Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Intimate Noche Buena

I so love Christmas… the happiest time of the year! Christmas tree, decors, “cold” weather, carols, gifts, bibingka, Christmas parties,  Christmas bonus, Noche Buena. I love everything about Christmas, except one -- Christmas Shopping!

I despise it! Especially, because it’s too difficult for me to shop for gifts for women. Obviously, not for my girlfriend, but for my inaanak, sisters, mom, and lola.  I even remember 2 years ago, I was still in SM Makati 20 minutes before their closing time, on the 24th of December, buying a gift for my lola! That was literally a last minute shopping! And, I had the biggest smile in the world when my last gift was wrapped with ribbon and placed under the tree!

This year, Christmas shopping was a breeze. I beat my personal record, and finished my Christmas shopping by December 21th. Yes, I finished it all 4 days before Christmas. Mission Accomplished!

But ironically, I’m not ecstatic. It feels different, so different! Of course, I’m glad I’ve finished my annual shopping chores. But it’s just so damn weird that I finished it early. And it feels sad. So sad.

I miss braving the crowd of Glorietta and Megamall to find those last minute perfect gifts on the 23rd and 24th of December. I miss analyzing for days the best gifts to give to these women. And most of all… I miss the persons who should be receiving the gifts. The 2 persons that I lost this year. My mom and my lola.

But life goes on. It’s Noche Buena on the 24th! Sadly, there are now two empty seats in our dining area.  10 less gifts under the tree. Two less persons in the family portrait. Two less laughter and voices on Christmas eve.

But hey… I shouldn’t be sad. It’s still Christmas! And guess what…. while we are having our intimate Noche Buena at home, they are having an even grander party up there with the celebrant himself. Awesome! And of course... I should be happy for the 2nd life, and that I'm still celebrating Noche Buena with my family.

Have a blessed Christmas! 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mercury Buffet

Glaxo, Pfizer, Unilab, Sandoz, Rhea, Globaxol.... these have become household names. No, I'm not a doctor, nor am I a med rep. But, because I've been their loyal customer for 1.5 years. 

18 months back, I was a drug-addict. Not with shabu, but with RX drugs, literally taking tons of meds every single day, contributing 16K to the bottomline of the pharma companies every month, when I was battling with AIDS. 

My daily planner then was not filled with meetings... but with drugs, starting from the time I open my eyes with the jingle of Kris TV, to the time I close them with Banana Nights. Excluding meds through IV. 

Literally, I was swallowing a cup-full of tablets every single day, forcing myself to swallow that nauseous smell of fluconazole. Well, that fluconazole alone, costs like a Yakimik meal. So, I just told myself that it's a buffet in a capsule. Its name sounds Korean/Japanese to me anyway! And that Azithromycin that gave me instant LBM was like a big mac in a tablet! 

But, I never gave up! I followed my doctor's instruction carefully, never missing any dose! Slowly, the pharmas and Mercury started to earn less from me.

First eviction came 2 months after. The first evictee: Rimactazid. From 2 tabs, it's down to 1 a day! And that Yakimix capsule, was slashed down to 2 tabs a day. Great, with this, I can now afford 2 yummy buffets a day!

After another 2 months, Rimactazid's dosage was reduced further! 

After another 3 months. Rimactazid was downgraded to Isoniazid! A pleasant surprise indeed, for I didn't know that Isoniazid costs only 6% of Rimactazid. Now, I can afford one additional La Fiesta buffet every month! 

Today, after another 12 months, I went to my doctor with my CD4 result! From a baseline of 14, my count is now 150! So, my doctor declared a forced eviction!

From now on, Azithromycin & Fluconazole are out! My two most expensive prophylaxis! The savings will now afford me a Sofitel buffet with my partner, and 1 Viking's buffet every month! What a pleasant birthday and Christmas gift for December! Can't wait to taste real foie gras, manchego, rib eye, hakaw, rockefeller oyser, jamon serrano, and that chewy chocolate chip cookies from Sofitel's gluttonous table!   

Thanks Azythromycin & Fluconazole. You have served me well! And, I'm really getting emotional now. Not that I'm gonna miss A&F. But I just realized that I was almost in my death bed 18 months back. Now, I'm so full of life! Thanks Doc! Thanks PGH! Thanks to my family and friends! Thanks pharma companies! and Thank You Lord!  And watch out.... cotri and isoniazid, you are next in line! 

Now... it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! 

Friday, November 28, 2014

First Travel as a Pozzie

I know that Singapore is not HIV friendly. They deport PLHIV if they found out they're positive. Unfortunately, I needed to go to Singapore for a business trip. My first ever trip as a pozzie. What do I do?

Fortunately, an SG-based pinoy member replied to my question on TRR. Now, I have a plan. Keep my ARV and 4 prophylaxis antibiotics in my check-in luggage. In case it gets delayed, this TRR member will lend me his ARV until my luggage arrives. No need to worry carrying my meds in my hand-carry bag. Relax!  

So, everything went on smoothly at Changi Airport. Even if I was randomly picked to put my luggage in the Custom's x-ray machine, I had no problem getting in the city - me and my meds.

At last, I'm in Singapore! The ultra clean city, wide roads, efficient transportation, disciplined pedestrian. The almost robotic and perfect city that I wanted to live in years ago. Unfortunately, living here is no longer possible for me as a pozzie. 

As I sit in the taxi to reach my hotel, I started to reminisce my last travel before I got sick of AID-related illnesses. Incidentally, that was also in Singapore! I remember clearly how bad my breathing was at that time. Getting my luggage from the conveyor caused breathing problems, like an asthma attack.  Same thing happened when I put my 15-kilo luggage in the compartment of a taxi. I even avoided MRT stations with no escalators as climbing stairs would make me grasp for air. Merely walking along the long air-conditioned hall of Cityhall link made me stop several times to rest before proceeding. And outside Outram station, I remember not crossing a huge road when there was even 15 seconds remaining before the pedestrian traffic light turns red - walking fast would cause shortness of breath. All these because of pneumonia, which I still didn't know I had at that time. 

