Sunday, February 6, 2011

Read Scott's Story living with HIV

The first time I remember hearing about AIDS was in 1985, I was 10 years old and in the 5th grade. I remember my teacher talking about how it affected the immune system.  I think  the next siginificant discussion, for me,  was in 1987 when the issue of AIDS was adressed on the television sitcom “Designing Women”.  There were the updates of the spread of the epidemic, the discoveries of how it was transmitted, and who was truly affected by it. Then in 1992 a good friend of my parents was diagnosed. I remember hearing how his wife treated him, the concerns about how long he would be around, and what would happen to him.

My parents never treated him differently, my mom still hugged him, my dad still joked around with him and I still enjoyed being around him. He was still the same friend that we had always known. He got remarried to a young woman who also had AIDS, and they had what they called their miracle baby. She was born without the virus, this would have been around the time that research was showing that babies born to positive mothers could be negative as long as they did not breast feed. What an amazing occurrence that was.
I went several years with really no thought of HIV/AIDS.  I was 22 when I came out and was introduced to this whole new world of gay culture. Who knew that there were so many gay bars and so many gay men in Denver and the surrounding metro areas, I sure didn’t. I was newly, overweight , and had a very negative self image. Bars were not really my scene, I loved going dancing and the environment but did not meet my, shall we call them, “physical” needs.
This was also right around the same time that internet chat rooms started becoming popular. Now that was my arena. I was prime bait for those older guys that wanted some young fun. I was new to all of this, curious, and horny….. ALOT!!  I rarely ever used a condom when I was hooking up, I didn’t think about it, and most of the guys did not want to use one. 
The first time I went and got tested was strictly peer pressure. I had went with my best friend to get tested, she had experienced an alcohol induced lapse in judgement and was worried about having contracted and STD. She asked me if I would go with her to local STD clinic to get tested. While she was checking my friend in, the nurse asked me if I wanted to get tested. I promptly said “NO”, they harassed me into it.
After the exam, blood draws, and all the other violations of my personal space, I was informed I could call in 3 days to get the results of all the tests except for the HIV test.  For the HIV test I would need to wait a week and actually have to come in for it. I decided there was no way I was going to go back to that place. I forgot about the tests altogether, that is until I was talking to the same friend I went and got tested with. She told me she had called and everything was good, they had even given her the HIV results over the phone. I was surprised by this being that they told me I would have to come in for the HIV results, she said to me “ oh that’s only if it comes back positive”.  She was pressuring me to call and get the results, I told her I really did not even want to know.

After being badgered for several hours I agreed to call and get my results. So the next day I called, gave them my name and they gave me the results of all except the HIV test.  They told me I needed to come in for those. I immediately panicked, I called another good friend of mine at work and told him that I needed him to go with me. I explained what had transpired, he did what any good friend would do and comforted me.

I got to the clinic and they me and my friend in a waiting  room. A nurse came in and greeted me, she was smiling and full of cheer,  I on the other hand was sitting crying and waiting for my death sentence. She told me she had the results of my test, I wanted to her to just get on with it. Then I heard the words I was waiting for,  the nurse told me that my test came back…… NEGATIVE!!!! All this pomp and circumstance for a NEGATIVE test. I was however elated. She asked me what I was going to to do to keep my status the same. I swore I was never going to have sex again. She laughed and told me to use condoms. I promptly went out to the bar that night to celebrate my negative test, I had another celebration of my negative status later that night. So much for swearing off sex.
It is amazing what 3 years of being honest about who you are and gaining confidence in yourself can do. I dropped 70 pounds, was 25 years old, and very bold and single and could drink. I was popular with the older guys that I was so attracted to. If I wanted get laid, there was usually no shortage of giuys ready to go. Asking status never really entered the picture, it was all about what felt good and what got me off. Whether it was the bath house,  giving a blowjob in the bathroom at the bar or in some guys car, and by closing time I had a place to stay for the night or had a house guest, well for an hour or two anyhow.
