I’ve never been so confused and distraught in my life (that may be a slight exaggeration, as I have obviously had other difficult times in my life… but right now, it’s just what I’m feeling).
Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been slightly quiet and MIA the past few weeks… and there is a good reason for that. As you know, I’ve been applying for reinstatement, and the process has been moving extremely quickly and easily. You may also know that we were just waiting for my most recent doctor’s appointment and lab results to come back…
I guess I can start with the good news… my viral load is still Undetectable, and my CD4 count was at 513 (which is slightly lower than last time, but still good). If you’ve been keeping up with my story and process, you know that these results should mean good news for Peace Corps and my reinstatement.
Unfortunately, something else has been going on… I have been having a minor (or not so minor) medical issue for the past month. I haven’t mentioned it before for a number of reasons (1) It really did start out as small (2) The location and nature of it is a bit embarrassing (3) I was hoping it would not be a big deal and would be resolved easily. However, so much has come up from this minor issue that I’ve now decided that I might as well get over my embarrassment and share it with you…
So, about six weeks ago I noticed what looked to be like bug bites on my butt. But, they seemed to be getting worse, spreading, and not healing. I then decided, “Okay, weird, I have some kind of mysterious rash on my butt”. It was still a very minor issue at this time, but itchy and irritating, so after 2-3 weeks of it, I went in to the doctor.
The doctor’s first diagnosis (i.e. guess) was a fungal infection, and she prescribed me an anti-fungal cream. Okay, no big deal… people with HIV tend to be more prone to fungal infections. Well, either the fungal cream, or time, or some other unknown factor actually ended up making the rash about 10 times worse.
I went to the doctor again the next week. The doctor’s second diagnosis (i.e. guess), against my very strong objections, was Herpes. They prescribed me Valtrex and made me take it while we waited for the Herpes blood and culture results to come back. One week later, not to my surprise at all, the Herpes tests all came back Negative. As you can guess, the rash continued to get worse.
I went in to the doctor for a third time. This time the doctor’s diagnosis (i.e. guess) is Impetigo/Staph/Strep Infection. They prescribed me an oral antibiotic to take as we wait for the bacterial culture results to come back. I do not want to jinx myself, but I actually think they may have gotten it right this time, as I have been on antibiotics for 48 hours now, and it finally seems that my rash may be improving a bit.
I wish I could share a picture with you, so that you all could know just how serious my infection got… but I will maintain some level of privacy and refrain from doing that. Just imagine a butt with more than 50% of its area covered with inflamed, bright red, blistered, and oozing sores. It itches terribly non-stop, and I have been on near constant doses of Benadryl for weeks now. I soak or wash in the bathtub multiple times a day and night, and I sit and sleep on ice packs. It has been absolutely MISERABLE.
I do not tell you all of this in the hopes to gross you out or scare you. Rather, I just want you to understand a bit of what I’m going through, so that you may better understand what I am going to say next.
Ever since this whole HIV thing started, I have been surprisingly positive. I have optimistically clung to the idea that as long as I took my medication, got my viral load undetectable, and maintained a high CD4 count, that I would be just as happy and healthy as anyone else. And up to this point, nothing has really challenged me on that. I haven’t even so much as gotten a cold or cough or the flu, even when many around me were sick.
But this, this has been a punch to the gut, a slap to the face, a major wake up call. The doctors can’t even say for sure whether this infection is even related to my HIV or not. In reality, we still are not even sure that they have figured it out and resolved it completely yet. But, regardless of what it is, and how or why it came about, it has forced me to admit some things to myself… and to you.
I have to admit that my body does not feel the same as it used to.
I have to admit that it seems to take me weeks to heal from simple mosquito bites or ingrown hairs or other irritations.
I have to admit that random areas of my skin are dry and itchy, my hair was falling out a few months ago, and I have experienced fungal infections.
I have to admit that I am still emotionally dealing with this disease.
I have to admit that I am still very early, only 8 months, into my diagnosis.
I have to admit that I am not invincible.
I have to admit that if I go back to Africa, issues could come up, and I would not have any of the conveniences (such as ice packs, pharmacies, quality medical care, or even clean water) to deal with them as I do here.
And I have to admit that that scares the heck out of me.
I have to admit that I may not be as brave as I would like to think I am.
I have to admit that I MUST put my health first.
And I have to admit that maybe this means that I must let go of my dream to go back to Peace Corps.
As always, I welcome your wisdom, comments, and opinions.