Tag Archives: CMV retinitis

Sacrilege: Living HIV Outside The Square!

“Sacrilege” may seem like a strange word to use in relationship to ones life. Its religious connotation is “the violation or profanation of anything sacred or held sacred” thus by a very loose expansion of the meaning – a human life, as it is, in many respects, regarded as sacred. Stretching definitions even further – and many would not be surprised that I don’t take it literally – infecting it with HIV could be considered a sacrilege, be it intentional or unintentional. The sacred has been violated! Also, as a HIV+ man, it is expected that I will follow a set of “rules” as dictated by various community groups, doctors and specialists! To totally ignore the expected, and go off down your own path would be considered by many to be sacrilege!

I can’t contemplate continuing to live with HIV without viewing it within the framework of my life! No war is without its battles, without its dark times, yet still seeing the light at the end of the tunnel! If I had to use a word to describe myself, belligerant comes straight to mind – but then I think to myself “That’s a bit harsh!”. Okay…cantankerous is one that has been used by those close to me, so that’s sort of acceptable, and it’s true! Curmudgeonly… a word I love, but I’m not really surly enough! So I’ll just stick with stubborn! I could claim that it’s a Capricornian trait, but it goes deeper than that.

At 12-years-of-age, my stubborn streak was already settling in. Though unrecognised by me at the time, it was a survival mechanism that was to serve me well for most of my life. It is only when I look back to 1965, that I realise what a testing ground it was: my mother left my father; a bitch of a housekeeper who was to forever change our family dynamics; and my father jumping over The Gap with Kevin, my brother – resulting in my brothers death – would have sent a less resilient person into dark depths that they may never have risen from! Considering the lack of psychological & emotional support available at that time, to have come out of that year relatively unscathed had to show a stoicism way beyond that normally expected from one so young. By digging my heels in, ignoring all the negativity around me, and just “getting on with it” – a philosophy I still embrace – I was to set in place a mental tenacity that was to impact my life for decades to come!

There was no love lost between my father & myself! Even prior to Kevin’s death, I had seen – and felt –  a violent streak in his nature; almost a need to punish those who had a life contrary to his. He could be a right royal cunt! The only way I could establish my own independence – which had flowered rapidly after Kev’s death – was open defiance! He told me not to smoke…so I smoked; not to drink…so I drank; to get a trade…I went in every direction but; and to get my hair cut…I left it to grow – despite a threat, after an argument about it, to “knock my block off”! He even denied me a 21st birthday celebration, because he had been at war when his fell due…I organised it myself. My grandmother left me a small inheritance, and just after my 21st, I moved out of home, into my own apartment. After he remarried and moved to Vincentia (on the south coast of NSW), we had little contact. After his suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning in his car in 1978, I never cried a single tear – but just let out a massive sigh of relief! I was free! As the ultimate act of a true prick, he left me nothing in his will – it all went to my step-family! Just to show that they were all tarred with the same brush, directly after his death his sisters indulged themselves in a game of telephone harrassment against my step-mother. I was glad to walk away from them all!

As soon as the old man died, I came out! It is the one time my usual defiance was kept capped. I had seen what he wss capable of with my brother, and my survival instinct whispered to me to be  quiet about this issue. Again, I had witnessed him & his mates yelling “poofter” out of the car window to some poor guy who did nothing more than wear a pink shirt! As I said – they were pricks! Stubbornness does not necessarily equal a death wish! Then, having stepped out of the closet, I megaphoned my life choice to all and sundry, including my employees. No one seemed particularly surprised! There were some in my workplace who were not impressed with my sexual preferences, and made no secret of it! My pure indifference to them was reward enough. My decision to desert the security of a regular job had nothing to do with my detractors…it was based purely on a desire to break free of a life I wanted to leave behind. But the curve balls were to keep coming, with no inkling at that time of the odd parallel path that both being gay, and being HIV+ were going to lead me down!


Even as I was coming out in Melbourne in 1980, snippets about a lethal cancer, that was killing gay men who frequented the saunas in the USA, were appearing in the local press here. I read them, and like many others, though not panicking, was left with a feeling of unease. That unease turned to immense consternation over the next couple of years, as the reports became more alarmist, and HIV crossed the ocean to our shores. By the time they developed a test in 1985, I for one was already stacking the odds – and not in my favour! In retrospect, this may have been a defence mechanism against coming up HIV+…that if I did, I was already prepared for it, and if I didn’t I could just breath a sigh of relief. The former proved to be true!