On September 23rd of 2000 I had gone out to a beer bust at one of my regular haunts with a friend of mine. I was there for 2 reasons, to get drunk and find a trick. Walking back to my group of friends something caught my eye. He was tall, 6’1”, salt and pepper hair, stocky built, and my kind of man. We played the game, he would look at me, we would make eye contact, I would look away and so on. One of the guys decided enough was enough, he went over introduced himself and brought the guy over to meet me. We exchanged names and pleasantries, talked a bit and let’s just say things moved forward there at the bar. I was ready to go home with him, after all one mission had already been accomplished I was drunk.
He said he wanted to spend the night with me, but had to be up early the next morning for work. He said if I gave him my number he would call me and we would go out on a date. We have all heard this line before,  whatevert, what would it hurt.  Well he did actually call, a week later we went out on our first date and it was amazing. We really clicked, we had common interests but we could teach each other new things as well. I was hooked from that moment and he was a hell of a kisser. I spent the night with him that night, underwear stayed on and he held me all night. I had found where I belonged. We planned our next day for a the following Saturday, that was such a long time, 3 whole days. Well Saturday arrived and I was excited, another great date down. I spent the night with him again and he held me all night.
I got up Sunday morning, thanked him, kissed him and he saw me to the door so I could go home and get ready for work. He called and left me a message that day asking me to come over for dinner that night, he wanted to talk to me about something. I called him back and tried to get what I could out of him, I thought for sure he was going to dump me. He told me we would talk about it after dinner.  I was so nervous as we sat at his house eating the dinner of spaghetti that he had made, it was in fact all he knew how to cook.  I think he knew what was running through my head. We cleaned up dinner and ended up laying on the sofa, him holding me and just talking.
He had gotten his degree in drama and had done some shows at some of the independent theatres around Denver. He asked me if I had ever seen the movie “Jeffrey”? I told him yes, I loved it, it was and still is one of my very favorite movies. He said that he had played the character of Steven in the local stage production.Just a little background:  Steven was the HIV+ character that Jeffrey keeps running into and has a strong attraction to, only after he has sworn off sex because it has gotten too dangerous.
Well my beau then told me that he had more in common with the character of Steven than just playing him on stage.  My heart was in my throat and my stomach was in knots. I could feel the tears start to well up in my eyes. He told me that he was indeed HIV+ and had been since 1998. This was as he referred to it, his 3rd date talk. He told me how he believed that he had contracted the virus, explained that he understood if this meant that I did not want to see him anymore and that it was ok.
I knew I wanted to see him again, I was terrified though. I wasn’t scared of the virus. My fears were of falling in love with him, only to lose him. I cried as he held me that night til I fell asleep, I woke up the next morning still crying. I left his house in tears that morning and cried all the way back to my apartment, not really sure what to do. I called the only person I could think of for advice, my mom. She and I had always been close and I knew I could talk with her about it and give me the best advice possible. 

I called her and she immediately knew something was wrong, she could tell it in my voice. I told her I had met a guy that I really liked and that he had told me last night that he was HIV+. Her first statement to me was have you slept with him yet? I told her no, she breathed a sigh of relief and I told her my fear of falling in love with him and losing him. Then came the best advice she has ever given met. She said to me “ you can’t worry about what might happen, do what will make you happy”. I felt like a weight had been lifted off my chest. I could breathe, I was able to stop crying, it made sense. She was mom, how could  she be wrong?
So I went with it, he and I talked and I explained my fears but also explained that I would be out there taking the chance with someone else anyway if I was not with him. Someone who may not be honest with me, or may not know. With him, we could take the precautions to protect me as best we could and I was pretty damn sure I was going to fall in love with him and then it least the chance would be taken with someon I cared about.
He and I were together for 6 years, I got tested every 3 months with my diabetes labwork. I was negative the whole time. I relationship was not without it’s issues and thus we decided to end the relationship as they got to big for me to handle. 
