Thursday, January 30, 2014

How I Got the Virus?

I knew exactly what HIV was. How it’s transmitted, and how to avoid it. I read a lot of articles about it. So, I have been extra careful when having sex. But, how did I get infected? I swear… I don’t know!

My first HIV test was in 2006. It was non-reactive. Back then, HIV result comes out in 2 weeks. Imagine waiting for 2 weeks for the result. Torture! Para kang natatae na ewan. And for that alone, I vowed to even be more careful, so I won’t have to ever be fearful of the test again. And I complied. No unprotected penetrative sex. Very minimal “performing” oral sex, if none at all.

After 1 year, I got a scholarship for a masters degree in Japan. I was still undecided if I’m gonna take it. But while deciding, I started taking medical exams already, including HIV. Though I have been safe, I was fucking nervous! And the result was… drum roll... non-reactive! Hooray!

It felt so good! I had total peace of mind. From then on, I continued with my sex “motto”. No unprotected penetrative sex, period. Non-negotiable! And oral sex, where I’m the giver? Very minimal. Only in super rare cases. Why? Eh nakakangalay naman talaga. Hehe. And, I believe that there are always “micro open sores” in your mouth especially after brushing, even if you don’t have any visible mouth ulcers (singaw). I even remember one time, a very good looking well-built latino (a flamenco dancer) that I met in a bar wanted a head. I refused, for fear of HIV. So, nothing happened. Damn, opportunity loss!

Kissing... well yeah, I normally kiss. But that's because I can still remember Juan Flavier (DOH secretary) talking on TV back in the 90's saying that even if you drink a gallon of saliva from a PLHIV, you wouldn’t get infected.

So, how did I get it? My theory, maybe through kissing when I had mouth sores, especially in a “session” with more than 2 persons. You see, if a person blows someone, the semen could stay in the blower's mouth. If the blower kisses me and I had a singaw, that could be an entrance for the semen. I don't have any scientific basis for this. But that's my only logical theory on how I got it.

So, in 2013, when I found out I’m positive, I was so fucking surprised! All these years, I’ve been extra careful, yet I got infected? So unfortunate! My friends even know me as a promoter of safe sex.

Anyway, when my test turned out reactive, acceptance came easy. I’m not mad at the person who infected me. Well, in the first place, I don’t know who infected me. Sex is consensual, and protecting yourself if your business, not your partner’s. Unless if it’s rape! 

I have been safe, yet I got the virus. I have been doing less riskier sex for years. Unfortunately, low risk is not zero risk. In life, it’s about weighing the risk we take, and facing the consequences of the decisions we make. Truly, there is only one zero risk for HIV. Remain virgin for life! Is it worth it? You decide.  

ASAP Covers - Lorde's Royals

My new favorite singer, Paolo Onesa with other ASAP singers, doing a cover of Lorde's Royals. I bet, Paolo will be a big hit soon :)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Catching Up with Friends

I miss some of my good PLU friends. I haven't seen them for more than 6 months now. Well, that's because I have been avoiding them since I got sick. They don't know I'm positive (well, yeah, this is what HIV stigma does). 

Since I no longer look sick (I already gained 18 lbs since I got out of the hospital, no more acne vulgaris on my face, and I'm not as unusually tanned as when I started my ARV), I decided to finally meet Simon, Angelo, and Dave yesterday. 

It was my treat, so the resto was my choice. As expected, I picked an uncrowded resto in Mandaluyong. It was a fun night. I'm back to my old alaskador self, making funny hirits and laughing out loud while having dinner. 

Another thing, I'm glad that no one asked why my skin got darker. I guess it's a good sign that I'm not as dark anymore. I'm nearing my normal skin color. However, one of them commented that I lost weight. That's understandable, I'm still about 5 lbs short from my pre-sickness weight. 

Unfortunately, I still did not tell them that I'm positive. I'm just not sure if they are capable of keeping secrets, especially when they're drunk. As part of our normal conversation, out of the blue, Simon mentioned that he knew some guys who had pneumonia and died. Angelo then commented that it could most likely be HIV! I didn't say a word, and changed the topic. They don't know that I also got hospitalized due to pneumonia last year. 

