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HIV/AIDS: Moving Forward Bradford McIntyre
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HIV/AIDS:
Moving Forward

by Bradford McIntyre

January, 2002

    While living in Kitchener/Waterloo, Ontario, I learned I had been infected with the HIV virus. Swollen lymph glands, and every test except HIV, led my doctor to advise me to be tested. With the HIV results coming up positive for the virus and, the stigma attached to AIDS at the time, I choose to go to another city and find out more information and what to do about it. I decided to go to Hamilton where I knew no one. McMaster University Hospital was opening a new HIV/AIDS clinic and, I would be one of the first patients.

On November 28th, 1985, at McMaster University Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario, I was told by an AIDS specialist to go home and inform my family, arrange my finances and funeral; I had six months to live. Needless to say, those first six months were hell and filled with fear, but I did not die. Given 18 months after that, then two to three years, and even then, possibly five. Life during those first four years of living with HIV/AIDS became years of fear of dying and loss. Loss of friends, family, career, home, partner and health.

I am an advocate for active health and have been involved in many aspects of healing mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, my own and others. My illness showed me how uniquely destructive AIDS is. I also discovered that the emotional distress that accompanies AIDS can be almost as debilitating as the illness itself. Because of that realization, I began to study the effect emotions have on the onset and course of the disease. One of the most important facts I learned is: the belief that everyone with HIV infection dies of AIDS, is a dreadful myth. HIV/AIDS can cause death, but more often NOW, thought to be more like that of a chronic illness, and treatable. The truth is that there are people today to whom HIV/AIDS has not caused death. This information brings joy and hope to the heart of any person who has ever dreaded the onset of HIV/AIDS.

I was told the virus would kill me. Repeatedly this is expressed to myself and others during discussions with physicians. Patients coming out of doctors' offices and AIDS clinics faced with fear, conveyed by physicians. However, I do not feel that this is proper dialogue. This kind of dialogue does conjure up fear in most individuals, affecting them psychologically as well as physically. AIDS patients don't have to be hopeless, helpless and passive in the face of the illness. There are many actions they can take as partners with their physicians that are likely to improve the quality of their lives and, may increase the possibility of good health or recovery. Isn't that liberating and empowering? AIDS patients can use many things to join with their physician in the fight for recovery. Nutrition, exercise, supplements, alternative therapies, using guided imagery, controlling stress, avoiding pain, making plans for the future and, many others that may have a positive effect on the course of the illness.

When it comes to how we view HIV/AIDS, the most visible is the fear, illness, disease and death tolls. What we don't see, are the great numbers of individuals infected with the HIV virus, living! We don't see or hear about the countless individuals who have been infected, who are not using HIV drug intervention. We must not, we can not, discount the ability of individuals to have a positive impact and create wellness, using every available means to combat the HIV virus. The fear associated with HIV/AIDS has kept us in the dark about this. Many fear loosing their family, friends, home and job, causing people to hide the fact they have been infected with the HIV virus.

So no one can see, hear, or know the truths of individuals living with HIV and AIDS. Most often when individuals die from HIV related illness or AIDS, the funeral announcements rarely say HIV/AIDS was the cause, but use cancer, heart disease or any other camouflage. How can we tell the real number of HIV related deaths? How can the public know and understand HIV/AIDS, without the truth?

We don't see those who benefit from the drugs and have their health restored, returning to the work force. We don't see or hear about individuals who test positive for HIV or have AIDS, in relationships, falling in love. We don't see the relationships where one person is HIV positive and the other is negative.

We don't see individuals living a happy and full life, whether it be with or without drug treatments. We don't have people coming forward to tell their side of HIV/AIDS. How are we going to get people to come forward when the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS has created so much fear? People are hiding their HIV infection, yet it makes no sense to believe everyone who is infected with HIV will get sick or die.

There are individuals who may never develop HIV opportunistic infections or disease for many years, or ever. But they are fewer than those cases having to live with the roller coaster of high and low energy, of ups and downs of HIV related health problems-fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, neuropathy as well as illness from side effects of the HIV/AIDS medications. These "cocktails" are no fun as anyone on them will confirm. In general, health becomes a full time job to stay well and alive. I know, I have been living with HIV going on 17 years. Moving forward each time, searching for whatever means and tools required to be healthy, and continue to show up for life!