Back in the day, there was a severe lack of counselling, and given the sheer volume of testing results coming in at that time, was cursory at its best. When I went to get my result – and I don’t know why I made the presumption I did – the positive result was not a shock. These were strange (ethereal?) times, and for those of us admitting to our – then – death sentence, it was almost like belonging to a select club.

There was a two year window given at that time, between diagnosis and the advent of AIDS, leading, so they thought, to an inevitable death. Some didn’t make it to the window period, and my first friend, Andrew Todd, died at the end of 1986. I made it to the two year point…and was still very healthy. By then, the window for those diagnosed in 1985 had been expanded to five years, so the waiting game for many of us continued.  Up to 1990 is a very convoluted journey, and I don’t want to rehash history that has already been covered in many writings, and is really outside the parameters of this article. I decided to make this a useful period, and did a number of trials. It was better than just sitting around and waiting. This was a time when I made my one bad decision regarding my healthcare – I allowed my doctor to – after a najor ethical battle with her – to put me onto AZT! There has been much written about AZT, and its history as a drug…which was not exclusively formulated for use with HIV. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but my thinking on HIV has always been a bit radical, and I, along with others, gravitate to the thinking that HIV and AIDS – despite our use of them as co-joined conditions – are separate illnesses, and HIV doesn’t necessarily lead to AIDS, but AIDS as an independent condition, brought about by the deterioration of the immune system. 

So, I had a diagnosis of HIV, with no related conditions that would have rated a diagnosis of AIDS. Even with a CD4 count on the decline, I still had good health – which admittedly may have been a lot better if I wasn’t knocking myself around by chain-smoking, and chronic abuse of alcohol – until…I started AZT! Many of those still around from that time will acknowledge that the decline in their health status is directly parallel to starting AZT. It wasn’t nicknamed “human Rat-Sac”for nothing. It’s negative affects from then up until now are also well documented. Damaged nerves, liver & kidney problems, the leaching of calcium from bones, and other neurological problems can all be traced back to AZT usage. I wish I had stuck by my guns, and refused to use it! There is no evidence that it saved one single life. I wouldn’t have refused trestment with other drugs that came along shortly after – I didn’t have a suicide wish – but I have no doubt that if I had refused AZT, some ongoing problems I have now would not have happened. I have an undisguised hate of Big Pharma, and its tactics, and lack of ethics where it comes to flogging a drug, and how they went about flogging this incredibly toxic drug to a desperate and unsuspecting demographic is truly horrifying – more on this shortly.

So, dispite heavy smoking, alcohol abuse, long work hours, and a shit diet…I made it to 1990, and with my health still okay. I won’t say I was unscathed, as the relentless list of those who died over this time, with many more to come, was physically, mentally, and emotionally destructive. I am by nature – and experience – a stoic in the face of death. I accept the reality, and inevitability of it – but any sign of the existance of God in this obliteration was missing – no just, loving God would ever allow this! My conversion to Atheism was complete. However, the combination of all that was happening was starting to wear me down, and encountering on-the-job bullying by an Area Manager brought about my decision to leave the workforce in 1993, and go onto disability, and get a housing subsidy. It was a forgone conclusion back then that this was the road to take because – after all – none of us would survive for all that long. At this stage, under the most positive of thinking, I gave myself two more years. 

I actually got to mid-1996 before it all started to come undone. I have written about the circumstances surrounding all the events that happened at this stage, so won’t repeat them here, but will give you an intimate insight into my thinking on my situation when I was finally admitted to Prince Henry Hospital in June, 1996. Given that I was already close to death when admitted, with a plethora of conditions that really should have killed me earlier, and that I really thought I would never leave there any other way than via a wooden box gives a good indication of how serious things were. It was in Mark’s Pavilion there that my stoicism, my acceptance of reality, possibly should have been tested, but instead gave me a calmness, an acceptance of my own potential death that I had pondered about prior to this. I was chronically ill, I was tired and in some respects, if other factors hadn’t intervened, death just seemed like such a pleasant, restful reality, leaving all that was happening behind, joining all those that I had loved and lost over the last 10 years. It was an acceptance of death that I wasn’t expecting to be quite so complete, so easy, so without fear. 

