Category Archives: Health Information

Cheese!


Cheese has to be one of life’s great pleasures. You can cook with it, throw it on a sandwich or crispbread, serve it in a salad, throw together a cheeseboard for a dinner party, or sit yourself down with a delicious, runny triple cream brie and a glass of wine or port. Whatever you do with it, you can be sure it will be devoured with gusto. Australia is now world-famous for its cheeses – a long way removed from the world of ‘Kraft’ cheddar and ‘Velveeta’ – a sweet, spreadable cheese packed in a similar way to ‘Kraft’ cheddar, and as my grandmother taught me, a great way to do “Vita Weet’ worms – that I grew up with.Everywhere from the Hunter Valley, to Tasmania to Western Australia – especially the Margaret River region – is doing spectacular cheddars, brie, camembert, goat’s cheese, washed rinds, ricotta, and the entire plethora of cheeses from all around the world.

Cheeses are basically classified as soft (Mozzarella, Ricotta, Feta, Haloumi, Goat’s Cheese, Chevre, Brie, Camembert, Washed Rind cheeses); semi-soft (Taleggio, Harvarti, Port Salut, Gouda, Edam, Colby); hard (Lancashire, Red Leicester, Double Gloucester, all the Cheddars, Pecorino, Manchego, Gruyere, Emmental, Jarlsberg, Provolone, Pecorino and the world famous Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano); blue (Brie, Camembert, Gorgonzola, Dolcellate, Stilton, Shropshire Blue, Jersey Blue, Gippsland Blue, Roquefort, Danish Blue); and strong (Limburger, Munster, Liptauer). Showing a total lack of modesty, I can say that I throw together the best cheeseboards, and often get asked by friends to do them for functions. I don’t go for the minimalist approach recommended by the cheese experts – I’ve never really been one for food snobbery. Eating cheese should be a pig-out experience, and this is the approach I take. I offer a variety of crackers, from basic water style to lavosh and grissini. The board will usually have 3-4 of my favourite cheeses, including: Margaret River Port Dipped Cheddar or King Island Cheddar; Persian Feta or a good Chevre or Goat’s Cheese; King Island ‘Discovery’ Washed Rind Brie or a double or triple Brie; and possibly a Port Salut. This gives a good variety of flavours and textures. Then add a sprinkling of fresh fruit, and items such as fresh dates, dried apricots, honey-glazed figs, Turkish Delight, Muscatels and chocolate coated orange peel. Believe me, there is never anything left. There is a wonderful range of accompaniments for cheeses that you can make yourself, and following are a few examples. I find that the stronger cheeses are more suitable to ports, and the creamier style cheeses compliment sweet desert wines. The supermarkets have finally woken up to the fact that fridges full of ‘Coon’, ‘Kamaruka’ and ‘Kraft’ just doesn’t hold sway anymore, and the bigger Coles and Woolworths supermarkets keep huge ranges of cheese, though some of the more specialist ones require the expertise of David Jones, or the fromagerie in Jones the Grocer or Simon Johnson Providore. There is also an excellent cheese store in the food court of the GPO Building in Martin Place in the city.

Always serve cheeses at room temperature, and please use the proper knifes, otherwise the cheese is just hacked.

Tim Alderman ©2017

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Black Dog Rising! A Journey Into – and Out of – Depression!

Originally published as “Not Who They Knew” in the August 1999 issue of “Talkabout” magazine.

“Easygoing”, “Always Smiling”, “A Strong Shoulder to Lean on”, “Outgoing” may all be phrases that you are familiar with, especially if you have been pigeon-holed with them, as I have over the years. This is not to say I am not all these things, just that it puts a set of expectations upon my shoulders of how I will appear to people, irrespective of my true feelings.

Towards the end of 1996, at the end of chronic illness, I had a major emotional and psychological problem on my hands-ME. I had been on the DSP for three years, I was not exactly 100% healthy, but I was certainly no longer ill. My viral load maintained itself at undetectable, my CD 4’s were stable. Combination therapy had moved the word ‘death’ quite a way down my vocabulary list. I had always had a group of peers for support years ago, but HIV had decimated that group. I felt alone, outcast, surviving with nowhere to go. I could not see a future with me in it.

Depression is a hard word to define. Ask twenty people, get twenty different answers. To me, depression was not that dark, down twisting spiral into oblivion that it is for many. Nor was it an ongoing thing that kept re-occurring over time. It was a period of intense self-doubt, a losing of self-worth, and my own values as a functioning member of the community I moved in. I wanted so much to return to life, not the life I had known, but an entirely new one, free of all the dross I had been dragging around with me, the frustration of unfulfilled dreams, and directionless yearnings.

I started (unknown to all, except by those close to me) to have black, brooding moods, periods of long silence where I would not communicate with anyone. I had panic attacks in bed at night, and developed a fear of the dark. I could not stand to travel in the subway, and avoided crowds. I saw a black future of pensions, and struggling to get by, ageing on my own, loneliness, and pills, pills pills. I remember that late one day I really needed to talk to someone desperately. I rang two of our HIV counselling services, to be told that noone was available-would I like to make an appointment for another day! I ended up ringing a friend and frantically dumping on him.

I do not like antidepressants. This is a personal thing, I have nothing against them in general, nor the people who need to take them. I already shovel enough tablets down my throat (at the time of all this happening, around 300 per week), and have no desire to add to the load. I am also, by nature, one who is capable of intense self-analysis. I knew I had severe problems, I knew I needed help. But where to start? 

The major problems, ones I have had all my life, were impatience, and wanting to do everything at once. I was aware that I needed counselling. This was not an easy self-admission. I had never believed in them. I rang Albion St, and arranged an appointment. The first meeting almost justified my misgivings about them, being a rushed affair whereby I felt time limitations were more important than my need to talk out issues. Following appointments were not so. I then did three of the beneficial things I have ever done with my life. I started volunteer work at the offices of PLWH/A (NSW) Inc, and started group work through both the ACON HIV Living Unit, and the Coleo Project. The ACON HIV Peer Support Group put me in contact with people going through similar experiences to mine. It gave me an outlet to voice my opinions, and to gain the advice and knowledge of other people to handle these panic situations. The Coleo project taught me the value of self-motivation, and the management of long-term treatment taking. They also encouraged me to take up writing, it being a good outlet for emotions-published or unpublished. This led to me joining the Positive Speakers Bureau, which has been, for me, one of life’s most fulfilling experiences.

In 2012, I had a bad experience after eye surgery at Royal Brisbane Hospital. I had some very serious surgery on my right eye…the left was blind (and is now a prosthetic)…and they fully covered the right eye after the operation. Coming out of vety heavy anesthesia, I thought I was blind, had a massive panic attack and attempted to pull the dressing off. A young Malaysian nurse, seeing this happening, started yelling at me, just making things worse. They eventually xalmed me down, and readjusted the dressing to admit some light, but the situation wasn’t good. At home, I started having attacks of anxiety & further panic attacks. I wasn’t sleeping well, was waking up with a start at around 4-5am, and had to get up as I couldn’t stand staying in bed. In bed, I couldn’t wear jewellery, or tee-shirts with tight necks – I felt they were choking me! This went on for about 6 weeks, and I was getting to the point of dispair. I contacted an Anglican support service (non religious, otherwise I wouldn’t have) on the advice if a HIV service. They, in turn, then kept in regular contact with me, helped via some counseling, and introduced me to Acceptance & Committment Therapy (ACT), and through the meditation sessions, and breathing, I eventually, over a couple of weeks, worked my way through it. I also put an official complaint into the hospital, and just doing something affirmative about the cause of this problem helped with the process of returning to where I had been before the operation.

Then, in early 2015, just after my return to Sydney from Brisbane, I had another period of both anxiety & panic attacks. 2014 had been a year from hell! I had a dreadful 60th birthday, followed by the breakdown of my 16 year relationship. Some financial oroblems followed on from that, then my ex-partners (we were clise friends after the breakup) parents both became serioysly ill; I had a very serious, debilitating dose of Shingles; Ampy, our longest surviving dog at that time, died; then in early 2015 I had my blind eye removed. This had all been bottled up, and on my return to Sydney – a move I really didn’t want to make – everything crashed in! The difficulty sleeping, getting moody, feeling that everything was getting on top of me, a severe drop in my libido, and Restless Leg Syndrome in bed at night all pointed to a return of the black dog. So off to the doctor, a psychological evaluation, and some antidepreeants & a drug to settle my restless legs. I went back to ACT, and within a fortnight we returned to a more normal state. 

But I know the capacity for anxiety & panic attacks is there, and that I need to ensure that I deal with issues as they come along. I consider myself lucky in some respects that it never gets worse that this. I don’t get cyclic deep, dark depression, nor do I get pushed to the point of suicide…but it is still a disturbing, disorientating and horrible place to be. Depression in any ofits forms  is not a pleasant place to be in.

This is a very different person sitting at this computer today. No longer scared of the future, or what it will hold. Confident that I have both a place, and direction to move in. I cannot give answers to others going through what St. Therese called ‘the Dark Night of the Soul’, except to hang on. There is, and must be, light at the end of the tunnel.

 Links

Tim Alderman ©1999 (Revised 2017

 

Viral Games!