For years I chose not to go on HIV/AIDS medications. In 1991, after six years of physicians telling me I would progress to disease and die if I did not take the medications, I finally agreed to taking AZT. Unfortunately after 8 months on the AZT, I could not tolerate AZT and developed and suffered from life threatening side effects. Among them, neuropathy, a deterioration of the nervous system in my legs. I stopped taking the medications!

Early on treatment consisted primarily of AZT, every four hours in high dosages. Today the dosages have been reduced considerably and AZT is still used in combination therapy. Also AZT has been used successfully to prevent the transfer of HIV infection from mother to child, at child birth. Unfortunately many died due to HIV illness and the toxicity of AZT. However, many more benefited, many lives saved. Many people lived on until a time when newer, more effective drugs became available, who are living healthy, productive lives today.

Although given the latest drug treatments and decline in deaths, still physicians convey a dialogue with patients that promotes fear. Patients are not recommended to take HIV drug treatments, but patients are told to take the drugs or they will progress to disease and die. Physicians should be giving test results and recommendations for possible intervention and treatments without this negative dialogue and giving support and hope to patients. Many may give up and not pursue healthy initiatives given the situation was conveyed with less than a hopeful dialogue. Unfortunately this is not just occurring with HIV but with many physicians treating all types of illness and disease. Many lives have had a seriously impact emotionally by this negative dialogue.

Individuals involved in First AID, paramedic's, doctors and nurses in emergency rooms and hospitals, they all know first hand the importance to be calm and give patients confidence, avoiding panic and fear! This is equally as important in a physicians office, and what physicians have been taught and trained to do! It is extremely important for physicians to convey test results and possible treatments accurately and without personal opinions, sarcasm, ridicule and fear tactic's. Conveying all available treatments and means, to provide help in a supportive and positive way. When relaying information, doctors must presume that the patient does not have any previous knowledge of their problem. Imagine relaying information to a patient as if they know nothing, ensuring they understand as much as possible! NOT placing limitations on a patient's life!. One such purpose of the physician, is to help HIV/AIDS patients learn what they need to know to fight for their recovery as partners with their physicians. Making individuals aware of how much control they have over their lives.

Two and half million Canadians suffer from depression and many individuals infected with the HIV virus are on anti anxiety or anti depression medications. Consider, to what extent information may undermine health and lack of purpose, as well as affecting or undermining other areas of a person's life. It is important that we teach people not to be victims. Many health professionals do nothing to elevate stress and contribute to that stress in avoidable ways.

Just because someone tests HIV positive, this does not automatically mean they will get sick and die. There are people who have been infected since the very beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, happy, healthy and alive, who are not on any HIV/AIDS medications. In fact, there are some individuals infected with the HIV virus, who have never had any immune suppression or virus replicated in their bodies. For years people have been put on HIV/AIDS medications just because they tested positive. This was known as " Hit them hard. Hit them early ". Others, including myself, have written to government and the media speaking out against this practice. Finally about three years ago this practice was halted. I celebrated that! Unfortunately this depends on where you live and who your doctor is. There are still physicians putting people on HIV/AIDS medications just because they test HIV positive!

When told I had six months to live, I could never imagined anything worse. But as time past I would find myself faced with one health crisis after another. I knew I could not cope with whatever came next, unless, I seriously took responsibility for my life and found the emotional support and strength needed.

From the beginning, when HIV first hit the gay community, the lack of treatment forced people into action. They sought out alternative therapies and supplements and created a network, for wellness.! In some cases, taking responsibility for their life and health has been overwhelmingly effective. Out of a probable 17 years or more living with the HIV virus in my body, I have gone without drug treatments for 13 of those years. But we don't see or hear this side! We also miss seeing and hearing about individuals engaged in drug treatments, who go off their medications for months and even years, with success.

Recognizing the ability of the body to heal has promoted many to choose to combat HIV in a non-medical direction. Often, people were effective in preventing illness and disease for years before drug intervention was ever necessary. Others have gone on living, never having any sign of HIV/AIDS related opportunistic infections, illness or disease. For some who have tested positive, there has never been any virus replicated in their body. Equally so, many people who are on drug treatments have learned to address the importance of diet, exercise, alternative therapies and supplements, mind, body, and spirit.