Denver suddenly became too small for me and too tightly packed with memories. I decided to move to the North-Eastern Plains of Colorado to be closer to my family. My grandmother had just moved in with my parents after the death of my grandfather, my parents had also just gotten custody of my 6 year old nephew and I needed a change. Fort Morgan seemed logical, it would be easy to have my horses, I would be close to my family, and be able to help my parents with my nephew.
After a year of living in what I saw as isolation and being miserable and depressed, I decided to move back to Denver. I left my horses with my family, loaded up my dogs and moved in with my boyfriend. This was not the best decision that I had ever made.  It was a whirlwind romance, we had met at the gay rodeo in Denver that July and a month later he asked me to move in with him. After 2 months I decided it was not working for me, he had a drinking problem and would become verbally abusive. He brought out a side of me that I did not like, I have never been a violent person but he brought it out in me. I felt trapped, isolated and like I had nowhere to turn.  This was the situation that led to my first suicide attempt.
I had dealt with depression from my early teenage years, but had always found a way to talk myself out of it. Depression and bipolar disorder run rampant in my family. I lost my cousin, who was like a brother to me, when I was 16 to suicide, my dad had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for depression and suicide attempts from the time I was 9. My grandmother on my fathers side was a self medicated manic depressive alcholic, and the list goes on.
I knew what I had to do, I had to end it, it was the only way out. What reason did I have to live? I was no longer with my first true love, I felt like he had damaged me for anyone else. I did not know what else to do.  I have this interesting self defense mechanism that limited my choices for completing the task before me though. It is damned near impossible for me to inflict pain upon myself. Slitting my wrists, shooting myself, or hanging myself were out of the question.  Overdose was the only option I could think of. I had a bottle with 23 vicodin that had been left over from an injury. That would be the vehicle for my exit. I also decided that as I started to feel groggy I would then inject myself with 300 units of my fast acting insulin just to seal the deal. I climbed into the bathtub, had my insulin syringes drawn up and ready to go sitting on the ledge of the tub. I started taking the pills, my dog staring at me and whining. I took all the pills and laid back in the tub waiting for them to kick in. I lay smoking a cigarette and crying.
My boyfriend came home before they started to take effect, he came in and found me in the bathroom with the empty pill bottle and asked me what I had done. I told him that I had taken the pills and wanted to die, he didn’t believe me.  GOOD THING!!!!
It pissed me off enough that I was not going to give that drunken S.O.B the satisfaction of dying. I called a friend of mine asked her to drive me to the hospital and told her what I had done.  She kept me on the phone while she was driving and took me to the hospital. 
Let me tell ya, there are some crazy people in a county hospital psych ward. The hospital monitored me, pulled blood every couple of hours for 6 hours and then sent me for a psych eval. I convinced myself, and them, that this was an isolated incedent and they sent me on my way.
I moved out of his apartment and bounced around from friends house to friends house for a couple months til I went and stayed with a family member.  Things were going well, I was moving up very quickly at work, they loved me!!! Within 2 months I was made a supervisor and got the raises that went along with it. That Decmber I started dating a guy that I was crazy about, level headed, salt and pepper hair, mature, reliable, and responsible. Things were going well with him, we had great conversation, great sex and enjoyed being around each other.
Work and my living situation started to get a little stressful, but I could handle it. I had a boyfriend that treated me well and treated me as an equal. Then things started to change, he started acting weird, making excuses not to see me, and hanging out with a friend of mine at the har we went dancing at all the time.
If you have ever gotten that gut feeling that something is just not right, believe it. He and I had been out one night, I met him at the bar. When I got there he was standing next to my friend with his arm around his waist. As soon as he saw me, he pulled his arm back and put a good distance between the 2 of them.  I thought nothing of it, we were a close group of friends.  Well my boyfriend made a rather abrupt departure saying he did not feel well, I kissed him and asked him to text me when he got home. Our friend was still there having a grand time, dancing and smiling. Next thing I knew he was gone, he had vanished, no goodbye, nothing.