Originally published in “Talkabout”, September 1999.

In May 1999 I had one of the scariest HIV-related experiences I have had since my encounters with CMV in 1996! I literally, for a brief period of time, lost control of my feet. Already having problems with peripheral neuropathy, this just added to the incertainty and conjecture surrounding the causes. Initially, I couldn’t walk a steaight line up a footpath, but staggered from left to right with no control whatsoever. It got so severe that I eventually had to resort to using a walking stick to get around! Cassie Workman was at a loss! Thyroid, cortisol, B12, folate, a CT scan, Gallium scan all done to negative results. It took a further MRI and lumbar puncture test to reveal that at some stage during my transition from one drug combination to another, the virus had crossed the blood/brain barrier and got into my brain! By the time it was discovered, the new combination had kicked in, and problem resolved itself. It was a scare I could have done without, as the symptoms were also indicative of some very serious – and deadly – brain disorders! HIV in those days was good at throwing curve balls!



  The moral to this story is to never brag! I had been telling a work colleague of a rise in my weight to over 70 kgs, a record weight for me, and a record I was damn proud of. Within a few days of this, however, chaos had set in, and the treasured weight was going to have to be fought for.

This bloody virus just never leaves you alone! I stare at the magnetic scan images in my hand, and admire just how sneaky it can be. The pale grey ‘clouds’ that drift over the image of my brain are evidence of its brief visitation, the disorientation and fear it caused, all too recent to be forgotten.


 It started so simply. As I have mentioned in other articles, I returned to work just 18 months ago. My health, including T-cells and viral load, had been excellent for this period of time. I guess I may have become a bit complacent, thinking good health was something I could now take for granted. As has also been mentioned in other articles, I have severe peripheral neuropathy in my feet. It is slowly progressing, and is about half way along my feet. When the staggering started, my immediate thought was that it was just another phase in the progression of the PN. I could not walk a straight line, and when walking up the street, staggered quite visibly from one side of the footpath to the other. At the time this was happening, I mentioned to people that I wasn’t feeling ‘right’, I couldn’t put a finger on what it was, it was just a general feeling that things weren’t as they are supposed to be. I was going through some changes to my combination therapy also at this time, and thought that may have had something to do with it. Well, it did! But not in the way I expected.

The next phase of the illness consisted of a feeling of chronic lethargy. It became an effort not just to get up in the morning, but to get dressed, and to motivate myself to get up the street to get to work. I lost my appetite, and libido. Then I started to drift off to sleep on the bus in the morning, this symptom extending to falling asleep at home as soon as I sat in front of the TV, both these things not being normal for me. It wasn’t until I nodded off to sleep in front of the computer at work that I realised something was going seriously wrong. 

A series of tests was started. I had iron, folate, and B12 tests. They were all normal. I went to Albion St Clinic and had a test for a disease called Addisons (the symptoms for this disease were identical to what I had), and it also came back negative. I went and had Gallium and CT scans, and nothing showed up. By this stage, my walking had deteriorated to such an extent that I was relying on a walking stick to get around. It was thought I may have had bio-chemical depression brought about by returning to work and suddenly finding myself with the prospect of ongoing life, so I was, reluctantly, prescribed anti-depressants. My weight dropped to 58 kgs, and I literally had no appetite at all. My partner and I had up until then a very healthy sex life, and this dropped away (quite rapidly) to nothing. He started to get very concerned, though managing to hide it. Going out anywhere with me, especially with the walking stick, was a long ordeal. The only advantage to it was that I always got a seat on the bus.


My doctor eventually ran out of possible causes for my condition, and made an appointment for me to see a neurologist at St. Vincent’s Clinic. He put me through a long consultation, with a series of tests to check reflexes and responsiveness. During the consult, he asked me to do a number of simple walking steps like heel-to-toe, and I was unable to do them without losing my balance. His diagnosis wasn’t hopeful, telling me that it could have been one of several very nasty diseases, including one called PML (Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy). I don’t actually know what it is, but the look on his face said all that had to be said. There was a possibility of undetected Syphilis infection from years ago, but a test soon cancelled that option out. He wanted me to have a lumbar puncture, but rang me the next day to say I was to have a magnetic scan first, just to see if anything turned up. These scans are more thorough than CT scans, and more likely to show up problems.

If you are claustrophobic, don’t even consider these scans. You have to stick your whole head inside this small cylinder, with ear- plugs in, and foam wedges to hold you steady. The machine itself makes a noise like a pneumatic drill. I took one look at it, and said ‘no way unless you knock me out’. They did!

As mysteriously as all this started, it began to reverse. I returned to the neurologist a week and a half later, he being as surprised as I was to see I was walking again. He had received the scans, and they showed evidence of HIV infection on the brain, quite visible when viewing them.


To say this frightened the shit out of me is an under-statement. I have always been very good with my treatments, and consider myself about 95% compliant, which is pretty good, considering how long I have been popping pills and, at times, the quantity I have had to take. Somehow, the virus had used an opportune moment between combinations to cross the blood/brain barrier. Everyone on combinations take at least one drug to prevent this happening, so it shows you how persistent the virus can be. It doesn’t so much hide as sneak around, looking for opportunities to invade various parts of us that are not so well protected. If I ever thought there was an argument not to take drug holidays, this is it! What damage it could have done to my brain if left unchecked horrifies me, especially the prospect of Dementia. They seem to think that the anti-virals brought it under control, and for my sake I would like to think the same.i

A month after all this and I am back to normal – appetite, energy levels, libido, the whole works. I hope to return to work within the next month. It looks as though I will still have to undergo a lumbar puncture (they’ll have to knock me out for this one, too!), as they want to know what drugs I have become resistant to. Over the period of the illness my viral load did a rise, the first in almost two years. The frightening part is that within one week, it rose from 3000 to 19000. It is now back under control.

I have lived a long time with this virus Almost all my time as an active gay man has been spent as HIV+. I have put up with, and survived, a number of HIV related illnesses. I intend at this time to live a lot longer with it. If drugs and hope are the ways and means I will have to use to follow this intention through, then that is just what I will do.     

Tim Alderman ©2000 (Revised 2017)

Keep It Up!

This article on HIV-related erectile dysfunction was originally published in the December2002/January 2003 edition of “Talkabout”. Though possibly not as common a problem now as then, it is nonetheless still relevant! I don’t know that solutions have changed much, butbthey have certainly got cheaper! The end of the copyright on Viagra saw it drop in price from $80-$100 per script to a mere $10! 

When I first decided to write a piece on HIV related impotence, I thought to myself “Hey, this is a pretty serious subject, and maybe you should treat it that way.” However, a visit to a sexual health clinic changed my mind on taking it too seriously, so here is a more tongue-in-cheek view on coping with impotence.

Firstly, don’t go onto the Internet and hope to find any information. I visited all my regular, usually reliable sites, and found absolutely nothing. There is plenty just on general impotence, but nothing on the HIV related. As usual with a lot of the more ‘delicate’ subjects (let’s face it, nobody likes admitting that ‘they can’t get it up’, there is bugger all information. As usual with a lot of HIV-related problems, nobody thinks it is really important, or perhaps that given the right length of time, the problem will just go away. But as we all know by now, that isn’t necessarily the case.

Visiting a sexual health clinic on the advice of my doctor – and clutching a referral – did come as a bit of a surprise to me. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it seemed like the sort of place where you would tell people that you were Mr X, and you are just here to inquire for a friend who is having problems!

It wasn’t tucked away in a dark alley, nor was the impotency problem treated as something only related to very old men, nor just one of nature’s aberrations. It was treated like a serious medical problem, and perhaps this was the one huge realisation. There was almost a blasé flippancy associated with the consultation, which I wasn’t expecting! As to the real reasons for HIV related impotency. I’m probably no more an expert than the guys who are trying to assist those of us with this problem. Everyone does seem to agree that as people live longer and longer with HIV, it is becoming a more widespread problem, irrespective of your actual health status. The fact that there don’t seem to be any studies covering this area at the moment should be of some concern, as the one thing we can be relatively sure of is that the problem is not just related to HIV. Some experts think it is just a natural progression of advanced HIV disease; others see it as being a side-effect of combination therapy (plus all the other drugs needed to handle HIV); some think it is related to having had AIDS (if you have had AIDS); or that it is related to peripheral neuropathy, especially long-term PN. For some of us, it is a problem of having lived with HIV for 20 odd years, and getting older. My neurologist doesn’t seem to concur with the PN idea, but personally I know that it is a distinct possibility. If PN can affect the way I move and get around, if it can cause other sorts of neurological disorders, I see no reason why it could not be related to impotency. Let’s be real. Those of us who have lived with HIV for as long as the disease has been around, are still coming up with things that nobody had even considered, let alone know what to do with. And as we all know, we don’t usually fit into any of the general categories, and what happens with us, health wise, is often unexpected. So, it is a bit of ‘by guess or by God’ at the moment, in trying to pin down the causes of this type of impotency.

