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.