Suddenly, the taxi driver said "Here lah!" I paid 20 bucks and got my 30-kilo luggage from the compartment quickly! Wow, it was effortless. I tried to cross the busy Orchard Road. But the pedestrian light was blinking faster... 10 seconds on the timer. Without hesitation, I ran with my luggage and carry-on bag. Don't wanna wait for the next green light. I made it in time before the light turned red. No sweat. After I checked-in at my hotel, I strolled along Orchard, to find a place to eat. I've walked almost the entire stretch of Orchard. This time, I'm sweating. But no, not because of breathing problems, but for walking almost a kilometer under the humid climate of Singapore! I really feel so normal now... very far from the asthmatic state I had last year! I have indeed fully recovered from AIDS. 

Then, I finally had dinner. A fit and sexy Singaporean in tank top walked in front of my table! Damn! Apart from the city view, this is also what I really missed. Fit Singaporeans, no tummies, walking in tight fitting shirts scattered in all corners of Singapore! This country is so obsessed in gym and fitness, and it's just so amazing! I better start working out seriously when I get back in Manila. :)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Pozzie Party

Yesterday, I attended a pozzie event. A triple birthday celebration of 3 pozzies in a private venue. 

Man, it's been a while. This is the first party I attended in 1.5 years. The first party after I was diagnosed as a pozzie. 

It's fun to party again! Good food. New faces. Kwentuhan. Kulitan. And of course... Alcohol! But no, I didn't drink. I'm on 4 antibiotics :)  

Well, although it's a pozzie party, all look normal. No more stereotype images of pozzies looking sick and dying. Everyone looks fit and healthy. 

But of course, there were surprises! I saw some familiar faces. I saw a face I used to see in a gym. Then, a  guy I met on Grindr. Then, a guy I met many years ago; I can't believe I'm seeing him again after more than a decade, in a pozzie event, and both as pozzies. Was it bothersome to see these guys there? Initially... yes. But hey, it's an exclusive pozzie event. So, why worry?

The best thing about the group is its privacy. It has RULES! No cameras flashing here and there. No need to worry that your pics get uploaded on Facebook or Twitter in a speed of 3 Mbps. And due to the "rules", no further details :) The party was just simply fun, kahit medyo tahimik pa ko dun... 

Truly, there's life after HIV! 


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Most Hated Question

Tonight, my dad asked me, has Magic Johnson been cured of HIV? I just said no. His HIV is just being managed. No elaboration, though I know only 1 person has been cured of HIV. That guy who has undergone a risky bone marrow transplant. And why is he asking me this question? 

Well, I have been living in the closet for more than half my life. Being a discreet closeted homo, I have mastered the art and science of hiding. 

Yes, I'm out to my fellow discreet gay/bi friends and partner, but not to any of my family members, nor to any of my colleagues and straight friends. And this has really affected my relationship with them, most especially with my family. Being in a marrying age, I have been constantly asked  by my parents when I am getting married. To cut the conversation off, I just keep silent. Oftentimes, I even avoid being with them just to avoid this type of awkward conversation. And like many other closeted guys out there, I have long avoided weddings and family reunions... as much as I could. That's what living in a closet is... in a nutshell. And I've learned to be OK with this setup. 

Then came HIV. Of course, I got depressed when I found out. Who wouldn't be? But, a day after diagnosis, while I was on my hospital bed, a thought flashed in. Now that my family knows I'm positive, this means they will stop asking when I am getting married. This made me smile in the midst of despair. A welcome break indeed :)

After several months, I recovered from my AIDS OI's, and things slowly went back to normal. Except one thing... my parents have stopped asking me the awkward question. A small consuelo for this most feared disease. Though it's so shallow and mababaw, a tiny but heavy torn was still taken out. Now, I no longer have to keep distant from my dad. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Self Empowerment Training

I started reading blogs of pozzies as soon as I was diagnosed. From the blog of IamHPositive, I learned about Self Empowerment Training or SET. It is a group counseling program designed for pozzies. I got excited to join SET.  But, in another blog, I learned that the facilitator is Dra. Rita. Uh... oh! Is she the Dra. Rita that I know? I asked my friend who knows Dra. Rita pretty well. Alas! It’s really her! Excitement became disappointment, coz I’m not ready to out my status to someone I know. And I'm too ashamed to reveal my status, my failure! 

A year passed. Finally, I decided it was time for SET. I don’t care if Dra. Rita would remember me. But I really want to attend SET.

Honestly, I didn’t really expect much from SET, since I have long accepted my being a pozzie. I’m not depressed. And I've moved on. But I really wanted to join.

So I joined. I arrived at the hotel early. I was the 4th guy who arrived. One by one, SET participants came. The organizers were late. So, we were so quiet. No one was talking. Just looking, and trying to gauge each other. Or maybe, trying to check each other out. Till, my seatmate started to talk. Where’s your hub? Who’s your doctor? Did you get sick? What’s your cocktail? Common stuff that pozzies talk about. Oh, and by the way, to everyone’s surprise, we had a girl SETmate. :) A real girl, not pa-girl. :) 

Then the organizers arrived. And the facilitator came. Guess who she was. It was expectedly, The Dra. Rita!!!

Time for introduction. When it was my turn, I finally told Dra. Rita that I know her. No big deal.

Then, we started to share our stories. It was an MMK night indeed. One story after another. Stories of sadness. Struggle. Fear. Tears. Depression. Disappointment. Betrayal. Sickness. Battle. But… behind the negative vibes, the night was filled with stories of Survival. Rebound. Love. Acceptance. Success. and Victory against the highly feared and stigmatized virus. Those stories bonded us together. For we have just shared the most hidden part of our lives to strangers... to our new found friends. To people like us. To people with similar battle, fear, and virus.  Yeah, you can say that, HIV glued us together.