The clinician proceeded to ask me the usual questions – are you in a relationship? Yes! How does your partner feel about this? Well, pretty unimpressed! I don’t think anybody would be really happy with this problem, from either side of the fence! Have you considered an open relationship? Well, that helps his problem, but it doesn’t really help mine! It wouldn’t exactly be a situation where you could go home and compare notes later on about your trade! Have you considered using a cockring? Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but I always thought these gizmos were more about aesthetics than practicalities – you know, visual stimulation and all that (not to mention adding a sizeable amount to the actual dimensions of a cock), but here it was, out of the world of sex shops and mail order, and onto a clinician’s desk. Talk about taking the erotic appeal, and the mystique, out of an object! To be told that the good old studded leather contraptions are just not good enough for this sort of problem was very disheartening. Now as to the suggested alternative, well I have to say that perhaps we should go the way of eroticism instead of common sense. A very wide rubber band! Yes, you heard that right! I was given a sample to take home and try – or a ‘medically authorised’ cockring, which I have to say, still being the owner of black rubber and leather rings, left a lot to be desired. I could see the purpose to it, but God, was it ugly! A flesh-coloured ring with a small handle on each side of it, so that it can be stretched over the erect penis, it almost looked like some bizarre love-handled item, or perhaps a sighting feature for those who can’t aim straight! 


There was also a plethora of information on ‘Viagra’ and ‘Cavaject’. Now, both these are good products, and anyone having used them as prescribed will attest to this. However, there are drawbacks. ‘Viagra’ is not on the PBS, and at $55+ for 4 tablets, is very expensive if you are on a pension (this us no longer accurate. The copyright on Viagra expired a few years ago, and it is very cheap). You also have to be careful with it if you are on protease inhibitors. If you buy the larger size tablets, you will need a tablet cutter to split them, as they are very hard to break. But perhaps their biggest drawback is that you have to – sort of – plan your sex life, which kills any hopes of spontaneity with sex. It takes anywhere from 30-60 minutes to work (depending on your metabolism), and once you’ve taken it, you’d better hope your partners still in the mood when it kicks in; or that there are plenty of available partners; or that everyone doesn’t suddenly change their mind, and go back to sleep, because if that happens, there goes $15 down the drain! On the upside, if your partner is in the mood, you are about to give them one hell of a good time, but there is always that element of the unexpected. And waiting can be frustrating. It’s fine to tell your partner that you have just taken the tablet, but if he is ready to get into it after 20 minutes of foreplay, you could be left well behind in the stakes. Unfortunately for some of us, headaches are a side-effect of Viagra…so the sex had better be worth it!


 Similarly, problems exist for ‘Cavaject’, though initially, it works a lot quicker than ‘Viagra’, being injected directly into the penis. If you are needle-shy, forget this! You probably also don’t want to see the video the sexual health clinics give to help you decide. To start with, they use a female doctor in it. Now, don’t get me wrong! I know female doctors are every bit as good as male! It is just disconcerting that in a scenario where it is a male problem being discussed with men, it is slightly off-putting to see this poor guy in the video stretching his penis out, holding it as though it is about to spit poison, then aiming a needle at it as a female voice in the background goes ‘Very good. You are going well’. The fact that she looks a bit like everybody’s mother probably doesn’t help, either (no offence to whoever she is). Now, if this doesn’t put you off, the price, and the procedure, probably will. I managed to do a bit of stockpiling just before it went off the PBS, thankfully. It went from $3.50 for 5 injections to $80+ overnight. Again, you wouldn’t want to be wasting it on frivolous events. It does have the added plus, as I mentioned earlier, of working instantly. And boy, when it works, it works! We are talking rock hard to the point of impressive here! However, just make sure that you don’t hit any veins or capillaries on the way in, as a gusher of blood can be a bit of a passion killer. They show you how it is done to avoid this, but as with all things, we weren’t all cut from the same pattern. You also have to be careful with the needle, as you can get a bruise from a misplaced shot (or perhaps an over-eager shot!). It is a simple procedure, and it really doesn’t hurt, though I encountered a slight stinging for a few seconds just after the initial injection. I had a sexual encounter with a guy – in his home – prior to this revelation. I was already rearing to go…when he suddenly disappeared…only to return a couple of minutes later sporting a very impressinly hard erection! It is only now that I realise what he was doing.


I’m also sure that a lot of you HIV guys are now familiar with regular injections of ‘Sustenon’, a testosterone topper-upper. It is very effective if you have depleted testosterone levels, but doesn’t serve much purpose if you fall into the normal reading range, and your impotency is caused by other factors. ‘Sustenon’ is not cheap either, being in the $30+ range. I think this is a major concern with ‘Viagra’, ‘Cavaject’ and ‘Sustenon’, in that now, none of them are available on the PBS (unless, in the case of ‘Sustenon’, you can show depleted levels of hormone). Okay, if you are a vain person with no medical problems, and you just want to show off your sexual prowess, then you should have to pay for these products! However, when the PBS definitions and classifications of uses for ‘Viagra’ and ‘Sustenon’ went through reclassification, HIV disease was NOT defined as a reason for being able to have them prescribed. The definitions have never changed, despite research that shows these are problems often associated with HIV. So, to be HIV+, and to want a healthy, normal sex life means you have to pay through the nose. If you are on a pension, consider joining a monastery! The choice is 4 or 5 ecstatic sexual encounters, or starvation. On second thoughts, I may have to think about that!

Now, this brings me back to the brochure I walked home with after that little visit to the clinic. Not only pictures and order-form for a natty little injection kit for ‘Cavaject’, and the love-handle cockring, but also a vacuum pump. Now, last time I saw one of these items – and it was recently – was on an ‘adult only’ site (you know the sort I mean! The ones that require adult verification!), and the use it was being put to was not medical. Hell, when I used to manage ‘Numbers’ Bookshop (a lifetime ago), these were amongst my best selling items – from the cheapest, through to the elite models. I have to say that on this particular site I was on, they did show budget-wise reasons for using this devise, as two guys were using it at the same time. You could time-share with a friend I guess, but the fact of both of you wanting sex with different people at the same time is probably pretty remote, so it probably isn’t convenient to do it this way. I can see that they have a certain erotic appeal, and would probably be fun as foreplay, but imagine the extreme situations that could possibly occur. Over-pumping to start with, or getting the old boy stuck! Try explaining that in A&E, let alone telling them that you bought it through a medical catalogue.

Though, ideally, I don’t see any of these things – apart, perhaps, from ‘Viagra’ – as totally expedient ways of overcoming impotency, it is a ‘different strokes for different folks’ scenario, and in a lot of cases, doing something is better than doing nothing. We’d all like a reasonable sex-life, and if it means going to some sort of extreme, I guess most of us would be willing to swallow a little pride, and use whatever props we have to. On the upside, on ACA a couple of weeks ago, there was a story about this guy who has been successfully trialling a capsule that dissolves under your tongue, and guarantees pretty quick results. I did ask my pharmacist about this, and he claims it will probably be a couple of years before it is available. I say let’s try and get on the trial! 

In the meantime, I guess we are going to have to either scrape up the money to go down the ‘Sustenon’/’Viagra’/’Cavaject’ road, or stock up on appliances. Whichever way we choose, as HIV+ people we are used to being creative, and I’m sure our imaginations won’t let us down in the sex department.

Go for it, people!

If all else fails, there is always this alternative…


Tim Alderman © 2002 (Revised 2017)
 

An Eye For An Eye – Life After Cytomegalovirus Retinitis (CMV Retinitis).

This article, recently resurrected, was originally written in 2012, as I sat in the loungeroom at Ashgrove (Brisbane) after a panic attack drove me from my bed at 5am. I have revised & reedited the piece to cover the period between then and now. The original was published in “Talkabout” in 2012.


I shouldn’t actually be alive! And if it had been any other time other than when it was – 1996 – that would have been the outcome. However, timing and medicine are everything, or so it seemed in that period of huge leaps in HIV care and treatment. As a 42-year-old HIV+ gay man who was admitted to Prince Henry Hospital (now closed) at La Perouse in Sydney, weighing in at 48kg, with chronic CMV retinitis, chronic anemia, chronic candida and 10 CD4’s I guess you could say I wasn’t well, and the truth be known my thoughts were more attuned to the after-life than being given a future. So, blood transfusions happened, heavy dosing of drugs happened (curtesy of my current regimen) and gancyclovir injections into the eyes happened – but perhaps most importantl…the new protease inhibitors happened and in combination with my other drugs created miracles. My severely depleted CD4 count did a small, slow rise, and my 100,000 viral load slowlt dropped to 10,000. Though still very weak and sick, I walked out of Prince Henry a couple of weeks later, then spent the next 18 months getting my health – physical & mental – back on track.

At this stage I could crap on endlessly about all the strategies that I used, the anabolic steroid therapy to treat Wasting Syndrome, the fears and uncertainties, the sheer strength of will needed to reconnect with life, not to mention the huge mental shift that drove my life off into uncharted territory and resulted in the man I am today. Blah, blah, blah!So instead of boring you with all that, I want to concentrate on the one aspect of all this that is still impacting my life today – the CMV retinitis.

