I came out to my parents in 1981 and for a short time our relationship became strained. We were both trying to come to terms with my coming out, both for very different reasons. At one point I did not speak to my parents for almost two years. Things started to get better slowly and with some concerted effort and a little time to breathe we began to start talking again. I came down with the flu in the fall of 1985. I thought maybe it would pass like any cold or flu, but for some reason it just kept hanging around. I wasn't throwing up and febrile all the time during those four weeks but I knew it was not normal to feel this way for so long. I just could not shake this flu off.
I was working as the General Manager of a local restaurant and putting in around 55 - 65 hours a week. The company I worked for had no health plan, so I could not afford to see a doctor. At the time I got sick the relationship with my parents had gotten better and we had come to a comfortable place. They did not like the fact that I was gay, but they learned that I was still their son just as I always had been, and would continue to be. I promised not to be too "gay" when I visited them as long as they tried to start to understand where I was coming from and give my the benefit of the doubt.
Anyway, my mom has worked for doctors all her life, and actually just recently stopped working but that's another story. I made a call to her one day while she was working and explained that I really needed to see a doctor and asked her if I could see the family doctor. Our family doctor for whom my mother worked for at the time had known our family for over 25 years, but he did not know that I was gay. I told my mom about having this flu and the fact that it just would let go and also suggested that I should probably be tested for HIV. The world was just really starting to talk about HIV/AIDS awareness back in 1985, and I was in a high-risk category. Mom at first disagreed because in asking for an HIV test I would have to disclose my lifestyle to the doctor. At the same time my mom knew I needed to see the doctor because we had to get a handle on whatever was wrong with me. I think at that point my mother had two problems. First, she still didn't want a lot of people to know that I was gay and secondly and most of all I think she did not want to find out the truth that I might be HIV positive. I didn't really want to find that out either. I ended up seeing the doctor without mentioning anything about HIV or about me being gay. The doctor did some routine blood test but not the test for HIV. He started me on some broad spectrum antibiotics to treat my symptoms, but I never really got better.
I kept having to see the doctor on and off every few weeks until April of 1986 and during that time he ran all sorts of test. In fact just about every test except the one for HIV. By April 1986 I had changed jobs and was now working as a manager for a major retail chain, working up to 65+ hours a week. I continued to be fatigued and I was losing weight faster than I could eat. I had also just started my second year of what would end up to be a four year relationship that wasn't going well and would end abruptly, so needless to say stress levels were very high. I decided to tell my mother that this had gone too far and that I really needed to be tested for HIV and that if she didn't want the family doctor to know then I would go to the clinic and have the test run, but I needed to know! My mom said she would rather see the family doctor than going to a clinic, so I did. When I saw the doctor I told him about my lifestyle and about my life in general. I also told him that there was a good chance that I could have been exposed to the virus. He was furious, not because of my lifestyle but because I had not told him earlier, in his eyes we had just wasted six months of my life when we could have tried treating my symptoms from another angle. Although treating HIV was harder then, than it is now, we still could have been doing other things to try and make me feel better. We decided to run the test!
Two weeks passed and finally late one afternoon, on a day that I luckily had off from work, the doctor called and told me he needed to see me in the office first thing in the morning. I don't claim to know everything, but at that point I knew what he had to say, and it would have to wait until the morning. The next day I was at the doctor's office bright and early. My mom was at work and she was in a good mood (I later found out that the doctor had not talked my mother until he talked to me, which is the professional and ethical way, even though as I said our families had been very close). So, I sat in the exam room, you know those cold sterile little rooms, waiting to hear the results of the test, and I already knew the answer. When the doctor came in the first thing he did was shake my hand and asked me how I was feeling. I told him I had been feeling better but not quite up to par yet. Then he said it "Tony the test came back positive." Reality hit I was HIV positive and I started to cry.
Now remember it was 1986 and at that time finding out you were HIV+ was death sentence. Like so many of my friends I didn't know where to begin in relation to what to do next. The biggest thought in my mind was how long would I have before the virus won. Of course the doctor couldn't answer that question, but at that time the thought process was that at most I would have probably five years if I was really lucky. I resigned my self to that fact and started to think what I really needed to do from that point. I never knew that in the end I would be able to say that in a little over a month from now, 2007, I will reach my 50th birthday. Unlike many I am excited to turn 50 and I'm extremely proud of what I have accomplished. I look forward to many more years but I never have and never will take for granted all the years that I have been afforded. Who knew...