Sharing and laughter continued through the night, even after Dra. Rita dismissed us. Since we had a muse, we taught her how to Grindr. And gave her a 101 course on our vocabulary: top, bottom, versa. She's one of us now! :) 

The day after, it was time to say goodbye. SET is over! 

It’s true that SET did not remove my depression. For I'm not depressed to begin with. I’ve long accepted my status and moved on. But that doesn’t make SET a waste of my time. More than anything, it gave me new friends who would undoubtedly understand me as a pozzie. Someone with the same virus as mine.  Same ARVs. Same fear. Same challenges. 

As we close the program, Dra. Rita emphasized that even after diagnosis, we are the still same persons, with the same talent and skills. We only have the virus hiding underneath our blood, but it’s still the same us! All of us are living evidences. Myself included. Being one of SET participants with the most OI's upon diagnosis, I feel so blessed. For I survived them all. Look where I am now. Looking healthy and happy. Dra. Rita even said that she can no longer distinguish the way I look now with the the way I was before I got sick. I’m so back... "I found my way back into life!" :)

Again, fear not of HIV test. HIV is not a death sentence. It can be managed with early treatment. Get tested, while still pogi :) Don't repeat my mistake of not getting tested until I got so sick. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

HIV 101 - ARV vs HIV

Like diabetes and hypertension, HIV has no cure. But it can be managed by medicines (ARV). The drawings below explain how ARV's control HIV.  Thanks to ARV, AIDS-related death over the years has been reduced significantly... mostly limited to those who were diagnosed late, and have not undergone treatment.  

Key takeaway: HIV is not a life sentence! It can be managed. So, it is crucial to get tested, and undergo treatment when needed. HIV test is free. HIV meds are also free! 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

HIV 101 - Immune System Vs Virus

HIV 101 - History of HIV

I'm posting a series of HIV 101 articles. These are quite interesting, short and easy to read. Thanks to my dentist  who shared them with me. In case you are a PLHIV, and need a dentist who's not worried to do dental procedures for PLHIV, contact Dr. Gerri :)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


DESTINY - noun (plural destinies). 
The events that will necessarily happen to a particular person or thing in the future: she was unable to control her own destiny.

Year 2013, I found out I'm positive. Was it my destiny?

Fast rewind, >10 yrs ago. I was in college. Technically a virgin. No-gimmick, nerdy boy in school. I remember clearly my Filipino professor back then asked us to write a short story. Can't decide on a topic for days. Till one brilliant idea came!

Two days after our short story submission, my professor announced to the entire class of College of Science & Engineering students mostly dominated by their brains' left hemisphere, that she photocopied a short story that she likes and is distributing it for the class to read. She erased the name of the writer. My seatmate gave me my copy. So surprised, I almost shouted... are you serious, this is my story?!?! 

And guess what my story was about? It's about... well. In summary, it goes like this:

Bryan and Paul were driving along Taft ave on a hot and humid weekend afternoon. They were sweaty, anxious, tensed and worried while watching jeepneys overtake their air-conditioned Civic. Until they reached their destination. Room 704 on Ayala. They waited for their turn, until the doctor called them out, and said: "Good News! Negative and HIV test no!" They were so ectatic, as they left the hospital! Then Bryan said, "Ano, tara, mamik up uli tayo sa Quezon Ave!"

That's right... my story was about HIV, AIDS! I wrote it when internet was still a rare commodity. When Grindr, PR and Jack'd were not yet invented. When there were more pagers than smart phones in universities. When finding other discreet and straight acting friends were just a dream, at least mine. When I was still sexually inactive. And when I didn't know a lot about HIV, and the stigma attached to it was much much greater! Imagine Sarah Jane Salazar on TV Patrol. 

Fast forward. 7 years later, I found myself in the shoes of Bryan. Sweaty, anxious, fearful of getting my result after I decided to have my first ever HIV test. I opened the envelope in Remedios AIDS Foundation. One, two, kabooom! Like Bryan, I felt like a lotto winner when it turned out negative. Unfortunately, my short story was open ended... an indication of a part 2. 

True enough, my real story turned out similarly. After my first HIV test result, I went back to my "exciting adventures." Then, came my 2nd test, after one year. Still Lucky... non-reactive! Then I stopped taking tests after that due to fear. And I went on with my "relatively safer adventures" in ones, ones became tens, tens became twenties, then probably hundreds (embarrassing), in different provinces, in different countries, continents, and with different races. Pinoy, Taiwanese, Singaporean, Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Iranian, Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, Saudi, Bahraini, American, Australian, Spanish, German, Romanian, Portuguese, Italian, French,  Dutch, Jamaican, Panamanian, Colombian, Mexican, Venezuelan. Omg... shamefully too many!  

Fast forward. 5 years after my second test, I was hoping for another luck. Unfortunately, my blood said "enough!" Not this time! Result... I'm HIV positive. Stage 4. Full-blown AIDS. Very low CD4, with multiple AIDS-related infections! 

HIV, am I destined to you? Blame it on that college paper... that short story was cursed! Or is it? Nah! Of course not! HIV is not destiny, but a result... of my lifestyle choice.

And progression to AIDS is not destiny either. It's a result of my fear of the test for the past 5 years, due to my ignorance on HIV treatment. 

I have AIDS now, but I decided to beat it!  
Typhoon Glenda is destiny, unavoidable. AIDS is not. So, Get tested!
Stay happy!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Learnings from Shingles

As I posted in my last blog, I had shingles. Shingles a.k.a. Herpes Zoster is a recurrence of chicken pox. Once a person is infected with chicken pox, the Varicella Zoster virus (the virus causing chicken pox) stays dormant deep within the nerves, and stays there sleeping. Once a person's immune system goes down, the virus wakes up and travels from the nerve to the surface of the skin, resulting in Shingles. Most of the time, this affects old people (>50 years old), or people who are immuno-compromised (like PLHIV and cancer patients). But, this can also affect healthy people (though not very common). Shingles is infectious to people who haven't had chicken pox before, and it will manifest in them as chicken pox, NOT as shingles.  

