What is it like to live with HIV infection? A young man tells WebMD his story.
Joseph Wolfe, age 28, lives in Atlanta. He gave WebMD permission to use his name. Why? He feels that by refusing to be anonymous, his message will have a greater impact on others.
This is Wolfe's story:
"I was diagnosed in May of last year. I gave blood at work, and then the blood bank called and said there were complications with my donation. Then they told me to contact the health department, and they made me come in and give another blood sample.
"It was very traumatic to learn I had HIV. Waking up, it was the first thing on your mind, and going to sleep it was the last thing on your mind. You forget for a second, then it hits you in the stomach like a ton of bricks.
"Some days I think I need to plan for my retirement. Other days I think I don't need to worry, I won't live that long. But it is mostly good now that I am getting all the facts. My doctor puts into perspective how good the medicines are and how the medical field has advanced in the last 20 years.
"I was put on drug therapy right away. I did a little research on the medications and their implications. But I pretty much trusted my doctor's judgment. I am taking Reyataz, Videx, Viread, Emtriva, and Norvir. The first day I was scheduled to take the drugs, I was with my boyfriend visiting his parents out of town. You read so much about nausea and diarrhea, I was scared to death. But it was great. Nothing happened at all. I don't have any side effects so far.
"I take my drugs once a day, in the morning when I first get up. Some people tell me they forget their doses or skip them sometimes. But for me, I know my life is on the line, and that makes it easier to remember.
"Right now I just take it one day at a time and hope that I can continue on these meds as long as I can. When time comes to change, I'll deal with that. I trust my doctor's optimistic outlook, which is very comforting.
"My boyfriend and I, we've been together almost four years. When I first found out, it was very hard for me to tell him. But I finally did, and the next day the health department took his blood and found out he was negative. Safe sex is now the buzzword for us.
"I went through this time where I totally lost interest in sex. You equate your current situation with the fact that you had sex and that brought it on. So you totally lose interest and you want that out of your life. Now that I have come to understand HIV, and know what to do and how to prevent infecting others, I am getting back into that sort of thing, which my boyfriend appreciates."
"Safe sex. I'm glad to see the push towards it and so much advertising for HIV awareness and safe sex. Young kids, I think, are like I was. At the time, I thought this will never happen to me. But it is a real eye opener to find out you're HIV positive.
"The worst part about it is the social stigma. I haven't really told anybody except for my boyfriend and my doctor. I certainly haven't told my family. There is that whole stigma about being someone with AIDS and being HIV positive. People who don't know about it, they think if you are positive you have AIDS. But other than that, it becomes part of your daily routine. Over time, it doesn't weigh so heavy on you. You figure life goes on, and whatever you can do to help yourself, like taking the meds and working out and taking vitamins and doing healthy things, means you get more out of it.
"Even from the day I found out, I have had a positive outlook. I try to think good thoughts. That has a lot to do with it. I figure there are all these statistics. But I don't want to be a statistic. I told myself if God wanted someone to have it, and chose me instead of a newborn kid or someone else, it is my load to bear and that is all right with me.
"My message for others is if you ignore it, HIV won't go away. It is very prevalent. It is not just gender specific or sexual-orientation specific. People need to be careful, and watch what they do."