Say CMV to most people these days and you will just get a blank look. It is an insidious disease, and one that was greatly feared in the era of rampaging AIDS infections. It is a virus that pretty well everyone has present in their body, but is usually only activated in immune-suppressed people. In its retinitis form it attacks the retina, and can spread to the macula by slowly destroying the cells. It is painless, though can be evidenced by a greying of vision and the appearance of floaters. If untreated it will eventually lead to blindness. By the time it was detected in my eyes a lot of damage had already been done, and I was aggressively treated with intraocular injections of gancyclovir…yes, that does mean injections directly into the eye. What fun! At the time this was going on, they were looking for guinea pigs to trial gancyclovir implants – called Vitrasert implants – in each eye. I volunteered, had two operations to insert them, then found that the 4% chance of developing cataracts turned out to be 100%, so back for another two operations to remove them, and replace the lenses, plus some laser work. The end result of all these operations and expectations for me was that they hadn’t caught it in time in the left eye, and despite a tiny sliver of vision I was effectively blind in that eye. Despite a lot of scar tissue, the majority of sight was saved in the right eye at that time.

It takes ages to adapt to changed vision, especially when one eye is effectively blind, so over the next 12 months I became accustomed to having accidents, including several falls thanks to tree roots bulging through pavements and bus seats that were just out of sight range. It gets to a point where you no longer get embarrassed. Both eyes appeared to stabilise, I adjusted to the changed vision and in some respects life went on. Apart from the falling over, other negative issues included an avoidance of crowds and busy places, and 3-D cinema was a total waste of time. You do adapt strategies, but it is not yourself that you need to worry about, but other people. There have been a number of occasions where I thought a tee-shirt emblazoned with the words “Vision-Impaired Person” would have been handy.

Vitrasert Implant

It was 2008 before I had any further problems, and that was with my blind eye. It developed what I thought was a grain-of-sand-in-the-eye irritation, so off to the ophthalmologist at RPA hospital, who then passed me onto the Sydney Eye Hospital. When specialists start passing you on to other baffled looking specialists you know you have a problem! Evidently the blind eye didn’t realise it was blind, and decided to start creating a new system of blood supply to the eye, which in turn was in the wrong places as well as increasing the pressure in the eye. There was a new injectable drug around called Avastin which cuts off the blood supply to cancer tumours, and it was decided to inject this into the eye to stop the new blood system developing. So, off for another intraocular injection. It did the job, but I was also told that the interior of the eye was collapsing, and that in time it would change colour. Oh joy of joys. Over the next 18 months it changed from a normal looking eye that just had no vision to this oddly coloured eye which made many people think I had two different coloured eyes (a genetic variance). And this is how it still looked until 2014.

However, this is good old HIV we are dealing with here, and it doesn’t like being ignored. Just as you think the worst of your problems are over it throws another bit of shit at you. I had been told previously that with the amount of scar tissue present in my good eye that there was a real chance of the retina detaching. So, shortly after moving to Brisbane, when the good eye started swapping between clear and blurred vision and finally settling on blurred, I knew something was wrong. A visit to A&E (on ANZAC day 2012) resulted in no clear result, so off to the RBH Eye Clinic the following day. The retina was off, and floating around, and there was a scare, with them thinking the CMV had reactivated…hard to believe seeing as I wasn’t immune suppressed, had a high CD4 count and an undetectable viral load – and another scare when they realised that I had highly toxic implants in my eyes (though long inactive, as they discovered). Instead of collecting some eye drops and toddling back home as I expected, I was put straight into a ward, and within 24 hours was in the operating theatre. A bad recovery room experience with an Asian Nurse Ratchet, whereby they weren’t informed that I was blind in my left eye, and leaving me to come-to in total blackness, occasioning a major panic attack is something I could have done without. The ongoing problems of anxiety and panic attacks (and this article being written at 5am) is something I am slowly getting over thanks to counselling and a letter to RBH formally requesting they look at the procedures and communication in the recovery room. My vision is now officially classified as blind. Glasses help a bit, but it is now a matter of me adapting to a low-vision life and devising some new strategies to deal with it. I can still read, though the font is huge, obviously I can still write though currently using huge fonts to do it. In 2013 I attended Southbank Institute of Technology to do the Certificate III in Fitness. I am not only the first 59yo to do the Certificate…I am the first severely vision-impaired person to do it. Threw TAFE into a panic, as they had to develop strategies to deal with me, and make sure tutors were on-board and up to speed. As much as I loved the experience, and the youngsters around me were absolutely wonderful, I came to realise that I was way too slow at moving around a gym to be a PT, so went no further. Atthe same time, I had done white cane training, and though finding the canes handy in certain circumstances – like whacking my way through the city – it is, as a general rule, more a hindrance than a help. However, it is great for getting seats on public transport!

In early 2015, after ongoing problems with my blind eye, and not wanting to go on infinitum with drops, I opted to have my blind eye removed. Unlike the old days, they now put an artificial ball into the socket, and attach the muscles to it, so it moves like a real eye. I had a prosthetic fitted, and to date no one has detected that it’s artificial.
However, my vision in general is now very severely impaired. Every trip outside my front door is a potential suicide mission – not to nention ducking and weaving around two Jack Russell Terriers at home…but I still challenge the risks, and get out and about under my own steam as often as possible. If anyone wants to date me…I’m a high maintenance date these days. Being night blind, I need to be guided around, and I move very slowly and cautiously. However, it has been pointed out to me that I can still spot a hot butt from some distance away! Some Gay traits over-ride everything!

As for the future… who knows. I am trying to develop the “living in the moment” way of my dogs by just taking each day as it comes. I have had a lot of help and support, and despite whatever may happen that will always be there.


As they say, there are none so blind as those who will not see! I still walk my dogs every morning, I still read & write, still do my genealogy and my DJ mixes, go to gym, do the shopping, get around to local restaurants and cafes so I can’t complain. Life should always be an empowering experience, and the best way to achieve that is to own your disabilities – instead of letting both HIV and disabilities rule your life…YOU rule your HIV and disabilities! That is the road to freedom!


Tim Alderman.

Copyright 2012 © (Revised 2017)

A Brief (Personal) Memoir of HIV & AIDS

I discovered this older article recently while rummaging through my article archives. I present it here with some edits and newspaper inclusions. HIV & AIDS (note the separation of the two) has an intricate, but morbidly fascinating, national & international history. I watched “The Normal Heart” again only a couple of days ago, and the hospital scene where Felix is in the hospital ward with the meal sitting outside the door of his KS infected friend, and being told not to go in without contagion gear raised a whole plethora of unpleasant memories with me. To understand where HIV is now, you need to understand where it was! 


I can’t believe it has been about thirty seven years since we first started hearing about HIV/AIDS. I find it even harder to believe that I have been infected for thirty five years. Over half my life has been lived with this virus! In personal retrospection, I could say that compared to the bad, bad old days of 1981, life is a bed of roses today. But then I am aware that quite a lot of people would still not share that sentiment, so out of respect to them, I will avoid such romanticism.


I was living in Melbourne at that time, and I believe that HIV/AIDS got its first mention in the gay press a little earlier than 1981, though I could be wrong. There were only snippets, overseas briefs if you like, of a strange STD that seemed to be selectively attacking the San Francisco gay community, or more specifically, those members of that community who frequented the baths and back rooms of the famous city. I know that no one here was particularly concerned. We thought it was just another of ‘those American things’, or just a mutated form of the clap. Nothing that a pill wouldn’t fix! By the time I returned to Sydney in 1982, we had started to think quite differently. Some of us were getting very scared!

The media began drowning us in information, mainly from the United States. There was the dramatic scenario of ‘Patient 0’, from whom it was assumed the whole epidemic had spread like an out of control monster. The USA and France argued over who had discovered the virus, and made the link between HIV infection and AIDS (watch “Dallas Buyers Club” for an inkling of what this was all about!). A debate raged as scientists tried to decide what to call it and which acronym to use. We had GRID (Gay Related Immune Disease) and HTLV 1 & 2 (Human Transmitted Lymphoma Virus – if memory serves me well). They eventually settled on HIV for initial viral infection, and AIDS for any subsequent illnesses that resulted from the breakdown of the immune system. The original Center for Disease Control (CDC) classification system for the various stages of HIV and AIDS progression was so complicated that you really needed a university degree to be able to decipher them. To make things more manageable they finally settled on four classifications. 

Then came ARCs (AIDS Related Conditions) but that was considered politically incorrect, so we settled on OIs (Opportunistic Infections).

The argument over names and classifications wasn’t half as frightening as the reality of the disease itself, which started to hit home in 1985. Official testing began in that year, and is still the earliest date that medicos will accept as a point of diagnosis with HIV. Any date earlier than that is declared to be a ‘self-report’. Like many others, I assumed I was HIV+ long before testing started. Virgin and chaste were not words to be found in my life resume. Sydney’s Albion Street Centre was the first here to begin testing, and it was done very discreetly and anonymously. We all used an assumed first name, and were issued with a number to identify who we were. (In 1996, when I needed to tap into my first HIV test results done at Albion Street, they were still there.) Counseling was atrocious. You were given your HIV+, or HIV- (if you were lucky) status very bluntly, then quickly shunted over to a counsellor before the shock had a chance to set in. You were also told, almost apologetically, that you probably had about two years to live. That was HIV diagnosis circa 1985. 