Creating a healthy environment for the body can be address in many ways. Many people are in touch with their bodies and have incorporated complementary or alternative therapies/herbal/botanical and dietary supplements that contribute to their wellbeing. Recognition of these methods by the medical profession is lacking. It has been my experience that insufficient attention is given to the patient who is aware of his or her health and body. When a patient includes alternative therapies in conjunction with medical resources, frequently, anything other than the medical resources is ignored!

Government, like the medical profession, lacks education about these therapies, so very little or no money goes towards studies, for one reason or another. With some therapies, it seems that there are too few ways for the pharmaceutical companies to profit.

I searched for everything and anything to help heal. Over time I have practiced and learned to be healthy emotionally. While learning to be healthy emotionally, I healed physically. I had felt so awful emotionally, that for years it affected me physically. Even when I was not really sick, it was as though I was, due to the emotional bombardment I directed to my body. By directing myself to heal my body and from the knowledge that came to me through complimentary, alternative teachings and practices, I was aware that something else had occurred. Healing emotionally brought the realization of the profound effects that my emotions produced upon my body. It makes sense that as I healed my mind, it affected how I felt physically and healed my body. At least when I was ill physically, it was only physical. Emotionally I was in a good place and not contributing to, or creating emotional pain.

Throughout the years, there have been many different things that I have learned. In 1995 I moved to Vancouver where I found there are countless numbers of people involved in alternative therapies, which I was not aware existed. I educated myself and investigated and talked with those involved with and practicing these therapies. I gathered literature and supplies that I needed in order to incorporate some of the methods and practices of these therapies, into my life. I discovered because these are alternative therapies, there is no government funding available. Without government support, people came together and found a way to make these therapies accessible.

Massage, Reiki, body re-balancing, cranio-sacro, Reflexology, meditation and visualization, immune boosting vitamin therapies, oxygen and ozone therapies and more. The results, a toxic body is purified, allowing the body to repair the damage created by illness. Creating health and balance. With the healthy things I have incorporated into my life, there have been many changes in how I think and what I put in my body. The results speak for themselves. I am still alive and have learned how to live a full life!

Science, pharmaceutical companies, the medical profession and government, have all but ignored much of what many people living with HIV/AIDS have to say, which is a major contribution in the understanding of this virus. Science and the medical profession provide HIV/AIDS information to the media and the media disseminates it without a real balance of understanding. We see people dying, and certainly in many parts of the world there is malnutrition, lack of medical attention and affordable pharmaceutical resources, all contributing to countless deaths. We see the fear associated with sex and the need for safe sex practices. We hear about drug cocktails, the latest approved medications. We see people taking a handful of pills. We hear about the resistance to drugs, and we see through the media those sick with wasting syndrome, PCP pneumonia, kaposi's sarcoma, or crippled by neuropathy, or worse.

What is alarming about this situation is the medical profession holds the HIV virus responsible for any and all illness when a patient is diagnosed infected with HIV, using the excuse that a condition is HIV related. It is because of this rampant over diagnosis that little or no search is undertaken for what is causing the health problem. More consideration has been directed at eradicating the HIV virus and not enough attention given to patients individually. As well as the attention given to decreasing the viral load and the search for a cure for AIDS, maintenance need to be addressed. Many have experienced side effects of the drugs, pain, discomfort and prolonged illness because science, medicine, and the pharmaceutical companies promote the direct attention to an actual VIRUS, rather than to the greater needs of a suffering person!

For some individuals on HIV/AIDS treatments there are few or no side effects. Others experience side effects that undermine their ability to be well. If the person who is already experiencing problems with their health is an individual who does not tolerate the drug treatment well, then their side effects mask the symptoms of another illness. Very often when a patient complains of not feeling well, they are told or led to believe that it is all due to HIV or the side effects of the drugs. With a condition in progress or out of control and very little attention given it, this allows for suffering and dying, not due to their t4 cell count or viral load. But from an invasion of bacteria, fungi, virus', and or cancers, unaware to those not looking.