At the strike of 9pm, I went to the wash area, and discreetly took my dose of lamivudine without water.  Of course, no more beer after dinner. I guess, I have to get used to this norm now. 

Overall, it was fun meeting them. And I'm glad I don't look sick anymore. Looking forward to my next dinner with this bunch of guys again, hopefully soon when my CD4 shoots up beyond 200. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Herb Garden

After I was discharged from the hospital for pneumonia, I came across the idea of having a fresh herb garden in the balcony. Imagine the convenience of getting fresh herbs for cooking right from your own balcony! Plus, this saves you money. If you need just a few chops of basil, no need to buy an entire pack from the grocery.  But my problem is, sometimes I don't stay in my place for a few nights. Who's going to water my plants? Then, I saw this ingenious idea: self-watering container.  Through the wicker, the plant just extracts water from the "reservoir" if it is thirsty. Clever!

The good thing is, it can be a DIY project. All you need is a 2-liter softdrinks bottle. Here's how it's done.

I already started collecting 2L bottles. And I already knew where I will be buying my initial set of herbs (Manila Seedling Bank in QC) to start my herb garden. Unfortunately, a few days after, I got sick with crypto meningitis, and was admitted in the hospital for a month. Then, my doctor told me that the crypto fungus may be obtained from inhaling bird feces as well as from contaminated soil! Yes... from contaminated soil! So, after I was cured from meningitis, I decided not to push through with my herb garden project to reduce my risk of crypto. Maybe I can resume my herb garden project when my CD4 becomes 350 :)

For the meantime, to preserve herbs for 10 months, I discovered another method: blanch the herbs, freeze them in ice cube trays, then transfer them to a ziplock bag. Note that blanching is important especially for PLHIV as this process kills the bacteria. Blanching is quickly putting the herbs in a boiling water for 2-3 minutes then immediately transferring it to an iced cold bath to stop the cooking process. This can also be done for other food as well like calamansi juice, potatoes, carrots, cayenne pepper, bell pepper, spinach, broccoli, garlic, parsley, cilantro, mint, basil, mangos, cream, and fresh milk, etc. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Early Signs of HIV

A year or two before I found out I'm positive, a thought came into me. Could I possibly be HIV positive? This came as I have noticed several early signs that I chose to ignore: 

  • Two years ago, I noticed night sweat. But I managed to convince myself that it was just because it's May, and that summer was extra-ordinarily hot! 
  • Since 2-3 years ago, I noticed a sudden increase of my mouth sores (singaw). The sores were appearing everywhere, one after another. Once one heals, a new one appears. They were not just in the typical "mouth sore prone areas" of the mouth. They appear everywhere. In unexpected areas. Gums, cheeks, throat, under the tongue, etc. And dude, they were big and painful, and took several weeks to heal! Again, I convinced myself that it's not necessary an HIV sign. I'm really prone to singaw even before I became sexually active (though mas dumami 2 years ago). Literally, for one year, I never had a single day when I had no singaw. Ouch!! 
  • Two years ago, I got gonnorhea. It was easily treated by antibiotics prescribed by my urologist. One year after, I had another incident of gonnorhea. Well, I already knew that a pozzie can get STD easier than a non-pozzie. I was even advised to by my urologist to take an HIV test. But I refused! 
  • Then, I had an extra-pulmonary TB (ePTB). I read that it's common practice for doctors to advise patients with this type of TB to have an HIV test, because people with normal immune system don't normally get this infection. 
  • Last year, my friends started to notice that I was losing weight. Again, I convinced myself that it was due to my ePTB, and not HIV.

I knew then that these were some of the early signs of HIV. But I refused to have the test. Why? Like most pinoys, my reasons are: (1) Fear (2) If i'm positive, there's no cure anyway.  But I learned my lesson the hard way.