A number of our conservative politicians, and some of our outraged Christian clergy started to say that they wanted us placed in quarantine. It was very specifically a gay disease, according to them, and they truly believed that fencing off the gay areas of Sydney and leaving it to run its course could contain it. These people wondered why we got tested anonymously!

By 1985 people were starting to die. There were no dedicated HIV wards in any of our hospitals, and patients were shuttled between temporary beds in wards and the emergency department. Reports started to filter through of hospital staff wearing contagion suits around patients with HIV. Worse still, meals were being left outside the doors of rooms, and would often be cold by the time the patient managed to get them. Cleaners refused to clean the rooms. There were scares of infection by contact with everything from a toothbrush, to a glass, to cutlery, so patients were offered very disposable forms of hygiene. Even mosquito’s copped some of the blame. 

Then, of course, we had the living daylights frightened out of all of us with the “Grim Reaper”television ads. From 1985 to 1995, death lived with us on a daily basis. If you weren’t visiting sick friends, lovers, or partners in hospital, you were visiting them at home, or attending their funerals and wakes. Most of us lost the majority of our friends, and for most of us those friendships have never been replaced.

Around that time, the gay community took charge of what was quickly becoming an out-of-control situation. Tired of seeing friends dying in emergency wards, and getting only the minimum of care at home and in hospitals, we established our own care, support and advocacy groups. Out of the pub culture grew groups as diverse as BGF, CSN, ANKALI, ACON, and PLWHA. Maitraya, the first drop in centre for plwha was founded, and we raised the first quarter of a million dollars through an auction at “The Oxford” Hotel to start to improve ward conditions at St. Vincent’s Hospital. The gay community can forever take great pride in itself for bringing about great changes, not only in the care of plwha, but in the way the disease was handled, both politically and socially..

The Department of Social Security streamlined people with HIV/AIDS through the system and onto Disability Support Pensions, and the Department of Housing introduced a Special Rental Subsidy so that those on a Pension, and unable to wait interminable amounts of time for housing, were able to live in places of their own choice, at greatly subsidised rent. Home care became available through CSN, which, at that time, was not a part of ACON. By 1992, there was a perceived need for improved dental services for HIV patients, especially considering the high incidence of candida. The United Dental Hospital led the way with a HIV Periodontal Study, which at last provided reasonable dental care to plwha. 

The first vaccine, p24VLP, was trialled with absolute zero results. There were quite a number of scares with HIV contaminated blood, and screening of blood donors was tightened. Discrimination reared its ugly head in the Eve van Grafhorst case, which forced this poor little girl to not only leave her school because of the hysterical reaction to her HIV infection, but to flee the country with her family.

In 1987, the first therapy for AIDS – azidothymidine (AZT) – was released in the USA, and its use in patients with HIV/AIDS was fast-tracked through the approval process here. In France a huge trial called ‘The Concord Trial’ was conducted – unethically – and its findings were found to be inaccurate. The resulting announcement that AZT was ineffective in the control of HIV, and the drug nothing more than ‘human Rat Sak’, caused a universal outcry. The damage was done. Many had no faith in the new drug at all, and local activists and proponents of alternative therapies tried to encourage people not to use the drug. Many of us chose otherwise. True, the effects of AZT were short-term only – maybe six to twelve months – but many saw it as a way to keep the wolf from the door long enough for some other drugs to come along. And come along they did. AZT was quickly followed by what are referred to as the ‘D’ drugs – d4T, ddi, ddc, and the outsider 3TC. However, these were all drugs from one class called Nucleoside Analogues and all had short effectiveness. Some doctors tried giving them in double combinations, but the effectiveness wasn’t much better. Despite their short life span, these drugs were being prescribed in enormous doses, which resulted in problems such as haematological toxicity, anemia, and peripheral neuropathy. We needed a miracle! Add travel restrictions in many countries, blood transfusion infections, and some babies dying as a result of this and things weren’t looking good!

Those of us who had managed to survive to 1996 were starting to give up hope. Most of us were on a pension, had cashed in and spent our superannuation and disability insurance, had a declining health status, and didn’t hold out much hope for a longer survival time. Prophylaxis for illnesses such as PCP, CMV, MAC and candida had helped improve most people’s lives, but they didn’t halt the progress of the virus. The first of the Protease Inhibitors, Saquinavir, was introduced that year, and evidence started to emerge of the effectiveness of combining the two classes of drugs into what came to be known initially as ‘combination therapy’ and later as HAART (Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy). The results were astounding; those close to dying suddenly found their CD4 counts rising, accompanied by a return to reasonable health. Viral Load testing was introduced and people were finding not just a raising of their CD4 counts, but a drastic lowering of their viral load, often to the point of its being undetectable. This became known amongst doctors as ‘the gold standard’. Ganciclovir Implants to assist with the control of CMV retinitis were trialled the same year, and Albion Street Clinic started a trial using decadurabolane, a steroid, to assist in controlling Wasting Syndrome. The new drug combinations (NNRTI’s – Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptease Inhibitors – a third class of drugs, were introduced shortly after) were not without their complications and problems. Most combinations still required huge quantities of pills to be taken daily, not just of the HAART drugs, but also prophylaxis and drugs to help control side effects such as nausea and diarrhoea. Their use required time and dietary compliance. Other problems such as lipodystrophy, lipoatrophy, and renal problems appeared, but we were, despite any drawbacks, a lot better off than we had been ten years, hell even two years earlier. 

People’s health changed drastically, and suddenly new services started to take prominence. Some people required lots of counselling to help them reconnect with the life they thought had been taken from them. Others went to peer support groups or turned to treatment management groups, and some to the larger range of support services being provided by The Luncheon Club, The Positive Living Centre, NorthAIDS and other similar groups. There was recognition that there was a need for services to assist people with an improved health status, as some of them were contemplating returning to work. Despair had, to a large extent, been replaced by hope. Organisations concerned with people’s changing needs reassessed and changed their services to meet the demand. Those that changed have survived, and are still prominent in our community.

The war is far from over. New generations require new strategies, and while everyone seems happy that infection rates for HIV have remained steady in Australia (despite rampaging out of control in Third World countries), many feel it is still not good enough that, at this stage of 37+ years into HIV/AIDS, countries like Australia with high levels of education and accessibility to media and information should be seeing a decline in infections. Remembering my own youth I find it difficult to comment on the attitudes of young people. I grew up through the very worst that HIV/AIDS had to throw at us, and the lessons it taught are not easy to forget. I have to ask myself had I not had that experience, how would I be viewing it? It is no longer just the responsibility of the gay community to guard against new infections. Responsibility also rests with the straight community, and the IDU community, as infection rates remain at their current level. Some scaremongers have ventured forth theories of a ‘third wave’ of infection, but I trust we are too wise, and too educated to allow that sort of irresponsibility to happen.
Many of us (certainly not all) are going on to lead relatively normal lives. Many have returned to work either as volunteers, or in casual, part-time or full-time employment. Many like myself have returned to tertiary education, determined not to leave this world without at least fulfilling some gnawing ambition. However, we are not living in a ‘post-AIDS’ world, and to think so would be foolish. Even if the battles have been won at home, they still need to be fought elsewhere. We still need new drugs, and we still need people to trial both the emerging antiviral and opportunistic infection drugs and the immune-based therapies. We now have a fourth class of drugs in the form of Nucleotide Analogues. Many medical practices have adopted a holistic approach to medicine, and this can be judged to be a direct spin-off from the HIV/AIDS wars. Hopefully, soon please, a new vaccine will appear.

I really don’t know how much longer I will live now. Certainly with the standard of health care I get, and the close monitoring, I may live out whatever my allotted time was to be. Time will be a better judge of that than I will. For me, HIV/AIDS has been a two-edged sword. It has taken good health from me, I have permanent disabilities from AIDS, and I have seen far too many friends, lovers and partners die from this hideous disease. At the same time, it has presented me with opportunities I would never have grasped if it had not come along. I am re-educating myself, taking myself off along strange paths. It has given me a whole new understanding not just of HIV, but of disabilities in general, and a great respect for those who overcome difficulties and recreate their lives.

At a university tutorial last semester, a young woman asked me if I thought every day about having HIV. I don’t! It may have taken thirty five years, but it is now so integrated into my life, that I have trouble remembering the time when I didn’t have it. The pills are just pills now (and thankfully a lot less of them than even 4 years ago), and most of my current medical problems have more to do with ageing than with HIV. 

I can tell you, that really gives me something to think about!

Tim Alderman (C © Revised 2017)

Rumination of the Day (6th December 2016

56 NAMES FOR SUGAR

I don’t hate sugar per se, but I do hate how it is snuck into just about everything we eat. It is a highly addictive product, despite the sugar industry denying it – no shock there! The only way you can avoid sugar is to not shop in the centre of your supermarket! The less processed foods you eat, and the more you prepare yourself, the healthier you will be. Sure, you do go through withdrawal, and everything fresh & healthy tastes “wrong” for a while, but that passes, and once you adapt, it is hard to go back. I get posts in my feed of things like Malteser desserts, and Tim Tam’s and the such like – and all it does is put my teeth on edge when I think about how sweet they would be. 