Unlike chicken pox, shingles usually doesn't spread throughout the entire body. It manifests in a certain pattern following the path of the nerve. It only manifests in one part of the body (either left or right). And it is more painful than itchy. The nerve pain may stay on even after shingles is healed, sometimes until 1 month, and in a some cases, even until 1 year. And worse, it looks ugly... really disgusting! So I'm not posting any real-life photo.  

But, herpes zoster is not the typical herpes or herpes simplex. This is a common misconception. Although they are from the same herpes virus family, they are two different things! Herpes simplex is caused by the virus called HSV, while shingles is caused by the virus called Varicella Zoster. Herpes simplex may be sexually-transmitted, while Herpes Zoster is never sexually-transmitted, but merely a recurrence of chicken pox. Both stay dormant after they are healed, but may recur once a person's immune system goes down. 

So, what have I learned from my shingles outbreak? A week or two before my shingles infection, I have been stressed out. Stressed at work. I have been working till late and been getting little sleep. At the same time, I over exerted myself. Even if I was stressed out, I played badminton, started working out at the gym again, and even swam some laps in the pool during that week. These definitely affected my immune system, thus resulting in shingles outbreak!

I might be feeling well and normal now. But I should never forget that I still have HIV in my body, and that my CD4 is still considered to be very low (at < 100 count, < 9%). I should be more careful now... and take extra precaution. I should know my limits as I don't want to compromise my health! Shingles can recur if my immune system goes down again. I don't want this to happen again. It's itchy, painful and yucky! 

On a good note, this virus gave me the much needed 2-week rest from work. Just sleep, eat, read, TV, and DVD. I hope this is enough to recover my immune system. 

P.S. An IDS also told me that Vitamin B complex helps protect PLHIV from shingles outbreak, as it keeps the nerves healthy. And that IDS also advised me that some Vit B+ brands out there don't have as much amount of Vitamin B. So, I better change my brand, and go for a higher dose, to help speed up also the post-pain (post herpetic neuralgia) this shingles is causing. This pain is already giving me some sleepless nights, and is also waking me up in the middle of the night. :( 

Good news, this IDS also told me that a vaccine for shingles will soon be available for PLHIV, most likely next year! Can't wait. I'm sure this vaccine is way cheaper than 1-2 weeks of intake of acyclovir or valacyclovir, and definitely worth than suffer the pain, discomfort and yuckiness of shingles. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hospital Again After 1 Year

Exactly 1 year after I was confined for meningitis, I'm back. Same hospital, same floor :( There were some improvements in the hospital though. Bigger room. My TV now is 32" LCD, a big improvement from the 14" CRT TV last year. Incidentally, like last year, I was watching again The Voice PH Blind Auditions in the hospital. This made me wanna sing: "Same bed but it feels just a little bit bigger now..." hehe.

After I consulted my IDS at SAGIP, my doctor wanted to admit me ASAP. Why? I've been taking Valacyclovir for 4 days already, yet she saw that there were still some new blisters coming out due to my shingles (herpes zoster). Since my CD4 is still below 100, she wanted to be sure, and didn't want the infection to spread to my internal organs (like brain, ears, eyes... yikes, that's scary). 

Okay, so I made the room reservation after my consultation with my IDS. Then, I went home to get my stuff, and went back to the hospital. On my way to the hospital, I was so sad and worried, that I wanted to cry; I remembered my hospital admission last year. Uncertain of what might come, yet looking forward to the day when I will be discharged. 

When I got to my room, it was the same Q&A from the resident doctor. What meds are you taking? Are you on ARV? When were you diagnosed? What were your OIs? Did you have sex with women/men? Are you heterosexual/homosexual? How many sexual partners did you have? When was your last sex? What types of sex did you do (in short, are you top/bottom, oral receiver/giver)? How did you get infected? Did you use drugs? Next time, I swear, I'll bring an FAQ sheet, so I don't have to answer them again and again... 

After the admission protocols, there goes my IV.
Then, the nurses came. One by one, they started to greet me. They were all very friendly. "Hi sir, I remember you! You were here last year, right?" Seems like they were happy to see my again (in a positive way). Also, all of them (even the nursing aide) said, you gained a lot of weight? Nicer built now! Good... I'm flattered! Perhaps, due to how serious my illness was last year, and how thin I was at that time (at 115 lbs), they were quite surprised to see me looking well and fit. It also seemed like they were surprised that I was only hospitalized again after 1 year (and perhaps to still see me alive), despite having an advanced AIDS illness last year. 

Anyway, those comments lifted my spirit. So happy to have recovered pretty well from that painful meningitis last year. And I'm also glad that this hospitalization, is a lot less serious than than. 

After 1 week, my shingles dried up with acyclovir antiviral IV. The bad news was, that acyclovir IV was so damn expensive! And Philhealth only covered 10% of my bill. 

Good thing that I recovered in 1 week as expected. My shingles started to dry up. It did not spread to my internal organs. After 1 week, I was discharged. Thanks to my doctors for managing me well, and making sure I don't get any complications. And thanks to the nurses who were very friendly when they saw me again, though I don't want to see you guys again (at least in the hospital). :)  Also, buti na lang I'm paying Philhealth as an Individually Paying member now, apart from the contribution of my employer. At least, I don't need to ask for an MDR and certificate of contribution from my employer. And for that, they will not know that I was admitted in a hospital again.  

Damn, I lost 3 lbs in the hospital. Well... this is my license to eat at Vikings next week. :)


Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Bottomline Interviews a PLHIV

Boy Abunda interviews a Person Living with HIV on The Bottomline. The guest talks about PLHIV stereotypes, misconceptions and how the virus changed his life.