But I picked my moment, didn’t I! Big changes were happening in the treatment of AIDS, and shortly after being admitted, not going down the road of death, that I expected to go down, I walked – well, taxied – out of Prince Henry. I exited that taxi into a world that was in no way prepared for the living dead of HIV. If I ever thought my battles were behind me, I could not have been more wrong. The next couple of years – a long period of recuperation – were intense. There was a seemingly neverending period of specialists, doctors, clinics, pharmacy, counselling, peer support groups, drug compliance groups, massive – and I mean massive – amounts of medication, side effects, dental work, anxiety and panic attacks, and drug trials. It was a time where one wanted to initiate great change in the direction of ones life  – with no one there to assist. Change had to be fought for, had to be forced. All these community groups gathering money and prestige, sitting in meetings and forums, listening to the likes of me yelling about what we needed…and just turning deaf ears! It was a frusteating period where everything was years behind where it needed to be, and if you wanted to get on with your life without being trapped in the system, you had to do it under your own steam! So I did!

Some volunterr work, some work in the community sector, a flowering writing career that demanded and exposed…when I eas “allowed” as one didn’t question the system – led to a brief period of full-time work – that didn’t help my health at all – then onto university & TAFE to experience at last that which gad been denied me in my youth. This led to an interesting period of experiences, from spending 12 years talking about the HIV experience through the Posituve Speakers Bureau, to 15 years writing for “Taljabout” magazine and various other publications, starting several businesses – the most recent of which was destroyed by the GFC, to where I am now – happy, balanced, and reasonably fulfilled.

However, the last few years haven’t been without its challenges, and my mental tenacity, combined with a fairly laud-back approach to life, have seen me get through things without any apparent negativity. I do health care on my own terms these days, because if one just relies on mrdico’s, one would rattle like a pill bottle. I want less pills, not more! About 15 years ago, I halved my HIV medications. I have been waiting for some red-faced, fuming doctor to lecture me about it (has no one realised how rarely I get scripts?) but no one ever has. In the interim, my blood readings get better and better, with CD4s on the rise, and an ongoing undetectable viral load. Okay, I no longer smoke – gave that up in ‘96, drink bugger all, have turned vegetarian, and exercise daily, but nothing else. Big Pharma be fucked! Your drug resistance tests – a farce! You just don’t want people on old drugs! Over-prescribing? You bet you do…big time! I wouldn’t trust you as far as ai could kick you! 

Have I mentioned my shit vision? Whoops…overlooked that. Blind in one eye thanks to CMV (also covered in articles on my blog), and almost blind in the other. The most major decision over the last couple of years? Having my blind eye removed voluntarily, and replaced with a prosthetic. Does it stop me getting around? Not fucking likely! I might be slow, but I get there! I have a white cane (laughingly called my whacking stick), but rarely use it. I walk the dogs, do the shopping, get to gym! It might be done with a slight feeling of nervousness, but it gets done.

I don’t hold any grudges. What has been, has been! In a way, I thank my father for the rough younger years. It gave me a set of survival tools that have served ne well – and still do – throughout my life. Maybe I was born in an auspicious astrological period, or maybe my natural survival instincts are genetic, endowing me with stoicism and mental tenacity! Whatever it is, it has seen me through nicely! Life is to be enjoyed, and despite the occasional downs, it should be lived to its fullest. Just step outside that square, and do it on your own terms!

Tim Alderman (©2017)

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Reality Check: The Politics of Blindness

Originally written in 2001. This article has never been published.

I have come to realise, perhaps a bit late in life, that you spend far too much time bending in the general direction of things instead of sticking up for yourself and saying no, this is not what I want, or the way I want things to go!

I have decided to sue a local hospital. That I have chosen to do this has come as a tremendous shock to me, though those around me seem to have been waiting for me rectify what has been, for me, a life changing event. 
By 1996 I had accepted that sooner or later, AIDS was going to get me. What I hadn’t counted on was that St. Vincent’s hospital was going to assist in my chances of survival! – and in the one ward they had where I always felt I would be safe – Ward 17, the dedicated HIV/AIDS ward.
It was a sudden change in health status that delivered me to the A&E department. I had collapsed outside my apartment building, gasping for breath, clutching my chest, thinking that a heart attack was going to beat AIDS to the crunch, or that PCP had finally caught up to me, as it seemed to do to all in my state. It turned out to be neither – I had a collapsed left lung, though being HIV, they moved me into Ward 17 after inserting a tube to keep the lung inflated. Most of us assume that we go into hospital to be cured of health problems, or at least receive a better standard of medical care to assist you to a slightly higher standard of health than you have when you enter. Well…I have to tell you it doesn’t always happen that way!