When I did Nutrition as part of my Certificate III in Fitness, the tutor asked the class, during a lesson on sugar, what one thing would the body burn first to give you a burst of energy. I was the only one in the class who said…sugar! The human body is intrinsically lazy, and hares to expend energy to run itself, so it looks for the easy way out. Given the choice between sugar, and fat as an energy source – sugar wins because it is easier to burn. However, if you don’t burn it off, it stores it to burn later…thus you get fat.

The sugar industry itself is responsible for a multitude of misinformation, dishonest advertising, and self-funded health reports relling us sugar is not a baddie! It is all very underhanded, and badically caters to the lazy cook, and those who really just don’t care!

There is no harm in some sugar! Have an occasional slice of cake, or biscuit, or a dessert…just don’t do it daily. 

Barley malt
Dehydrated cane juice

Golden sugar

Molasses

Barbados sugar

Demerara sugar

Golden syrup 

Muscovado

Beet sugar

Dextran

Grape sugar

Panocha

Brown sugar

Dextrose

High fructose corn syrup

Powdered sugar

Buttered syrup

Diastatic malt

Honey

Raw sugar

Cane juice

Diatase

Icing sugar

Refiner’s syrup

Cane sugar

Ethyl maltol

Invert sugar

Rice syrup

Caramel

Free flowing brown sugars

Lactose

Sorbitol

Corn syrup

Fructose

Malt

Sorghum syrup

Corn syrup solids

Fruit juice

Maltodextrin

Sucrose

Confectioner’s sugar

Fruit juice concentrate

Maltose

Sugar (granulated)

Carob syrup

Galactose

Malt syrup

Treacle

Castor sugar

Glucose

Mannitol 

Terpinado sugar

Date sugar

Glucose solids

Maple syrup

Yellow sugar

Some of these you will recognize as sugar, but what about ethyl maltol and maltose? Manufacturers are sneaking these types of sugar into everyday products without the consumer knowing what they are eating or drinking. Even the most health-conscious of us consumes processed foods, even if just on the odd occasion. However if we don’t know what these sugars are called, and what they can do to our bodies, how can we make informed decisions? Is the answer to simply avoid processed foods altogether, or are we simply misunderstanding sugar and the effect it has on us?

Tim Alderman (2016)

Daily (Or When The Mood Takes Me) Gripe: The Disgrace of the Tasmanian Salmon Farming Big Guns- Tassal!

4 Corners Monday 31st October 2016 – Big Fish 

On last nights 4 Corners, we were presented with an investigation into the big wigs of salmon farming in Tasmania, and what was revealed is everything that is wrong with big corporations, not just here but worldwide. The lack of accountability, and the culture of denial for these companies is no longer something that can be hidden in plain sight.
To quote from my Facebook post just an hour after watching this  gobsmacking investigation where a serious  issue is treated like a game by Tassal –  “Lies, no transparency, lies, huge profits, lies, environmental vandalism to the once pristine waters around Tassie, lies, setting up “plants” for the 4 Corners interview, lies, ruining other businesses through their practices, lies, over-populating salmon farms, lies, denial of everything, and lies. Did I mention lies? And as to the WWF – just like the Heart Tick, it’s all up for sale under the guise of “donations” – provided the WWF can see fit to bestow its logo upon you…or as long as you can afford it. Corporate corruption is just par for the course these days, with government and its agencies seemingly turning a blind eye! Thank heaven for concerned citizens, whistleblowers, and those who are so fed up with it all that they just give the big FUCK YOU to them!

Oh..and in case you didn’t know, your lovely pink farmed salmon is coloured chemically through the fish food…they even get to choose the shade of pink! 

I am so glad I hate salmon, so not helping towards the profits of these unethical, immoral corporations. What an eye-opener…and unfortunately, none of it a shock! Let’s hope the pot has had a good stirring!”

Tassal are currently in the process of gaining permision to expand their salmon farming in bays along the Tasmanian shoreline. The environmental impact of what will become over-farming is dividing the community, but as always local government, state govrrnment and related agencies appear to be ignoring impact reports, and personal attempted interventions from those both experienced in the industry, and in several cases those impacted on a oersonal level by the current aggressive actions by Tassal.

The amount of fish excrement, and residue from feeding pellets, has to have a detrimental effect on what is currently a pristine environment, sitting on a knife edge. It doesn’t take a lot of common sense to see that things could – and have been – be tipped over the edge. That 4 Corners came to town obvioysly wasn’t a welcome intrusion “Four Corners doesn’t come down unless the community is concerned, I get that… I would be happier if we just slid under your radar and you hadn’t been here, but you’re here.” Company CEO. Obviously some Tassal employees are in the job just fot the pay – and not company loyalty – as several leaked documents from Tassal showed an attempt at subterfuge as far as the investigative team were concerned. Not only was a 50-page how-to-handle-Four-Corners manual produced by them, but most tellingly was a list of local big wigs who were “encouraged” to offer their support of Tassal in a contrived meeting that was rigged in their favour. One has to wonder just what inducements were offered by Tassal to gain their endorsement!

Even worse was a mussel farming small business that had been put out of business by Tassal’s intensive farming methods. A deadly sludge produced by cleaning methods on the salmon farms had coated and killed the mussels. Not only did the farm go broke, but a marriage was destroyed. Tassal, obviously not afraid to take advantage of a situation, offered to buy out the mussel farm leases – but with caveats attached. Most notable was the requirement to silence on the matter, that it was never to be spoken about, nor were they to denigrate Tassal. The poor ex-owner of the mussel farm was sick of carrying the burden around, and broke the caveat by speaking out against them. We need more people like this in the world! 

But perhaps the most disappointing – though not really coming as a shock – was the attitude and lack of ethics of WWF (World Wildlife Fund) Australia. We have known for some time now that organisations like this – and the Heart Tick is another – get funding from selling their logo to put on products distributed by corporations like Tassal – with no impunity! This organisation is supposedly about protecting the environment, and the wildlife within the environs. However, it would appear that money is more important than ethics, despite knowing that their logo on a product is, from the publics point of view, a reason to select that product for purchase. What a savage deception! The organisations we turn to to provide protection in the environment against the violations of big business (who only care about shareholders and profits) is disillusioning! They are really no better than those offering “donations” to procure an endorsement that is, as it turns out, just a joke. WWF Australia did a total fail with their attempts to validate why Tassal were allowed to use their logo!

The sad thing is that once again, big business is bulldozing its way through the process, offering the community much needed jobs and money…but at what cost! Often, as we know, the end does not justify the means. Tassal are, like so many corporations now, using language and trends to portray their businesses in a positive light. They tout their transparency (at the opaque end of the scale) and their environmental “sustainability” and “best practice” like badges of honour, meanwhile hiding behind the semantics, and self-reporting (all in-house) to subvert the outcome to something that is less than desirable, or accountable  Producing salmon is big business and the industry is reaping big profits with plans to turn it into a billion dollar industry within 15 years. “”I would say that salmon farming is clean and green though it’s not a term that I’d like to use. I would say that it’s a responsibly farmed product and I think we do it in an environmentally responsible way.” Company spokesperson”.

Thankfully, I do not like salmon, so feel I can assume the high moral ground…don’t take that seriously, please! However, finding out what went into the feeding pellets…some ingredients even unknown by the employee intervieed – would positively turn your stomach. I encountered a similar situation with dogs kibble several years ago, and I now read ingredients listings, and pay more for quality kibble. That there is a chemical colouring agent included in the feed should be of concern to everyone. “If a consumer were to see a salmon fillet that was a pale grey or a white, chances are they wouldn’t buy it.” Lawyer!

There are those who care – members of the local community, environmentalists, ecologists, whistleblowers, and those whose livlihoods have been destroyed by the bullying tactics of big business like Tassal. While empty-mouthing platitudes about “the industry pulling  together”, are really just interested in their own profits, and giving shareholders a dividend. It is a sad state of affairs.

Tim Alderman (C) 2016

Daily (Or When The Mood Tales Me) Gripe: Has HIV Inc. Run Out of Steam!

This year marks, for me, 34 years of living with HIV/AIDS…though now it is just HIV. I consider it a landmark, as back in 1996 I was admitted to Prince Henry hospital with chronic CMV retinitis, chronic candida, chronic anaemia, wasting syndrome (48 kg and going down), 10 CD 4 cells, and no immune system, and was not supposed to leave…at least not under my own steam. That  I did was only due to advances in medications at that particular time, very aggressive treatment, some great doctors and nurses –  and a lot of will power. I don’t give a fuck how negative many HIV+ guys are about life with HIV. For me, this was the great singular event of my life, a pivotal point that resulted in life-altering decisions, a mental overhaul, and the knowledge that there was a hell of a lot more to life THAN HIV. It altered the course of my life, and for better or worse I have never looked back. 