There are certainly 1,001 reasons to be tested early especially if you are at risk. It it could be a matter of life and death. As for myself, I only had my test when my immune system was already very low and I was already getting several potentially fatal opportunistic infections (TB, pneumonia, meningitis) while I was confined in the hospital. These infections were rather serious and could have costed me my life, aside from being too costly on the pocket. Even if I had an HMO, the HMO didn't cover my hospitalization expense since HIV is an exclusion. So double whammy, I went to an expensive private hospital thinking I'm covered by my HMO, and found out later the cost is on me!

If I had my test done early, I could have avoided getting TB, pneumonia and meningitis. How? Through ARV (Anti-retroviral Treatment, which is given for free). Once the CD4 count of a PLHIV reaches below 350, ARV can be started to control HIV, and allow CD4 to recover and increase . Also, if one's CD4 count is already low upon testing, prophylaxis (or preventive medicines) can be taken to avoid getting OI's. If I had only done the test early...
  • I could have avoided the incision and drainage surgery that removed the lymph nodes caused by my TB. 
  • I could have avoided getting pneumonia and meningitis. 
  • I could have avoided being hospitalized for more than 1 month. 
  • I could have avoided spending several hundred thousands for hospital expenses, medicines and unearned salary due to my long medical leave.  Imagine, I could have used this money to travel to Europe and South America! 
  • I could have avoided not going to public places for several months while my CD4 is below 200. I could not have stopped my "normal" lifestyle (cinema, malls, gym, sports, going out with friends).
  • I could have spared my kidney and liver from the toxic and expensive medicines I took to cure TB, pneumonia and meningitis. 
  • It could have taken a shorter time for my ARVs to increase my CD4 (the lower the CD4 count, the longer it takes to increase it.)

I know a lot about HIV before I was diagnosed especially on the prevention aspect, but I didn't know about CD4, ARV and prophylaxis. I wish I knew them. I made a big mistake of not getting tested before OI's started to attack. And it's something I really regret. But, that's already past. I just hope that at least others learn something from my mistake. 

So if you suspect you are HIV positive, have yourself tested NOW! There's no need to fear. HIV is not a death sentence. Late diagnosis is!  

Here are some of the HIV testing centers in the country (See this link). And most centers do it for free! 

My Home Workout Program

Before I got sick, I used to work out at the gym 3x a week. Well, I'm not really muscular to begin with, just the lean type. But, I noticed that I lost some muscle mass starting late last year. I've read a post from Pozziepinoy's blog, where he wrote about muscle wasting or losing some muscle mass (especially on legs and arms) and the tendency to increase the waistline. Also, ARV's can cause increased cholesterol level. So, it's so damn important to start working out even before these conditions kick in, for health and aesthetic reasons. 

Since I still avoid public places like Fitness First, I just work out at home for the meantime. I do push-ups and dumbbell exercises. I also bought a yoga mat at Toby's for Php 400, so I could do sit-ups. Well, it seems like my home workout program is effective. Last month, when I met a close friend for the first time after I got sick (that's after 8 months), he said, "It's good you were able to maintain your built!" Good to know I'm getting back to how I used to be, like my weight. I already gained 18 lbs since I got discharged from the hospital. 3-7 lbs more, I'll be on my ideal weight again.  :)

Anyway, here's my program: 

Set A
1. Push-ups (4 sets of 25 reps, or more). Well, I tried following, but it's just too damn difficult to finish week 6. 
2. Flat Chest Press  
3. Bicep Curl / Hammer Curl
4. Overhead Triceps Extension
5. Sit-ups / 60-second Planking 

Set B 
1. Dumbbell Squat
2. Dumbbell Lunges
3. Calf Raise
4. Shoulder Press
5. Sit-ups / Plank Bird Dog

I alternate between Sets A and B on different days. Animated illustrations are available hereAnd my program can be completed in 45-60 minutes. Of course, stretching before and after working out is necessary to avoid injury. And, to address mass gain plateau, I need to change my program every 1-2 months, or increase the intensity by increasing the sets, reps or dumbbell weight.

I also plan to buy the equipment shown above, so I can do chin-ups and pull-ups again. The gym instructor at my former gym used to say that pull-up is good for biceps and abs. On, I saw that this equipment costs only Php 400. And it can readily be attached to any door. Genius invention! Can't wait to get this item.   