Click on the links below to watch: 

The Bottomline (1 of 5) 
The Bottomline (2 of 5)
The Bottomline (3 of 5)
The Bottomline (4 of 5)

The Bottomline (5 of 5)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Touring Hospitals

A few days ago, my HIV doctor was not available. So, I went to a private HIV hub on Shaw, The Ship Foundation, for consultation. I mentioned my medical history to Dr. Kate of Ship. She said you've been through a lot pala no? Having gone through TB, pneumonia and meningitis. Then, it reminded me again (which I tend to forget), that yeah... those were pretty damn serious illnesses, which could have killed me. But thank God, I'm well now.. with undetectable viral load, though still with a low CD4. She also said that I'm lucky to have Dr. MMA as my doctor. I quote her "She's one the best!" Wow... thanks MMA. I didn't know that. But thank you, and to all your fellows. I could have died, had you not carefully managed my treatment last year. And, I agree, she's one of the best. No wonder, she is too busy with so many things... I guess research, teaching, mentoring new IDS, and of course helping PLHIV live :)  

Dr. Kate said, I can already go to the malls now. But she advised me to wear a mask when I watch a movie in a cinema, as I might get infected by the sneeze of a person seated at my back. She also said, I can already ride a plane for short-haul flights only, but again, I need to wear a mask. I can already work out in the gym, but I need to wipe the equipment with alcohol or wet wipes before using. I can already play badminton, but I should know my limits, and not to tire myself too much. No one wants a repeat of any of my past OI's.

Anyway, I had myself checked at The SHIP clinic because I felt like I had a lymph node in a site where I had my TB lymphadenitis last year. So, I decided to have it checked early, as I don't want to have a recurrence of TB... praning lang. I don't want to have a repeat of my minor surgery for TB adenitis. Apparently, Dr. Kate said the lymph nodes don't seem like TB, just a typical lymph node possibly caused by mouth sores. When I got home, I noticed new rashes on my neck, and 3 blisters clumping together. Hmmm... I suspected it could be shingles or herpes zoster. 40 hours later, I went to RITM ER as advised by my FB friends on TRR Group, since all hubs and private clinics were closed on that day. Damn, it really was shingles. And early initiation of an anti-viral drug is necessary for high efficacy. Good, I'm still within the prescribed 72 hour period to start the meds. Hope it doesn't spread as much, and won't leave any scar. 

As for RITM, I really like its environment. 
Quiet with huge open/green spaces. It's far from PGH, na nakakastress talaga sa dami ng tao at haba ng mga pila. RITM is so uncrowded, and relaxing. It has good doctors from UP-PGH rin. And best of all, I only paid 125 pesos for my ER consultation. If I did it in a private hospital's ER, that could have easily costed me 6,000 pesos. Mas mahal pa ang one-way toll fee ko going to RITM than its ER fees :) 

Para na pala akong nag-fi-field trip ng mga hospitals nito... I do my regular consultation at The Medical City. I get my ARVs at PGH.  I buy one of my meds at RITM (it's cheaper there). And I have my lab tests (CD4, Viral Load, CBC, etc.) done at The Ship Foundation. :) 

Ouch... feeling some discomfort for my shingles now. Will continue my post tomorrow.   

Sunday, June 8, 2014

No cinema for a year

Time flies! I can't believe it. It's been exactly a year since I last watched a movie in a cinema!

I remember watching my last movie last year in a cinema in Greenbelt. I was almost late for the screening. But I wasn't running then... because I was catching my breath for supposedly "asthma" which was later on diagnosed as pneumonia. Then, a few days after that last movie, I was confined in a hospital, one after another, for several serious illnesses. And, that's when I found out I'm HIV positive. Well, the good thing is, that scary part of my life is now a past. Yes, I still have HIV, even an AIDS case for that matter. But, I have recovered now. I survived the 3 serious OI's. Thank God! And now, I have already gained back the 25 pounds that I lost. I'm well now, and I look fit. Everybody now seems to be commenting that I have gained a lot weight already, even more than necessary.

Today, as I entered that uncrowded cinema of a newly opened mall with a bag of Taters popcorn, I felt so happy. As this signifies that I'm really back! Hmmm... that soft cushion, cold AC, THX sound, huge screen, and crisp clear picture, beside my partner. Yeah, this is the cinema experience that I terribly missed. And it's right here, right now!  

Virus... I defeated you! 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

HIV is not equal to AIDS

That's right, HIV is not equal to AIDS. Ironically, if there's one person who needs to read this... it's DOH's Asst. Secretary Tawag, who is advocating mandatory HIV testing, without even knowing what HIV and AIDS are!  See my past post on Sec Tayag's ignorance

What’s in a name?