I was a speaker for the Positive Speakers Bureau for 12 years before realising that when you continually tell a story you start doing it by rote. Time to get out before it became totally meaningless. I have also written for “Talkabout” magazine (the flag ship publication of Positive Life NSW – formally PLWHA NSW Inc) for 15 years, both as a features writer and a columnist. As a writer I see my role to be not just to inform people, but to provoke debate, at times to be opinionated, to raise questions, to address abuses and unfairness and to be, when required, controversial. Unfortunately, my time with “Talkabout” taught me that to get published in a HIV publication you need to walk the safe road. To be controversial is to be tolling your own death knell. Mind you, this censorship has nothing to do with the editors who, in my experience, have been nothing but supportive. Community Health and a certain AIDS council provide funding to the magazine, so to poke your nose into sensitive areas will ensure your censure and non-publication. As a HIV+ person writing about HIV issues I have always found my hands tied. I have written two extremely controversial articles on HIV issues over the years. One, on Options Employment Services using HIV clients as a free work force, in the guise of “work experience”, was so watered down by the editor after threats of suing PLWHA, the editor and myself (I truly wish they had) that by the time of publication it was a mere shadow of its original fiery tirade…despite the fact that I had evidence of this going on. The manager of “Options”even took me aside and “suggested” that I quieten down my opinions as they were providing a service to the HIV community. Shortly after this fiasco, they went broke and disappeared. The second article was amongst the best pieces I have ever written, and covered the controversial area of bug-chasing (HIV- guys who deliberately have unprotected sex with HIV+ guys in the hope of contracting HIV). The magazines working group deemed that by writing about bug-chasing I may have been promoting it amongst a certain sector of the community. Considering that the practice is well documented, is acknowledged and exists, I failed to see how being informative about it was in any way promoting it…oh shit! I forgot that community health and certain HIV organisations wanted to keep their heads buried in the sand about such unpleasant issues…and they held the purse-strings. Censorship is alive and well within the HIV community and always has been. Want to tell the truth about what is going on or want to expose something? Not on their watch!

But despite this I continue to write, though I keep it to the more nondescript these days, and publish them on my blog. I have around 100 followers – not bad for an unknown.. I do enjoy being published! When I moved to Brisbane I began phasing out my writing for “Talkabout” (which after 15 years of being published in pretty well every issue, has gone unacknowledged by the organisation itself, though not by the editors), and had started writing for QPP “Alive”, the magazine of Queensland Positive People. Same story, different place as far as funding goes, I’m afraid. Nothing controversial would be coming out of there either. Nor did I get paid anymore – one advantage of “Talkabout”.

34 years ago at the start of the HIV shit fight, people never questioned anything about treatments, definitions, philosophies, or courses-of-action. We were in crisis mode and anything was better than nothing. We let a lot happen that in more sane, accountable times would never have been allowed to happen. This far down the line it is time to start asking questions, time to demand investigations and redefinition into many aspects of treatment, time to look back at some of the historical record and say “we were wrong”, and set the record straight. I no longer allow my doctor, or the HIV establishment, nor the drug companiesi in particular, to dictate my path to positive health outcomes. I follow my own path, which is dictated to by knowledge and experience. 12 years ago I made a decision to halve my daily medications, and dose myself once a day only. Considering the negative impacts of huge amounts of HIV medication on the body I decided to take a risk. Well, this far down the line my health has never been better (though diet and exercise also contribute to that), my viral load has remained at undetectable, and not only has my CD4 count remained stable, it has in fact risen substantially. Considering the recent emphasis on drug regime “compliance”, and considering my own circumstances, I am forced to ask – controversially, naturally – if the compliance issue is being driven by HIV specialists, or by the drug companies who stand to make a fortune out of HIV drugs. In the same way, I question resistance testing. I will leave that question in the air for you to mull over and answer for yourself. This is a personal opinion, and one I am entitled to.

I started “withdrawing” from the HIV community – in a generalised way – a number of years ago. It was starting to irk me, and was bogged down in academia, and a narrow mind-set. As stated earlier, the fact that something comes from the upper echelons of HIV Inc, doesn’t necessarily mean I believe or accept it. You tend to get a reputation for being obstreperous when you adopt this philosophy, and question everything that is thrown your way. There is little doubt that anyone from HIV Inc…or its sycophants (those who blindly follow and agree with every word from the mouth of) who reads this opinion piece will accuse me of negativity, and not being supportive or a believer in the end of HIV. This is not correct. It is a big step from negativity to a position of voicing reality!

I have written on several occasions about my distrust of drug companies…though it is an area that many are now accepting. These multi-billion dollar corporations are as corrupt as – despite much denial from health practitioners, community groups, and the drug companies themselves. As long as there are stakeholders salivating at the stock price, this will never change. That we are over-dosed – a now acknowledged stand – is all to thebenefit  of the drug companies, who are, at the end of the day, just research, manufacturing & distribution companies, with no stakes in public health other than shoveling their massively over-priced medications down our gullible throats. Now that community pharmacies are handling HIV meds, I went to my local, and was probably the first to get my meds through them. They nearly had conniptions when they saw the price of them! Considering how many years some of these drugs gave been on the market for, the price has never come down. HIV was a regular little money spinner for the drug companies!

Our larger HIV community groups have also been very good at wasting money over the years, and still continue to. I have seen so many ineffective campaigns churned out by them over the years that I’ve lost track. Nothing like churning out the same messages year after year, targeting the converted, and the blasé. When you are given advertising targets, you…well…spend it! The community groups themselves will tell you that no campaign is launched without the blessings of a focus group. What they don’t tell you is that it is pretty well a hard core group of people who attend these focys groups and forums, so in actual fact it is the same people – irrespective of the organisation arranging things – castings their blessings on every campaign that is tested. No wonder they all look the same!

And don’t ever think you can rely on the same groups to be able to assist and support you as needs change, despite however much notice is given of situations changing. By the time they catch up with what is happening, hundreds will have fallen through the cracks, and others will have just given up, and end up fighting their own battles. At the time of the introduction of the then-named combination therapies, there were two major issues raised. One was assisting those who were resurrected from a porential death sentence, being cast back into a world ill-prepared for them, or their needs. The second issue was handling the massive volume of drugs being rammed down the throats of basically every HIV+ people at that time. At the height of new treatment regimes, I was shoveling 358 pills per week down my throat – antivirals, prophylactics,  and pills for side-effects. Wasn’t that fun, with the added value of time & dietary restrictions! The only group committed to the problem of compliance was “Caleo”, which had its funding withdrawn after 2 years – just when it was needed. HIV Inc. prioritising, .as usual. Bet there was plenty of money for yet ANOTHER wasted campaign on condom use! While they were throwing yet more money away, many like ne were negotiating unprotected sex with like-minded – usually other HIV+ – guys. Money would have been better spent advusing guys on this at that time, not years down the line…then treating it like it was a great revelation from the powers that be.

Likewise when I worked for the Positively Working Project. Sonia Lawless & myself spent 12 months putting together a needs assessment for guys returning to the workforce after being returned to reasonable health via HAART. Nothing truly innovative was actioned after this very important report was released. Guys were basically given no assistance at all to help in the transition from DSP to a form of “work” that was beneficial to them in the long run. I was a speaker for the “Reconstruction” program for quite some time, and the most obvious negative from these programs was that many guys got recycled from one program into another. How many times can you be shown how to write a resume, or how to approach an intervuew before it becomes a lost cause? Considering the recycle rate, one would have thought that it clicked with someone that the approach was wrong, that maybe the guys were looking for inspiration and support to direct their lives in new directions – one of the key outcomes of the Positively Working report was that guys did not want to return to their old professions, but wanted to go off in new directions. No one listened!

HIV Inc. has a bad habit of being dogmatic, of only expressing the narrow, popularist view! You only have to go to any HIV web site, or forum to see how prolific this attitude is. If you want help and support, then ensure you walk in the safe zone, looking neither left nor right. Don’t problem solve yourself, don’t question the status quo! Over the 23 years I have been on DSP, I have – perhaps to my detriment – never used many of the services and financial assistance available. I hate the victim mentality, and have always liked my independence and financial freedom, and have always managed to get by. If I truly needed the help, I would have gone for it. I always remember my anger at guys who used to attend the Luncheon Club. They would be given cheap meals, and access to cheap food through the Larder – yet after the lunch, you would see them in yhe pub drinking till all hours, and all smoking! Seems they weren’t willing to sacrifice anything at all – the more you gave, the more they took. I always thought it was wrong, that their priorities were skewed. I still think that. Add in bill assistance from BGF, and housing subsidies…and these guys had it a lot better than many pensioners in the general community.

Anyway, times moved on. Now we have PrEP, and “Ending HIV”! According to HIV Inc, implementing the former will create the latter. According to a comment on a recent post placed on a FB HIV group page, during a discussion on PrEP, “if you have raw sex and take PrEP, no more HIV transmission, so no more HIV”. As simple as that! I was so angry at the naivety of it all Inever  returned to the post. The “Ending HIV” campaign is just ANOTHER example of HIV Inc. wasting precious money. There are several big problems here. One is the emphasis on sexual practice, and the assumption that because testing kits, and PrEP are available, that everyone is going to use them…another assumption being that everyone prepares for sex. Yeah, we all know about that! The only realistic fact I’ve read so far is that guys are sick of using condoms – are, in fact, not using them! I could have told them this 20 years ago!  The general discussion seems to be around eradicating HIV in Australia (no man is an island…) but logic decrees that is never going to happen. We have to account for the tyranny of distance often making both kits and PrEP difficult to obtain, people who are heavy drug users, bisexuality, guys who want to remain anonymous, cultural differences, worldwide travel, religious beliefs – these are just some of the obstacles. And as one guy pointed out, why should we be exposing perfectly healthy guys to the toxic effects of HIV drugs! It’s a good point. Most of us who take the drugs regularly are concerned about the long term side effects of same. I wouldn’t be taking them if I didn’t have to! It was also pointed out that new classes and alternate antibiotics are currently geing tested, and that these, along with PrEP will not only eliminate HIV, but STI’s in general. Evidently we are heading towards the perfect world. My immediate thought was…oh, new antibiotics…so, how long until STI’s make us resistant to these as well! Worth thinking about. This seems to be all HIV is about now – at least that’s all I seem to read about, and encounter through HIV groups. There is a lot of philosophising around both issues – good luck with that!