My best friend had ridden to the bar with me and I had to drive him home. He lived very near my boyfriend and I had this nagging feeling that something was going on. So I drove by his house and sure as shit, my friends car was sitting in my boyfriends driveway at 2 in the morning.  I called my boyfriend, asked him and of course it was my fault.
My whole world sort of crumbled around me. This was the straw that broke the camels back. I plummeted into a deep depressionn in  a matter of hours. I went to work the next day and could not function to the point where I was sent home. I went to a friends house to talk with him and ended up going to the emergency room for fear that I would try to hurt myself.
I was admitted to the hospital psych ward and spent 3 days there, that was plenty for me. If I was not crazy before I went in there, I would be by the time they let me out. I had to make them believe that I was ok to go. I managed to pull it off and was released. My dogs had been staying with my parents since I had been staying with my family member and I decided that I needed sometime with them. I went home packed a bag and drove the 100 miles to my parents.
My boyfriend had been texting and calling me since the day I was admitted, a mutual friend of ours had told him I went into the hospital. I was going to stay at my parents place for a couple of days and was staying in there RV, my boyfriend called me that night and told me what an awful person I was, and how he could not have someone like me who was mentally unstable around his teenage daughter.
Wow, there was the trapped feeling again, the feeling of failure. There was one thing I could think to do……… end it. I had left the hospital with a 30 day supply of prozac, and had a bottle of muscle relaxers for my back. I went and got a bottle of vodka and proceeded to use it to wash the pills down.
I locked the door, sent a text message to my friends lay down on the bed in the RV with my dog and drifted off.  I vaguely remember kicking at the polices officers and telling them to let me die, and them restraining me to bed in the ambulance. I woke up the next day in ICU to a woman from the local mental health facility who wanted to evaluate me.  We talked and she felt that I would not hurt myself and was ok to be release that evening.
My parents asked me to stay with them for a couple of days, they would not let me be alone. I spent a couple of days with them and headed back to work. I decided to stay with a friend of mine and things were going ok. I was home alone and bored one night a couple of weeks later so I decided to go out. I went to my regular haunt, the bar that I felt most comfortable where I knew I would have friends.  All was going well, I was hanging out having a good time, and then they walked in. I tried to ignore them but my then ex boyfriend stopped me tried to talk to me. I tried to make nice, but the wound was still open and he had just poured salt in it.
I decided it was time for me to go not long after that, as I was leaving I saw them standing there arms around each others waist kissing.  I left so quickly I don’t even remember getting in my car. I drove thinking the whole way back to my friends apartment  that I had to stop the pain. I went up to his apartment and grabbed all the pills I had, anything that could possibly kill me if I took enough of them.  My friend had been asleep on the couch when I came in and woke up as I was leaving again, I told him I was just going to run to McDonalds and would be back. Instead I drove to my job, a vets office, and picked up my dog who was there and grabbed the supplies to put an IV catheter in my arm and 3 30 cc bottles of Propofol.  Propofol is an IV anesthetic, it is the same drug the Michael Jackson died from.
I drove up into Golden and parked in a residential area so that I would not have cops driving by that could interrupt me. I placed the catheter in my arm, drew the propofol up into the syringes and started taking all the pills I had.  A months supply of 2 different anitdepressants, a bottle of alieve, about 90 neurontin (an anti  seizure med) and half a bottle of cough syrup with codine. I then started putting the propofol in through the catheter. I got all 90 cc’s in before I passed out.
To my dismay I woke up the next morning about 11 am in such a fog. I drove angry that I was a such a failure that I could not even kill myself.  I sent my friend a text message saying that I needed help, she was a police dispatcher who had been looking for me all night, my friend that I was staying with had called her when I did not come back. She told me where to meet her and showed up with an ambulance, police, and fire department.  I was taken to the emergency room and later that day admitted to a psych facility at another hospital.