In the comedy version of Robin Hood, Men in Tights, at the end of the movie, King Richard Lionheart is judging the evil Prince John. King Richard says to him, because of what you have done in Nottingham, from now on we will call a toilet THE JOHN. This light play on words is a good illustration of how certain names or words can evoke negative responses.
I’m not writing about toilets though. I’m writing about a three letter acronym which holds its own connotations: HIV.
When first a syndrome was identified around this new and unidentified “thing” that was decreasing people’s immunity, doctors had no idea what caused it. The first medical paper written spoke of six homosexual men in San Francisco who had developed this immune deficiency, so it was labeled GRID – Gay Related Immune Deficiency. It was however soon clear that it was not only gay men who were developing this syndrome, so it was renamed AIDS – Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Still, we did not know what caused AIDS. But one thing we were sure of was that AIDS=death.
The death language infiltrated everything: it was emphasized to promote fear and frighten people into prevention, it was security alerts about traveling to certain countries because they had AIDS. The rally cry was AIDS, and the first responses were a call from judgment to pity. “Feel sorry for these poor dying masses, try and ease their pain”.
In 1984, just months a few years after AIDS was named, the cause was found: it was a virus, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). But there was no treatment, and there was no cure. Whether you spoke about AIDS or HIV did not matter, because it was assumed that as soon as you got HIV you had started the downward spiral to AIDS and death. We came to talk about HIV/AIDS, because they were essentially two sides of the same coin. We referred to people who had this infection as PLHA – People with HIV/AIDS. In countries like America and Australia, many young men diagnosed with HIV cashed in life insurance policies, threw big parties, and in the middle of the party would be accompanied to a room by close friends and helped to commit suicide. Death was inevitable, why not chose to go in style rather than have your body wither away in pain and suffering trying in vain to fight of the inevitable.
This is however not the end of the story, since slow progress was being made in developing treatment. By 1987, AZT had been identified as stopping the progress of HIV, and by 1996 triple therapy was identified as a manageable treatment to inhibit HIV from further progressing in the body; an effective treatment had been found. Through the years, we have seen dramatic advances in treating HIV to the point that while we cannot cure HIV, AIDS is entirely curable or reversible.
We now live in the era were HIV does not need to equal AIDS, and does not need to cause death.
In a nutshell we live in a world were HIV can cause AIDS, but does not have to. AIDS can be cured, and people can live long, healthy and productive lives with HIV. Now people who have been infected with this virus, as long as it is diagnosed and treated, can expect to live their normal lifetime. And these people have themselves said: “We no longer want to be called PLHA, we are now people LIVING with HIV (PLHIV). We live, we contribute, we can make our own decisions.”
This history is given to call for a closer examination of the language we use when speaking about HIV. While where diagnosis does not happen or treatment is not available AIDS is still possible, we have all the knowledge to prevent this; effective and quick test kits, effective treatment, and good information and practice in relation to prevention. What we do not always have is the political will, the stigma free environment which allows people to freely test, or the supportive environment in which people can openly live with HIV without fear or discrimination. If we continue to speak about HIV/AIDS, we promote the concept that that are synonymous and out of control – to be feared. If we speak about HIV and PLHIV, we promote the understanding that this virus is identifiable, treatable and preventable. If we speak about “full blown AIDS”, I would ask: “Is there half blown AIDS? Does there need to be AIDS? Why have we not been able to help the person concerned with the necessary treatment?” Today there should and is no need to speak of AIDS at all anymore.
SO, realign your mind, watch your tongue, change your speech patterns and help reduce stigma by using affirming, inclusive, positive and, above all, correct terminology about HIV and those who live and work with it.
Rev. Fr. JP Mokgethi-Heath is an Anglican priest working for the Church of Sweden. He is openly and positively living with HIV.

Friday, May 9, 2014

I'm 140 lbs Now!

After my 3rd OI last year, I lost 22 lbs from my average weight of 137 lbs before the OI's. I have never been on the 110's lbs  range for such a long time. Last time I was this light was way back in high school. I couldn't believe that after several years, I'm back to this weight range. So, after discharge, I ate like a pig... well not really, just guinea pig. :)

While at home, recovering from OI's, I eat breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack. After snack, I exercise on the legs, as this optimizes muscle gain. Then, I eat dinner and night snack. Then, finally before sleeping, I drink Ensure. Ensure tastes like milk. And milk makes me feel like throwing up. But I wanted to gain weight badly, especially before I get back to work. So, I trained my self to drink Ensure. My tip: eat a tiny piece of chocoloate before Ensure, and you won't taste Ensure's milky flavor. :) 

Anyway, that was my daily eating routine. Luckily, I gained 1 lb per week. In 3 months' time, my weight gained from 115 to 128. Not bad! When I got back to work, I continued my eating routine, and even added a cup of oats (to lower my bad cholesterol). Like milk, oats is an acquired tastes. I can now tolerate its flavor, when before it made me so feel sick. Another tip: mix it with pork floss from Bee Cheng Hiang. 

Now, 10 months after my last hospitalization for OI, people are starting to notice that I have already regained my old weight. Yesterday, I weighed myself. I can't believe it. I'm now 140 lbs! And my BMI is normal. It's been ages since I weighed 140 lbs! My pants are now starting to be tight on the waist... unfortunately, as a a side effect of ARV - uneven distribution of weight. :( But at least, I don't look sick and malnourished anymore. I'm happy with my 140 lbs. But I should exercise more and reduce my waistline from now on. Maybe I can also stop eating midnight snack, and replace fastfood with healthier options. 

Totoo nga! ARV results in weight gain, actually even makes some people overweight. But more than that, I also read somewhere that weight gain after ARV is a good indicator of survival from AIDS. Hooray to that!!! 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Philippine Asst Health Secretary Does Not Know HIV

An hour ago, on "Aquino and Abunta Tonight"...

Boy Abunda: Is there a cure for HIV?
DOH Asst Secretary Tayag: There is no cure. But you can delay its progression to AIDS!

WTF! If the DOH secretary himself doesn't know what HIV medicines do, what more can we can expect from common people? Sec. Tayag, this is misinformation, and is not encouraging people to have the test. No wonder, we are one of the very few countries with rising HIV cases. 

Sec. Tayag, FYI, if you don't know (which I assume you don't), it is very important to diagnose HIV early on. Why? To regularly monitor your CD4 count and prevent it from going below 500 or 350 (in our country). Once the CD4 count of a person goes down to this level, he can start taking ARV. Once he is on ARV, the ARV can control HIV and even reduce it to undetectable level. The ARV will also increase the CD4 count of the person from the time he started taking ARV.  

HIV is considered an AIDS case when your CD4 goes down to <200, or you get HIV opportunistic infections (which normally infect PLHIV with CD4 below 200). Now, if you started your ARV at 500 or 350, it is very likely that your CD4 wouldn't even go below 200, and as such, you won't experience any HIV opportunistic infection at all. Thus, this stops (take note, stop not just delay) the HIV from progressing to AIDS!

