MY EASTER egg was delivered on a Good Friday and cracked open with good news about a friend’s health. Sam’s viral load has recently lowered to 47 copies/milliliter. For most HIV tests used today, fewer than 50 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood may reach an undetectable viral load.
"Sam" was diagnosed with HIV in 2017 but he suspects he got it around 2014-2015 from what else -- unprotected sex with multiple partners. Blame it on pride because Sam says that condoms weren’t his thing as it lessened the pleasure. He knew the risks but thought that sleeping with "educated and well-heeled" partners would intimidate HIV. Wrong. Around those years, Sam had recurring respiratory infections, lost weight and got weaker. He suspected HIV but his brilliant mind stood on the precipice with Stupid.
In 2017, he woke up and found it really difficult to breathe. A doctor suspected HIV and set up an impromptu appointment with another specialist. When Sam didn’t show up, the doctor did a several personal follow-ups until Sam yielded because he also felt weaker. After a corporate meeting, Sam packed his bag and walked to the hospital yet stopped after 6 to 8 steps to catch his breath. He attributed it to the weight of his bag but it only contained 3 shirts, 3 pairs of underwear, 2 gym shorts, a toothbrush, deodorant and mobile phone with charger. The moment he reached the hospital, he was fitted with an oxygen mask because his oxygen level has dipped to 50%. Around four specialists would visit Sam round the clock. When the medicines finally worked their way but weakened him, that was when finally Sam called and said: I have HIV.
From then on, Sam has been on punctilious with his ART (antiretroviral therapy) and medical check-ups. Scientific studies show that a consistent and regular ART decreases viral load. A low viral load means that the virus is not replicating itself though one has to continue with ART or the viral load goes up. Though Sam is not cured, he knows that he is at the low risk of infecting anyone but it doesn’t spare him from contracting other STD diseases which may complicate his health. One of the things Sam constantly deals with are bouts of depression and stigma or depression from stigma. He says his ART causes depression but then again having a close circle of trusted friends who know he is HIV+ eases the mental and emotional constipation.
When we talk about his journey, we can’t but help but think of the several members of the International HIV and Aids research community who were killed when a Malaysian plane (MH17) was shot down over Ukraine in 2014. One of them was Joep Lange, a Dutch citizen who wanted everyone in the world to get HIV and Aids treatment and advocated affordable AIDS medication. Then of course that Filipino doctor who was relentless in checking up on him. It was indeed the Sunday of hope.