There was a time about 10 years ago when I thought that a changing of the guard from the older to the younger generation would bring about new thinking and ideas. It may have worked, but the old guard hovered in the background, never really wanting to relinquish their hold. The new guard just became copies of the old guard, and nothing seems to have progressed. There is a certain degree of internalised discrimination towards some sectors of the HIV community, and that hasn’t helped things. Also a certain degreebof self-stigmatisation, and being a victim amongst a group of guys fairly recently converted who will, in all probability, never get ill. A current trend to outing their HIV status to employers – who rarely receive the news gratefully – then leads to a string of posts on what to do. I don’t quite get why there is a need to advertise you status to all and sundry. Even in pre-HIV days, if you contracted an STI, the only people you informed were sexual partners. In my 34 years of living with HIV, I have only ever informed one company of my status – and that was for OH&S reasons. It’s not like the 80s & 90s when people with AIDS looked very obviously ill, and there was no hiding it. That doesn’t happen anymore. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, and don’t believe in making a rod for my own back. I acknowledge that it is their lives to do with as they see fit, but common sense should decree that if you are going to travel that road, you should ask yourself – what can go wrong here! And if the worstcase  scenario presents, are you prepared to deal with the backlash. 

So, right here and now, I’m an ageing HIV+ man. I see a lot of HIV funding been spent on a lot of things – but nothing that is of any use to me! I don’t see the funding assisting with an actual cure, or giving me a place to go should my current pathway be diverted! As someone with a disability brought about by AIDS, no one has ever asked me…what would you really like? What can we do to assist and support you? There was much to-do about a Long-Term Survivors Day earlier this year. I remember thinking at the time – Why? Nothing will come out of it! As usual, we will be left to fight our own battles! It was a nice bit of tokenism, I guess. We like to think that we are thought about occasionally, even as just a passing thought. You see, we are seen as HIV past, not as HIV present. No one really understands us, as few walk in our shoes. It’s a lonely path at times, and frequently alienating. But we have defied the odds, and will probably continue to. HIV Inc. doesn’t have us in their sights any more…but then…

Maybe that’s just how we want it. It’s a no-bullshit world for most of us!

Tim Alderman (C) 2016

PS The following article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on the 22nd May 2017. It would seem to discount both using PrEP, and Ending HIV! http://www.smh.com.au/national/health/melbourne-man-tests-positive-to-hiv-while-taking-preventative-drug-20170522-gwaavh.html 

Daily (Or When The Mood Takes Me) Gripe: Drugs in Sport

“A very cynical attitude is taken by sponsors like Nike. They pay for records to be broken, then when athletes test positive, instead of canceling their contracts, they carry on paying them! It’s as if the executives at Nike always knew what Marion Jones, Justin Gatlin and Marta Dominguez where up to! Nike sponsored them even after they tested positive! It gives you  some idea of Nike’s take on the doping problem”

I am watching this weeks “Four Corners” program on drug doping in sports, especially professional athletics. It really is endemic, and quite frightening in its length, breadth & depth! That drug doping of athletes was not only sponsored but encouraged in countries like Russia, and resulted in the banning of 4,000 Russian athletes after 2 whistleblowers – now exiled to Berlin due to being considered “traitors” – says way too much about how drug doping is rapidly taking over sports. That so few athletes were banned as a result of doping in the London Olympics is more a result of corruption in the Russian drug testing agency than actual lack of drug-influenced athletes. It is not just a disgrace, but very disillusioning and wortying. That the thinking surrounding drug doping is that of “well,everyone else is doing it, so why shiuldn’t I” shows a clear lack of personal pride and self-challenging in sports.

Lance Armstrong is a classic example, and one where one has to ask the question – was it a deliberate choice not just to take ut, but to admit to it? After all, as a professional cyclist, he earned $300,000 a year. He now has earnings of around $23,000,000. In reality, being banned from the sport has paid well! The World Ant-Doping Agency (WADA), after a year of investigations in Russia, delivered a slamming report at a recent conference “We have found cover-ups, we found destruction of samples in the laboratories, we found payments of money in order to conceal doping tests, among others. It’s worse than we thought. All this could not have happened, and continues to happen, without the actual or implied consent of the state authorities. So, their lab is gone, their national anti-doping organisation is gone. We have recommended that the Russian Athletics Federation be suspended, gone!”. State sanctioned sports doping…wow! That’s mindblowing. 

Personally, I don’t get it! I can’t comprehend how you can fill yourself with performance enhancing drugs, win a race, break a record…and feel you have done it by giving yoyr best, challenging and pushing yourself in a natural, physical sense! I would feel that I had cheated myself, and in many respects let myself down. One of the German athletes who had come clean about her doping experiences as a world record breaking runner stated that, on being brought into the Olymouc team for her country, she found herself in a culture of very average athletes, in many respects under-achievers. They didn’t have to have abilities or even ambition, as the drugs brought on those traits. To me, achieving anything in a sporting or athletic field is pushing yourself beyond your limits, challenging yourself at every step along the way, and when you win, it’s because of your own abilities, and doing it through hard work, training and the sheer will to win. If drugs were involved, I would actually feel like a cheat. That everyone else might be doing it is no excuse for indulging, and robbing yourself of the sheer satisfaction of having done it under your own steam. I can see the thinking – if everyone else is using drugs, then everyone is still on an equal footing. But are they? As drugs come and go, what’s to ssy they aren’t taking  something that you don’t as yet know about! Doesn’t that open all sorts of cans of worms! If everyone is going to be on an equal footing…why not a drug-free one? If athletes feel the need – or want – to deliberately cheat, doesn’t one have to question their motive, but more so their self-worth? And just as drugs change and become more sophisticated, so does the testing. Blood and urine samples are kept for 10 years, so in actual fact – due to future testing that can detect drugs that can’t currently be detected – we will not know the actual medal winners from the 2016 Olympics until 2026! Suely the ultimate humiliation as a medal winner would be to have it taken off you in 10 years time! Chez embarrassing!

Remember when our elite swimmers were wearing their specially designed suits? Okay, it’s not doping, but the principal is the same. It’s an enhanced way of winning that has no regard for the personal challenge. I remember saying to my partner that it just wasn’t right, and as record, after record, after record fell…that fact was just enhanced. Where was the challenge if a record eas that easy to break? Surely the swimmers themselves must have felt cheated, that despite having won, and broken a record – they really hadn’t. I was ecstatic when the suits were banned, as it put the challenge – and the interest – back into swimming. If you won or lost, it was always a fair win, whereby the time and work you had put in was on show for all to see. The personal satisfaction was obvious on their faces. I won because I deserved to, not because I had my abilities enhanced by technology. 

As a regular gym goer, I know that a percentage of the muscle-bound bodies around me are not necessarily naturally produced. Steroid use amongst body builders has always been a problem. At 62, for me it’s as much about fitness as building myself up, though I’m not adverse to developing some musculature. But I’m in no rush, and if it takes me months to start to work my way up through the weights, that’s fine. It is a challenge I set for myself, and there is no rush to get there. A chat with a mate recently – who looked really hot at the peak of his performances – revealed an insidious world of two to three trips to the gym daily, enhanced by pre-workout supplements, and other things. In his own words, it was an unhealthy obsession that made him a not nice person. If you are going to build your body up, you have to be able to maintain it with a minimum of work. These guys who build up huge bodies don’t stop to think of the factors that cause you to stop working out, or taking dangeroys substances to achieve your size – things like relationships, having children, illness, changed work curcumstances, or not living in close proximity to a gym. All that muscle suddenly becomes – fat! I don’t  get why, if you are in your 20s, there would be this great need to rush to build yourself up – after all, you have a lot more time than me!

But the steroid/performance-enhancing drug scenarios present what should be a light-bulb moment for all imbibers – the long term side effects of pumping this shit into your body. Liver, kidney, heart and skeletal problems will probably plague you for the remainder of your life – may, in fact, cut it short. 

We need to curb this insidious practice at a world-wide level. We need to create an environment where everyone is respectful of the exhilaration of winning something due to your natural abilities and talent – the setting of a personal goal…and achueving it! Yes, use technology, but use it to enhance your abilities, not to be the sole cause of you winning, or breaking a record. We need to re-establish personal pride in sport, that knowledge thathaving  won a nedal, you are going to keep it!

Tim Alderman (2016)