Saturday, January 4, 2014


It's Three Kings Day! This officially marks the end of the Christmas season in the country. Well, Christmas has been different for me this year. Due to my low CD4, I cannot go to crowded places. So, I avoided Christmas parties and get-togethers. I invented excuses when my colleagues invited me for a night and drink out. I didn't buy gifts for my family. I didn't go to crowded shopping malls to buy gifts for my inaanaks. I didn't go to Christmas tiange/bazzaar. I intentionally ignored the birthday and wedding invitations of some friends. Ka-ka-miss. And, I miss my PLU friends, whom I have not seen and have been hiding from since I was diagnosed with HIV. They don't know I'm positive. 

Anyway, since it's a mortal sin not to give gifts to inaanaks, I went Toy Kingdom at Podium at 9pm last month, to buy toys. I went to Glorietta very early in the morning, and just before its closing time to buy stuff. And thanks to the newly opened Jazz Mall on N. Garcia St. in Makati. No crowd at all, even on Christmas and New Year's eves. I was there almost everyday during the holiday season.  Somehow, it made me feel like I was in a mall :)

These adjustments started even before the Christmas season. I have not been going out to malls, restaurants, and other public places, except on a few occasions. I didn't renew my gym membership at Fitness First. I just do dumbbell work out at home. At work, I asked for a change in assignment. In my previous assignment, I needed to go out and meet with clients, attend a few conferences, and on a few occasions travel abroad. Client meeting means crowded elevators at client's office and handshakes with potentially virus-carrying clients. Conference means exposing myself to at least 50 people who may be carriers of flu/cold/cough viruses.  Travel means crowded airports and being confined in a plane with potentially virus-carrying passengers. So, I decided for a reassignment. In case client meeting is unavoidable, I just bring a Green Cross alcohol spray in my pocket. After a handshake, I discreetly insert my hands in my pocket and press the spray to disinfect. :)

Well, so far I have been successful in avoiding getting air-borne diseases. Since I went back to work, I only had 1 bout of viral flu. After that, I have never contracted the cough and colds of my colleagues who were seated around me! I didn't catch any virus during the unavoidable team Christmas dinner in a crowded Gerry's Grill restaurant. Lucky me! Or this could be signs that my immune system, though they are low, are working overtime to protect me. :) And hopefully, these could be signs that my CD4 is rebounding. Let's pray for that. 

Speaking of CD4, I'll have this test again in 2 months. I already have a plan for my next test. Instead of taking a leave to have the test done at PGH on a Tuesday morning, I plan to instead do it at The SHIP Foundation. Thanks to to The Red Ribbon FB group, I discovered this private HIV hub on Shaw Blvd. in Mandaluyong. They will just charge an additional 200 pesos as handling fee to transport the blood specimen from their clinic to PGH where it will be read. If you need info on The SHIP Foundation, drop me a message. 

AIDS researchers say they're getting closer to cure, despite recent setback

The news that the two Boston patients thought to be cured of HIV have seen the virus return was a blow to scientists, but researchers remain optimistic that a cure for AIDS is on the horizon.

 ampoule in hand

Scientists now believe surpressing the HIV/AIDS virus while bolstering
the immune system is the best approach towards a potential cure.