The pharmaceutical companies would have us believe that individuals are living longer solely due to anti viral therapies. This is only partly true. There are many who cannot take or have not taken anti viral drugs who are living long and healthy, totally alive, full of vitality without them. Certainly, there are many individuals experiencing the benefits of the many drug options available in treatments and research for a cure for AIDS and ALL disease. Voicing also the successes of those not on any of the HIV treatment drugs and, the fact they are doing so well, must be accounted. My concern is for individuals who have health problems that are not addressed, who suffer needlessly and possibly die. The HIV virus is not solely responsible for every health issue facing individuals infected. The underlying concern is for those individuals who may not be having trouble with the virus in their system as much as having some other factor affecting their health.

At Howard University Hospital, doctors reported distressing patterns of undiagnosed infections. Findings of 40 HIV positive women who died of AIDS, showed at autopsy, that half of the 40 women had more than one disease unidentified, only at postmortem. More than one disease was found in 7 of the 40 women.

Those suffering with illness and those who have watched loved ones get sick or die know all to well that many health conditions were either not diagnosed or misdiagnosed, but it was Not HIV causing the problem. In my own situation this has happened numerous times. Often, my health problems have not been dealt with by medical resources and it has been complimentary therapies which have eradicated a problem. Had I been satisfied with nothing more can be done, and nothing done, I would have continued and suffered much longer. Symptoms of illness cannot be overlooked nor can all symptoms be attributed to HIV. Rather than focusing all the emphasis on attacking the HIV virus, consideration must be given to recognize symptoms of illness and disease. The disguises are many but the faces are those of individuals!

There are many more disturbing facts of undiagnosed infections and the access to treatment which may depend on who requires the care. It seems health care may be affected in different ways if you are a woman or man, injection drug user, gay, bi or transsexual, with private insurance or public assistance.

In 1998, I developed a life threatening pneumonia, Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia or PCP. I chose to be at home instead of going into the hospital but my body was not tolerating the medications to fight the pneumonia, my organs were shutting down and it looked like I might die. My only recourse was to try an HIV/AIDS drug combination. The drug treatment boosted my compromised immune system, a cd4 count of 40 went up a couple of hundred points and eradicated the PCP pneumonia. The viral load decreased substantially. In time I regained weight and a renewed sense of wellness.

In 2000, I started to develop resistance to the HIV/AIDS medications I was taking and enrolled in a drug study for a new protease inhibitor, Kaletra. In the first four weeks on the drug, my immune system was strengthened , cd4 count climbed to 340 and my viral load undetectable. Today, not one viral particle found, my immune system is strong, a cd4 count of 540, and the HIV virus remains undetectable in my body. The vitamin C intervenes injections my Naturopath provides, have proven through blood work, to have also increased my cd4 count by 200 points, and climbing.

Many infected have lived the last 15 years or more without HIV-related drugs and dealt with many of the same health issues as those on the drugs, with great success due to nutritional supplements and complimentary therapies. We may have jumped the gun and put all our efforts into pharmaceuticals when it came to fighting AIDS. It would be wise to look at contributing factors to Immune Suppression and address these, using every available means to heal.

Immune deficiency is responsible for much of the disease today. Not just in the area of AIDS, but the cause of most illness and disease. It would be wise to look at the contributing factors to immune suppression and address these. The air we breathe, food we eat, water we drink, these are co-factors. Lack of proper nutrition and exercise and the use of drugs and alcohol can contribute to immune suppression. Also contributing is the fact that we are now into our 3rd generation of pharmaceutical use. History of health, infections, bacteria, fungi and viruses such as Herpes, Hepatitis, mononucleosis, Epstein Barr syndrome, sexually transmitted diseases and others are co-factors in immune suppression.

Virus, bacteria and fungi thrive in low oxygen, so anything we do to improve the amount of oxygen in our body and our blood stream, this will help to interfere with an environment for these to live and thrive in. A healthy nutritional diet, exercise, and vitamin supplements, Herb's and botanicals are all key in creating more oxygen in the body.

Included and well documented as a co-factor is the Mind/Body connection. How we feel and what we think play a key role in the manifestation of disease emotional or physical. Worry, fear, guilt, loss and stress are all co-factors. The planet itself has a weakened immune system with the depletion of ozone and other contributing factors. Everything a person has contributed to immune suppression comes into play regarding disease.