This is my greatest regret. I refused to have an HIV test early on because I was so scared. I thought that since HIV doesn't have a cure, it will always lead to AIDS, and PLHIV eventually die of AIDS. I didn't know how ARV works. I didn't know these facts. Well, obviously, the health secretary doesn't know as well. What a shame! Inuubos kasi oras sa pagsasayaw eh!

Anyway, I hope this enlightens some people, and would encourage proactive testing for those at risk of HIV. Yes, there is no cure for HIV. But there is ARV that can control the virus, increase one's immune system (as measured by the CD4), and stop (not just merely delay) the progression of HIV to AIDS! Early diagnosis can definitely save lives! 

Get tested. It's free and anonymous in several testing centers nationwide. And ARV is free in several HIV Treatment Hubs

Sunday, April 27, 2014

I'm now Undetectable

After 9 months of ARV, my HIV Viral Load is now < 34 copies/ml. This means, the HIV viral load in the blood is undetectable, meaning it is too low to be detected by the current test. Hooray! My HIV is now under control and is no longer replicating, thanks to ARV. Unfortunately, this also means that my CD4 will rise in a slower pace. I'm just at 93 now, with a CD4% of about 8%. Anyway, I feel well now and don't have OI's. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Part 2 - Would You Rather Have Cancer or HIV?

Two months ago, I posted a blog Would You Rather Have Cancer or HIV? And my answer was I'd rather have HIV. I still have the same answer now. 

Meet Brent. This guy is in his early 30's. Doing well at work, and earning a decent salary, in fact more than what an average guy his age does. He's managing a number of employees, giving directions and leading them to achieve their unit goal. He works out at the gym 3 times a week. He's got a fit body, and looks so damn healthy and buff. He leisurely travels a lot, sometimes by himself, and sometimes with his friends or family. Every summer, he goes to the beach to enjoy the sea. He also parties in clubs, though he only drinks at most one bottle of beer. Ironically, every month, he goes to a medical clinic for checkup, and to get a bunch of medicines. He needs these to keep his viral load down. Yes, that's right. He needs lifelong ARVs to keep his HIV viral load in control. He has been positive for 5 years. Five years back, when he was diagnosed as positive, he was classified as a clinical stage 3 (the most advanced stage of HIV), with serious OI's like pneumonia and meningitis. It was such a battle, fighting those serious OI's. He had shortness of breath, literally grasping for air.  Had high fever and nausea. He vomited. Had bitter tastes on any food. Had severe headache, and allergies over his body. He lost a lot of weight. He stopped working for 8 months to completely recover. Fortunately, 5 years later, he has completely gotten his life back. He looks just as normal as any healthy guy his age does - very far from how common people imagine how PLHIV look like (malnourished, severe skin lesions, bed ridden). Yes, he has completely overcome his OI's,  and has regained his CD4 count back to normal level. He still has the HIV virus within him, but it is definitely under control, with a viral load that is undetectable. 

Meet another guy, James. This guy was sick. One time, he passed out while walking. Because of this, he underwent a radiation treatment as advised by his physician. He lost his appetite, and stopped eating a lot. He had nausea and vomited, and was just staying home. He had shortness of breath when walking even just a few steps. His breathing got worse and worse, until he was rushed to the ER. He was given oxygen for breathing. He improved slightly. But as days passed, his oxygen requirement kept on increasing, until the doctor inserted a tube attached to a respirator in his mouth. His labs showed that he had severe pneumonia infection, and there was already water in his lungs. His cancer cells have spread uncontrollably to his lungs. While in the hospital, he was being treated for his pneumonia. Right, pneumonia can be treated. But the problem was, when pneumonia is resolved, the cancer tumors will remain in his lungs. And those cells may continue spreading not just to his lungs, but to other organs as well.  We all know that there still is no cure for cancer at an advanced stage. So, it was like a battle with no foreseen victory in the end. A tunnel with no light at the end, not even a small light bulb, nor a tiny candle light. What the doctors were doing was just to treat the infection, but not the cancer that is causing of infection.  It was a stop gap solution... and was merely prolonging for a few weeks his already limited life. As expected, since it was an advanced CA case, he got worse each day. Water and air continued to build up in his lungs, that further burdened his breathing. Infection progressed further. He was no longer moving his body and arms as much. Each day, his breathing got worse, even with a respirator. It was an agonal breathing. He felt some pain, here and there. Until, he fell into a coma. His blood pressure decreased slowly as days passed, until no pulse can be heard. It zeroed, then he passed away. After more than one month of struggle in fighting his pneumonia, he passed away.  

Two different cases. Both are immuno-compromised. One had hope, the other had none. I know a lot of PLHIV who are like Brent. They completely got their lives back, and are now back in their ball games. I myself is a person living with HIV. I'm still in the process of recovering my immune system, but I'm on the right track. One day, I'm sure I will be like Brent. 

Certainty, to me, between the two guys, I'd rather be Brent than James. So, I should be grateful and should be rejoicing for I have is Brent's case, and not James'. And I am almost certain I'm gonna be like Brent in just a few months or years. But, I'm not rejoicing now! Why? Though I'm not James, James happens to be someone I know. He happens to be my mom. 

It's hard enough to be sick with HIV. But it's even harder to be sick with HIV while your mom is sick with cancer. We are both immuno-compromised. We can't be near each other, as we got sick at the same time. I could get her infection, and she could get mine. She can't visit me when I was in the hospital. Likewise, I couldn't visit her as much when she was confined. It's sad to see your mom suffer, slowly get weak, and eventually lose her due to cancer. And it's even hard to mourn, since I need to control my emotions. I can't be too sad for this could cause my CD4 to plunge. It was a difficult scenario, the most difficult in my life.  