Scientists seeking a cure for AIDS say they have been inspired, not crushed, by a major setback in which two HIV positive patients believed to have been cured found the virus re-invading their bodies once more.
True, the news hit hard last month that the so-called "Boston patients" - two men who received bone marrow transplants that appeared to rid them completely of the AIDS-causing virus - had relapsed and gone back onto antiretroviral treatment.
But experts say the disappointment could lay the basis for important leaps forward in the search for a cure.
"It's a setback for the patients, of course, but an advance for the field because the field has now gained a lot more knowledge," said Steven Deeks, a professor and HIV expert at the University of California, San Francisco.
He and other experts say the primary practical message is that current tests designed to detect even very low levels of HIV present in the body are simply not sensitive enough.
As well as having the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the Boston patients both also had a type of blood cancer called lymphoma, for which they were treated using bone marrow transplants - one man in 2008 and the other in 2010.
They continued taking the antiretroviral AIDS drugs, but eight months after each patient's transplant, doctors found they could not detect any sign of HIV in their blood.
In the early part of 2013, both patients decided to stop taking their AIDS drugs and both appeared to remain HIV-free - prompting their doctors, Timothy Henrich and Daniel Kuritzkes from Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, to announce at a conference in July that they may have been cured.
Yet in December came news that one of the men had begun to show signs of an HIV rebound by August, while the second patient had a relapse in November.
Henrich said the virus' comeback underlined how ingenious HIV can be in finding hiding places in the body to evade attack efforts by the immune system and by drug treatment.
"Through this research we have discovered the HIV reservoir is deeper and more persistent than previously known and that our current standards of probing for HIV may not be sufficient," he said, adding that both patients were "currently in good health" and back on antiretroviral therapy.
Timothy Henrich of the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston announced in December that two of his research team's patients thought to be cured of HIV had seen the virus return. Both patients are 'currently in good health' and back on antiretroviral drugs, he recently said.

Timothy Henrich of the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston announced in December that two of his research team's patients thought to be cured of HIV had seen the virus return. Both patients are 'currently in good health' and back on antiretroviral drugs, he recently said.

Barely a decade ago, few HIV scientists would have dared put the words HIV and cure in the same sentence. Yet some intriguing and inspiring cases in recent years mean many now believe it is just a question of time before a cure is found.
First was the now famous case of Timothy Ray Brown, the so-called "Berlin patient," whose HIV was eradicated by a complex treatment for leukemia in 2007 involving the destruction of his immune system and a stem cell transplant from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that resists HIV infection.
Such an elaborate, expensive and life-threatening procedure could never be used as a broad-spectrum approach for the world's 34 million HIV patients. But the results in Brown focused scientific attention on a genetic mutation known as 'CCR5 delta 32' as a target for possible gene therapy treatment.
Then last March, French scientists who followed 14 HIV-positive people known as the "Visconti patients", who were treated very swiftly with HIV drugs but then stopped treatment, said that even after seven years off therapy, they were still showing no signs of the virus rebounding.
That announcement came only weeks after news of the "functional cure" of an HIV-positive baby in Mississippi who received antiretroviral treatment for 18 months from the day she was born. By the time she was two this appeared to have stopped the virus replicating and spreading.
A "functional cure" is when HIV is reduced to such low levels that it is kept at bay even without treatment, though the virus can still be detected in the body.
Sharon Lewin, an HIV expert at Monash University in Australia, said all these developments, as well as the setback suffered by the Boston patients, inspired scientists to investigate many different approaches in the search for a cure.
"We've learnt many things here - and one of the most important is that a tiny, tiny amount of virus can get the whole thing going again," she told Reuters. "It's a clear message that we need better ways to pick up the virus."
Scientists are now more convinced than ever that a two-pronged approach which aims to firmly suppress the virus while bolstering the immune system provides the best way forward.
"We need to attack in two ways - reduce the virus to very low levels and also to boost the immune response. We can't do one without the other," said Lewin.
"So we still have to think of other creative ways to control HIV. And it's still early days... before we can say which approach is likely to be the winner."