I spent 3 days in this facility, not really understanding what my purpose for being around was. There was no reason for me to be alive. I didn’t want to be alive, it hurt too badly. I had put my family through hell and didn’t care, I wanted to die and there was nothing that anyone could say that would change my mind. When I was released my parents brought me back to Fort Morgan for a week and then took me to meet with the owner of the veterinary hospital I worked for.
I at that point was forced to quit my job or they would file charges against me for theft. They told me that if I would go to therapy and get a written release from the therapist, and from my doctors after an appropriate amount of time that I could come back to work for them. 
So I moved back to Fort Morgan and my old job there hired me back without issue, no questions asked. I moved in with a friend of mine, who was also the assistant manager at my job. Things were going ok, but I was still did not understand my purpose. I was hell bent on killing myself one way or another. I realize that now. I found comfort in sex, bareback sex. I had 2 sexual partners between June of 2008 and February of 2009. June of 2008 would be my last ever Negative HIV test.
After my insurance kicked back in at work I scheduled an appointment with  a nurse practitioner out here in Fort Morgan. I had never seen this woman before, but she came very highly recommended.  So I went for my first visit with her. She came in the exam room, she was an older woman, she very politely asked me why I was there. I told her that I was diabetic and overdue for my quarterly labwork. She said ok and started to rattle off a whole list of other tests that she wanted to run. I agreed to them asked if we could do an HIV test as well. This had become standard practice for me for a good many years.
After the request for the HIV test I was met with a response that floors me to this day. She asked me “Why? Are you gay?”. I politely replied “well yes I am, but aside from that I am sexually active”. She went ahead and ordered the tests and told me that it would take a week to get all the labs back. I said “ok” and went on my way. 2 days later a nurse from my docs office called me with the results of all the labs except my HIV test.  Not a big deal, right? The week went by and I didn’t really think about not hearing from my doctor, I ended up having to go in for an emergency issue to see her.
She got me all taken care of and asked if there was anything else, I reminded her that I had not heard the results of my HIV test. She told me that she did not recall having signed off on it either. She checked my file and saw nothing in it. She told me she would research and let me know as soon as possible but it would probably be Monday before she could find out anything as this was Friday afternoon.
I went through the weekend and Monday rolled around, my roommate was heading out of town that day for training and I went to work. That afternoon I was sitting in the office and my cell phone started ringing, being at work I could not answer it so I let go to voicemail. I called to check the message and it was nurse from my docs office saying that I needed to call and schedule and appointment as soon as possible to go over some labwork.
Once again my stomach was in knots, I could hear my heart pounding in my ears and I could feel the tears welling up inside. I grabbed my cell phone and ran out behind the building, I called my doctors office  and asked to speak with the nurse that had just called me.  The receptionist put me on hold and my nurse practitioner got on the phone. She said “ how are you doing Scott?” I said “not good, it came back positive didn’t it?” there was silence on the line and she quietly said “yes”.  
I felt like someone had sucked the air out of my body, I couldn’t breathe and my head was spinning. I could say nothing.  She asked me if I was alright, I could barely squeak out a yes.  She asked me if she could get me to the receptionist to get me an appointment to come in and see her. I agreed and she transferred me. I made my appointment for that Wednesday which was the soonest they could get me in.  I went back in the building and tried to go back to work. All I could think was that I was going to die. I called one of the other managers up and told her what was happening and said I needed to leave. I went home and sat there in silence for what seemed like an eternity soaking in it.
When I felt like I could talk, I called my friend that had been there through the suicide attempts and told her.  She gave me the second best words of advice that I have ever gotten. She said to me “don’t let this be the end of you, do something with it”. It made sense to me, it helped. I got online and went to Google, I simply put in HIV +.  I clicked on the first website that I saw, I started reading their HIV 101, I went on other gay social networking sites to their positive support boards and started talking to Denver guys that were also positive. I asked them what do I do next?  They told me I needed to get in with an ID specialist, I asked who they saw and many of them gave me the doctors at Denver Infectious Disease Consultants (DIDC). I called the next day and schedule my appointment with their receptionist Rosa. She was absolutely incredible, made me feel totally comfortable and put me at ease.
