A good friend, who at 44 is a couple of years younger than me, had a heart attack the other week (henceforth known as HAM -Heart Attack Man). Given that he smokes like a chimney, and in his drinking makes me look (at times) like a Salvation Army officer, perhaps it’s not surprising. Worrying, as I am very fond of him, but maybe not so surprising.
Another friend, also younger than me, but only by a few weeks, has been living with a nasty cancer diagnosis (henceforth known as CB - Cancer Boy) for the last 2 months.
Both of these guys, myself and another friend (let’s call him the 4th), were sitting chatting the other night on K Rd. CB and HAM were sort of swapping notes, while both were smoking still (I can be smug as I haven’t had a ciggie in weeks and weeks now) joking a little, when I asked the 4th if was ok, and he assured me he was, and he asked me if I was ok, and I said “I’m fine thanks, just fine” or words to that effect.
There was a slight sort of pause, then I said, “Well, apart from the AIDS thingy”.
And that’s the weird thing. My AIDS diagnosis really is such a small part of my life now. Just a “thingy” I have to deal with.
I received the news in 1988, 20 years ago now. As one Dr in London told me, “You’ve probably got about 2 years or so left, why not go home to New Zealand and be with those you love” - “Get Ready To Die” is what she meant. I neither came home then nor died. Another Dr here in Auckland gave me a year to live in 1995, when I was very, very sick and pretty well living in Ward 9C or Herne Bay House. Again, unless something very major has happened and I missed it and you have all been humouring me, I haven’t died yet.
Instead, here I am, middle-aged, worrying about my weight and waistline, wondering why I no longer seem to want to stay up dancing till dawn , wishing I had a good man in my life (applications for this post may be left in the comments section below) and trying to get a career going.
And getting seriously worried about the health of my younger friends with non-HIV related problems. Everyone use to be worried about me, and the rest of us poz people. Now I worry about my friends, and not for HIV stuff.
It is all rather disorienting you see, as I spent a lot of time and effort getting ready to die. I was determined to die well, to have “a good death” and had even chosen the music (several times in fact, always totally different) for the whole thing. I did Buddhist meditation, I went through Kubler-Ross workshops, I beat phone books to shreds with garden hoses (long story), I studied death in Western Society, hell I even lecture at University on it! And yet, I still have to pay the rent, find something to eat, and remember to put the rubbish out. I’m still here. The world is still turning. And dear and good friends are coping with their own health problems that could well see them pop their clogs before I do at this rate.
I’m not complaining mind you. But this Friday night sitting on K Rd, it really brought it home to me. For most of us with HIV, if you do what your Dr tells you, take your meds properly and take reasonable care of yourself, well, we’re likely to be around a fair while. Long enough to worry about friends with cancer or coronary problems.
Who’d have thunk it?