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Friday, January 3, 2014

2013 is My Worst Year

Could superstition be true? That 13 is a such an unlucky number? Well, last year was 2013. And, it has been my worst year... ever! Why? Simply because it's my record-breaking year:
  1. Before 2013, the longest time I have been admitted in a hospital was 5 days. In 2013, I was admitted for 5 days during my first admission. The bad news is, that 5 days was my shortest hospital stay that year. Shortly after, it was followed by a 2-week admission, then a 1-month admission. My hospital stay record has been broken one after another. 
  2. In 2013, I've had my longest idle time since I started schooling back at preparatory school, staying at the hospital/home for almost 6 months without school nor work.
  3. In 2013, I took tons of medicines, with a record of 17-20 tablets, all taken in one day. Before 2013, if I remember right, the most I've taken was just 4-5 tablets in single day.
  4. In 2013, I've had 3 serious OI's. I've never had any serious illness before. 
  5. 2013 was the year where I've spent most on hospitalization and medicines. 
  6. And my banner story for 2013: I discovered I have HIV. Worse, it's an AIDS case. Even worse, my CD4 was too low at 15.
But, I'm not ranting. Just reflecting. I'm actually now interpreting the points above in a positive light: 
  1. I'm blessed to have a ready fund to cover my hospital and medical expenses for my record length of hospital stay. I'm even grateful that some loved ones even contributed to my medical fund, even if I didn't ask, and even if I actually tried to hide my hospitalization.
  2. The long idle months has allowed me to have a well-needed break from my stressful and busy corporate life. It allowed me to "slightly" improve my cooking skills, as well as "very slightly" improve my singing skills. Yes, I'm such a frustrated singer. How I wish I could proudly sing during Videoke nights. :P
  3. I feel so blessed I was able to get the expensive medicines. 
  4. I'm blessed to have survived not just one, but three serious illnesses! Hallelujiah! Imagine, some PLHIV died with just one of the three OI's I've contracted. 
  5. Same as No. 1. Plus, I'm also thankful that in case I ran out of funds, I know I can count on some friends who are more than willing to share. I have such generous and caring friends and partner.  
  6. I'm grateful that though my case was an AIDS case, I'm alive, kicking and now blogging. I'm grateful that I contracted HIV/AIDS in the era of ARV, not in the era of Dolsura Cortez and that Tom Hanks character in the movie Philadelphia back in the 80's and 90's. I'm also glad that I responded well to ARV, allowing my CD4 to jump several folds in just 3 months!  And, I also feel so lucky to not have adverse side effects whenever I take my ARV, and prophylaxis such as cotrimoxazole and azithromycin, among others. 
Such a cliche as it may be, but things really do happen for a reason. What could be mine?
  • I've learned to see things in a slightly different angle, seeing the positive aspect in a bad situation. 
  • I've learned to assess the golds and rubbish in my life, and minimizing (yes, not yet totally eliminating) the rubbish out. But I must say, taking out just a little ounce of rubbish already does amazing wonders! 
  • I've learned to live a healthier life (no alcohol; more sleep; ooops, sorry I still eat delicious fatty food).
  • I've learned to appreciate what I have. Once I fully recover, I will try to be somehow involved in some activities to help others. I've long wanted to do this, but I never did. I should when my CD4 rebounds to a safe level. 
  • I've learned to appreciate my innately positive attitude. My acceptance on my condition was unexpectedly quick and easy. Just a 1-day crying stage. Of course, if I had a choice, I wouldn't choose to be a pozzie! But hey, the virus is here. So, there's no point in regretting on what could have (or have not) been done. Move on, and focus on concrete do's and dont's to increase CD4 and be "normal" again. 
  • I've learned to appreciate what I have. In fact, if I don't get a salary raise this year, I would honestly not feel despair at all (hope my boss wound't read this), as I realized now that money is not everything (though yeah, it is still important). 
  • More appreciation of life in general. I don't know if it's a good or a bad thing, but I cry more now when watching MMK, movies, and even Wish Ko Lang.  
  • And most of all... since I'm not straight and not out to my family, my HIV status has stopped my parents from saying: when are you getting married? when are we having our grand children? I'd like to set you up with the daughter of my friend. Sounds so shallow huh? But these questions have really brought me so much anxiety over the past 5 years. I won't have any of these anymore... at least not until an HIV cure is found. If an HIV cure is found, rejoice! That's even a better news!  

So, is 13 an unlucky number? No, it's just a coincidence. The record-breaking incidents are just instruments to make me appreciate what I have, to make me feel so blessed, and to make me a stronger and better person (I hope)! Yes, 2013 has been my worst year ever. But I also believe that 2013 is and will be the worst and lowest year of my life. The good news is, if you're at the lowest point, there's no other way but up! No more records to be broken. I believe 2014 will, by far be a hundred steps higher than 2013. Cheers to a better and healthier 2014!