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She did so partly because my immunity – measured by “CD4” cells – was beginning to decline as it does for everybody as a natural part of the ageing process, but more so because the treatment guidelines were about to change.Previously, treatment was recommended only when CD4 cells had dropped to a level that indicates a risk of HIV-related illnesses.Or a woman diagnosed during pregnancy and had to face her own mortality at the very moment she was bringing life into the world.
I had never considered what the experience would be like, say, for a straight man who lives with the complexities of having what has been stigmatised as a “gay disease”.
Or if I cut myself when cooking I’d feel like the whole meal would need to be binned, even if no blood had touched the food.
Before I became undetectable I felt dirty, guilty, shameful and unlovable.
HIV was nothing more than some words and numbers on the screen of my doctor’s computer and the addition of a bio-hazard sticker placed on any blood samples that are taken.
(Such a ridiculous policy – as if the lab is going to take different precautions with my blood than they would with anyone else’s.) All this changed in the Spring of last year, when my consultant raised the subject of finally starting treatment.
Or the people who were diagnosed because of a late-stage illness, just weeks or months away from dying, were it not for today’s treatments. I believed fiercely at the time – and still do – that stigma, prejudice and misunderstanding can best be overcome by simply living life openly and without shame.