I met with my nurse practitioner the next day and she admitted she had no idea what to do next and wanted to refer me to an ID specialist in Greeley. I told her not necessary that I had it handled.  Dammit, I was taking charge. The next week was a rough one, my roommate came home from training and I told her. She was and still is my rock. She was there with me when I told my parents who were amazingly strong. I can laugh about it now, but when I told my parents that I am HIV+ my dad said “oh no” and my mom said “ oh thank god, I thought you were going to tell us you were moving back to Denver”.  I am sure the look on my face said it all, she quickly retracted that statement and said “we will do whatever it takes to help, we will deal with it as it comes.”
I started seeing my a nurse practitioner at DIDC and loved her, she taught me so much that really helped ease me. She included me in the decisions regarding my health care. I started meds that April, I had wanted to go on Atrypla being that it is 1 pill once a day. She however refused to put me on it because of my past issues with depression. As she put it, “people with no history of depression have been known to kill themselves while taking this medication”. We decided that I would go on the Truvada / Isentress combo. Within 6 weeks I was undetectable, it was working and relatively easy on me.
Fort Morgan started feeling small, and I was looking for a way to get out. My company had recently bought a store in Casper, Wyoming and I had met a guy that lived up there who wanted me to move up there with him. I transferred to Wyoming and loved it. It was so beautiful up there and nobody knew me or my baggage. That was a double edged sword.
My boyfriend and I were fighting a lot after the first month up there, we had an argument one night and threats were made to kick me out and he left. I panicked, I was trapped again, what the hell was I going to do? I had no place to go, I couldn’t move back to Fort Morgan, I couldn’t afforde a place by myself. Simply put I was screwed. Then I started to dig at myself, I was a failiure, I couldn’t even keep my self healthy, I had afterall gotten myself HIV infected. I went through the medicine cabinet and found a large bottle of Skelaxin ( a muscle relaxer) there must have been 80 pills in it. I loaded my dogs up in the car grabbed a 6 pack of beer and drove out to the middle of nowhere.
Once again I downed the pills, and washed them down with the beer. Kicked off the my shoes, locked the car doors and waited, once again, to die.  Apparently a car driving by the next day had called in my car sitting there and I woke up to an ambulance and police officers and my boyfriend trying to get into my car. I vaguely remember being moved into the emergency room at the hospital in Casper. I once again was admitted to a psych facility for “treatment”. They kept me for the 72 hours that the law allows and released me.
I tried to work things out with my boyfriend until October when the web of lies that he had spun began to unravel. My parents came up to help me,  once again, move back to Fort Morgan. Now I really felt like a failure. I had tried to kill myself 4 times with no success, by all rights I should have been dead by now, clearly someone has decided I have something left to do.
So Fort Morgan had sucked me back in once again, I went part time at work and was trying to figure out what to do with myself. I started attending a educational/support group for HIV positive people at my ID doctors office. I was finally around other people who I had something in common with, that had more to say than “I’m sorry” when it came to my HIV status.

This group stirred something in me, it lit a fire in me. I finally understood what it was I was supposed to do with this. I realized that I can use my story to educate, I can get the conversation going again, I can breathe life back into the topic of HIV one person at a time. I can stress the importance of getting tested regularly and the importance of safe sex. I now facilitate a group each week with Rocky Mountain Cares, we have a wide range of people from the newly diagnosed to those who were diagnosed in the early 80’s that just need some support.  If I can help one person stay negative or come to terms with being positive, then I have done something with this and it will not be the end of me.

If you would like to contact Scott you may e mail him at or friend him on facebook.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Scott for bearing your soul; you are a true testament to someone who has risen up and is speaking up about HIV/AIDS! Through the tears you made me smile. I am glad you are still here to tell your story!


RiseUpToHIV Daily News Digest