But, knowing how my mom lived her life - with all her good deeds, with all her positive influence to other people, I'm sure she is now at peace with the Lord in His kingdom. Imagining that she is now, having eternal peace and joy, singing and praising with the angels in heaven, and comparing it side by side with the time she was grasping for air and in pain in her hospital bed, I'm now at peace! For she is now in a far better place than where she was - a place where there is no misery, no worry, no pain, nor discomfort. A place filled with love, joy and eternal happiness. It's not true that there's just darkness at the end of her tunnel. With the place where she is now, I'd say the end of her tunnel was not a tiny light from a candle stick, nor a small incandescent bulb, but a light so bright that is unimaginable to us humans.  This gives me relief and peace. This give me comfort, gladness and joy. 

Now knowing that my mom is in a place far better than ours, I'll keep fighting my own battle. I will keep my immune system up. And I promise to be Brent in no time. I will definitely be victorious! 

Have a blessed holy week!

John 14:1-4
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Revelations 21: 18-21
"The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

It's Sadder To Have a Loved One in a Hospital

Yesterday, due to a medical emergency, a family member was rushed to the ER. When I was on my way to the hospital, last year's events, particularly my hospitalization, flashed back. I remember the time when I was being brought to the hospital for my pneumonia. During those times, though my condition was serious enough, I was not as worried, as bothered and as sad as I am now.

Now, it is a different case. It's not me who's in the hospital. It's a loved one. My mom. Then, came a realization. It is truly sadder and more worrisome to have a loved one in the hospital, than to have yourself confined. My OI's then flashed back to me, pneumonia and meningitis. On hind sight, damn, they were pretty serious, especially my CD4 then almost reached a single digit. Now, I just can imagine how my family, partner and friends were feeling while I was in the hospital.

So, I realize, I need to get well and overcome AIDS fast, not just for me, but more importantly for the people who love and care for me. I owe my complete recovery not just to myself, but to them as well. 

For the meantime, I pray for my mom's recovery. At the same time, I need to control my emotions, as I don't want my CD4 to plunge. 

Note: Written weeks ago.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Calculus is Not for Grade School

Calculus is taught in college, while basic arithmetic is taught in grade school. Never ever attempt to teach calculus to a grade 1 pupil. It just never works! People have different levels of comprehension and capacities to understand. It's a reality of life. Accept it. 

Choose your battle. Not all are worth fighting for, and certainly not all are worth a count of your CD4. 

Meanwhile, here is Boo, the world's cutest dog. This dog never fails to make me smile :) 

Friday, April 11, 2014

My Low CD4: TheBody's Opinion

In my last blog, I emailed my latest CD4 result, which to me was still very low. I felt sad about the slow increase in my CD4, to be honest, and starting to be disheartened. So, I asked TheBody's doctors regarding their opinions. Here's their response.

Low CD4
Apr 9, 2014

My baseline CD4 in June 2013 before I started ARV was 14. After 10 months of ARV, it's now 93. I have no Viral Load results yet. I will get my first VL result in 2 weeks. Here's my trend:

Date - CD4 Count - CD4% - Lymphocyte Count - WBC: June, 2013 - 14 CD4 - 1.77% - 774 - no WBC data; Sept, 2013 - 90 CD4 - no data - no data - no data; Dec, 2013 - 77 CD4 - 4.98% - 1548 - 5.14; Apr, 2014 - 93 CD4 - 8.32% - 1116 - 4.2;

My latest CD4 is only slightly higher, though my CD4% almost doubled, but lympocyte and WBC are lower. 

Could it be because I had colds 2 weeks before the test, and if I had no colds, my CD4 could have been higher?

After reading your past responses, I would expect that my VL is now undetectable (having been on ARV for 10 months). Now, I'm worried that with an undetectable VL, my CD4 would then rise even slower? If so, do you think it's likely that that I could reach 200 within 2014?

Also, my doctor advised me to refrain from going to public places until my CD4 rebounds to 200. If it can't be avoided, he advised me to wear a mask in public place. Is it really that high risk for people with CD4 of 93 to occasionally go out in public places like restaurants, fitness gym, or uncrowded cinemas, or even fly in a plane?
Response from Dr. Young
Hello and thank you for posting.

Your CD4 count results are excellent ones an indicate your initial immune system recovery from very advanced illness. The CD4 percentage rise is often the most reliable marker of change and the increase from 1.8% to 8.3% is entirely consistent with a strong virologic response. Having a respiratory tract infection can indeed influence CD4 counts, especially the absolute count. For this reason, I generally don't recommend having the test done within a couple of weeks of any acute illness-- you do fall right on the edge of this timeline.

CD4 counts typically increase about 150-250 cells in the first year of treatment- sometimes less for people who start treatment with low counts like you.

Why hasn't a viral load test been done? Do you live outside of North America or Western Europe? Many places outside of high-income countries do not yet have viral load tests, though they have been recently recommended for monitoring by the World Health Organization for all countries.

As for going into public places, I don't share your doctor's concerns. If you're on treatment, have an increasing CD4 count (and presumably undetectable viral load), your risk is not significantly elevated. Just wash your hands from time to time with soap and water- this will decrease the risk of common colds and the like.

Be well, BY

Dr. Young's response was very encouraging. It put me in high spirit again :) My immune recovery is excellent, and I should be happy about it. Regarding going to public places, yes, I agree that perhaps the environments in first world countries are different from the Philippines, and this could be the reason why my HIV doctor didn't want me to go as much to public places without a mask.  But in any case, I don't plan to go to crowded malls, like Megamall and Trinoma just to stroll. I'm fine with occasionally going to uncrowded new malls like Century City, Aura, Jazz Mall, or even to popular malls as long as it's very early or very late to avoid crowd. And I always bring alcohol in my pocket anyway. I'll wait for my VL result. Hoping for an undetectable level. 

Again, sometimes, I tend to forget that I had a very advanced AIDS illness upon diagnosis. A mere recovery from all my major and serious AIDS OI's is miracle enough... a battle against death. And the improvement that I had so far from a CD4% of only 1.8% to 8.3% is something that can be considered already as remarkable! So, this should be enough encouragement for me!