It is important to understand the immune system and what it needs to be able to carry out all its functions. Understanding the cells, the nutrients and all they require to be up and running to maximum capacity. The stomach and digestive track and organs require their own needs be met. The immune system knows how to run the body and keep it healthy. We on the other hand may not have been as conscientious. Creating far more for the immune system to deal with, especially when the system does not have the proper requirements to provide balance and harmony throughout.

We must not allow ourselves to fall prey to the belief that science and the medical profession have all the answers. Nor can we find all our answers in pharmaceuticals. Science, medicine and the use of pharmaceuticals play key roles, but so does the greatest disease fighter on the planet, our immune system. People have to understand that the greatest healing comes from within. There is a whole consciousness that supports disease and we can make an attitude adjustment

It seems there is only money in illness, and no money in wellness. Funding, education and implementation of supplements in health care are paramount. Providing nutritional supplements, alternative/complimentary therapies can be implemented into health care quickly and effectively, having positive affects on individuals with illness and disease. It is our responsibility to persuade government to include and provide these in our health care. And, insure natural supplements continue to be available in our health food stores. With choice there is hope!

There is great hope and inspiration for those able and wanting to try these new drug treatments but nothing is available to those who cannot tolerate these drugs and there severe side affects. What about these people? What about people who are not having any form of traditional drug therapy? What about them and their success with maintaining and improving their health? What about looking into treatments that would help those for whom these drugs can potentially cause severe side effects? There is no mention that these people exist and of the limited treatments available to them. This is an area seldom heard, or dealt with.

We must not overlook what is right in front of us showing up endless opportunities. Opportunities for us to learn and grow and have healthy bodies. Now is the time to put money into our health care system. Our health care IS homeland security, health care IS education and health care IS everyone's concern.

There is concern and confusion around medical treatment for many illnesses, not just HIV. Weighing the pro's and con's of the many treatment choices isn't easy, especially when there are often known side effects to consider if choosing a drug treatment. Being in touch with your body and of strong will mentally, emotionally and spiritually allows you to move forward through all things. When faced with a situation, we don't have to show up for our fear, it is like putting up a stop sign for living! Realizing there is good in everything and life is filled with many Miracles, we can move forward.

Many are not aware of how being HIV positive affects your relationships, career, travel, and future. The public needs to understand HIV and let go of the fear. Letting go of the fear, we can all talk to our family and friends and co-workers about our personal lives. Our employers can get health related information. And, if need be, we can ask for help and receive help. We can also eliminate false perceptions and judgments due to sheer ignorance.

These years spent cohabiting with HIV have taught me a great deal. I learned about my body, mind and spirit. I searched for and learned about alternative and complimentary therapies and incorporated then into my life. I chose a healthy lifestyle, and worked at being responsible for how I think and feel, and what I put into my body. I exercised my mind and spirit, and my physical body. I learned you cannot heal the physical body without first healing the mind. I learned there is more power in people knowing the Truth than there ever was in the fear and hiding. I learned the abundance of life does not come from what one provides for oneself, but it is found in our connectedness. I learned the power of faith and prayer in healing, our own as well as the faith and prayers of those who care and Love us. I learned there are endless possibilities!

What ever is taking place, we have the choice to choose to move forward in it. We don't know how long we have with someone, or how long we have to live. Whether it is six minutes, six months, sixteen years or more, what is important is to make the most of the time we do have. We also do not have the luxury of preventing things from happening to us. Therefore, we must be able to go through, and move forward in whatever comes along. Whether an illness or disease, a relationship breaking up, or a death, we must move forward. How we move forward and the time it takes us to move forward is very important.

I believe our God given gift is one of choice, and at any given moment in time, we can choose in that moment, what is for our highest and best in that time. I no longer listen to the chatter of my ego mind or the committee that goes on about all kinds of things. I center myself, listen to the spirit I am speak, and in that I can trust and move forward. Each step forward creates an affirmation showing us we were able to move forward regardless of the circumstances.

On February 27th, 2002, I had hip surgery requiring a plate and screws, due to an ice skating accident. All the years I was told I would get sick due to HIV infection, or die, I found myself hospitalized for the first time since a hernia operation in 1972. Here I am now, 50 years of age, physiotherapy completed, my hip is healed, and grateful to be alive and healthy.

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