos and baggage but this just made my worries seem so ridiculous.
A New Life
Though he struggled with not being able to return to active duty, John remained positive that life did exist post diagnosis. He persisted and held on to his passion and ultimately found another way to do what he loved doing and be part of something bigger than himself and has been successful in doing so. “Treatment and living with the virus has changed substantially over the decade”, he explained. Once a 12 pill a day regimen to now just 1, John explained that it wasn’t something he even thought about much anymore. With great energy he exclaimed that, “he was the healthiest and happiest that he had ever been in life.” Sitting next to him during the interview, was his quiet and bashful now wife, a woman who I found to be both admirable and genuine. Throughout the interview they were holding hands and smiling at one another and all I kept thinking was if I am ever to be in successful relationship this is probably what it’s supposed to be like.
Though John struggled for a long time thinking that he would never find love again, through initially a strong friendship he was able to find the person who if you sat across from you’d come to the same conclusion as I did; these two were meant to find one another. Their story about when John broke the news to his now wife about being HIV Positive oddly enough, brought laughter to both as they discussed the evening it took place. John remembered being more nervous than at any point in his life and let’s call her Jane, was laughing when she described her response as less than concerned and relieved that it wasn’t “something major”. Is this a sign that true love sees past black and white or that society as a whole has become more comfortable and truly understands the disease? The optimist in me would like to believe both.
AIDS in 2011
33.4 million are currently living with HIV/AIDS globally, more than one million people are living with HIV in the U.S. One in five living with HIV is unaware of their infection and though a small percentage has been through accidental infection the fact remains that those cases do exist.
“It is what it is. I don’t think about it really anymore..in fact, I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been .. even before being diagnosed. I don’t let the fact that I am HIV positive rule my life..I’m successful and happy.” In closing, John offered me one thought which I pondered for hours after the interview. That things in life will happen, things which no matter how hard we try we will never be prepared for but with conviction and hope, life will continue as it was meant to be. Part of this series was to bring to light that there is world around us with people who are facing real problems and often we get caught up in things that really don’t matter. Remember that today is today and tomorrow brings opportunity for new. Help those in need and live a meaningful life respecting and appreciating what you’ve been given because out there is someone who has less. Just something to think about.
Meeting John and his wife has evolved my thinking of this disease as well as how I view my own life.