I firmly believe that some people go into health care because they truly believe in what they are doing. They truly believe they can make a difference, that they can benefit people who are ill or are disabled. These people are not professors of medicine, do not have a fancy examination room with a prestigious address, and are not heads of departments. The well-heeled medico’s who share these attribute have strings of initials after their names. They do ward rounds with a string of nose-in-the-air arse lickers and sycophants. St Vincent’s at this time had more than its fair share of the latter, and unfortunately, some of them were in HIV medicine! 


Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I was just in hospital with a collapsed lung – it was more complicated than that. I was in the midst of changing doctors, so didn’t actually have a GP when I was admitted to Ward 17. My scripts for AZT had just run out, I had chronic anaemia, chronic Candida, and weighed in at about 48 kilos. In other words, I was a very sick boy. Now, under normal circumstances, with a CD4 count of about 10, they would test and examine you for ALL AIDS related illnesses – PCP, CMV, MAC, neurological and psychological problems. For some unknown reason. Sure, they treated – and eventually repaired – the collapsed lung. They tested me for PCP – negative result – and gave me a blood transfusion, but that was it. No eye examination, no dietician, no occupational therapist – no, that’s a lie, I did have one session with an OT, and though she promised other sessions – she never quite madeit back.

 So I lay there for 10 days, drifting in and out of sleep, as you tend to do when you are in this bad a condition, suffering in silence the daily ward rounds with a professor who seemed more interested in prestige than care, with his little band of sycophants, who seemed to assume that this was what was expected of theM. No one seemed to particularly care, so I was thankful for friends, for without them I think I would have gone mad.

Death seemed pre-ordained at this time I felt I had outlived everyone else anyway, and that my time was drawing to a close. I had predicted 2 years when I quit work to go on the pension in 1993, and had managed 3, so in many respects I felt I had survived beyond expectation, and short of a miracle, I was going through the final stage of my life. I was, to all intended purposes, fulfilling expectation.  

So, with a repaired lung, a couple of pints of fresh blood, and some Candida medication, I was discharged 10 days later. No HIV medications, no doctor. I had my discharge papers sent to a local HIV GP, who I didn’t know from a bar of soap, hoping that she would feel sorry for me, and rush me through the waiting list. Thankfully, she did just that!

Two days out of hospital, and her receptionist rang to say my discharge papers had arrived, and that even though they didn’y know who I was, the doctor wanted to see me. I would like to think, in hindsight, that this was almost like some sort of sign, as having my hospital discharge sent to her was an act of providence that probably saved my life.

As soon as I mentioned to her that my vision had been ‘greying over’ for a couple of weeks, she was immediately on the phone to the Prince of Wale’s Hospital Eye Clinic at Randwick. They promised that somebody would stay back at the end of clinic until I arrived to have my eyes checked. They thought at that stage that I had CMV retinitis, but could not be certain enough to confirm the diagnosis. I had to travel to Hurstville the next day to see a leading ophthalmologist, an expert in CMV. He confirmed the diagnosis, and by the time I arrived home that afternoon, their was a message to ring the doctor. She wanted me admitted to Prince Henry Hospital straight away. 

Prince Henry added other health items to the list St Vincent’s had. On top of chronic anaemia and Candida, and my 10 CD4 cells, they added chronic bilateral CMV retinitis, and Wasting Syndrome. Pandemonium was about to strike, but at least this time I felt as though people cared. Prince Henry was much more grounded in reality than St Vincent’s, and whatever my prognosis may have been – mortality was never discussed – they went out of their way to help me. Sure, I had a drip in both arms, was being transported to Prince of Wales twice a week for intraocular injections of ganciclovir, and I was a bit of a guinea pig because of my condition – medical students must love people like me, as we become a living text book – but they did care. I had a dietician who planned meals and snacks for me, and nurses on hand to help me during my night sweats. I even had a reporter from Japan interview and photograph me, as he was doing a piece to be published in Japan. After seeing me, he was concerned that the Japanses ‘head-in-the-sand’ attitude to HIV/AIDS was something to be seriously concerned about.
To be honest, the two weeks in Prince Henry gave me a different perspective on many aspects of life. There was the guy in the room next to mine – I had a huge room to myself in Marks Pavilion, and the windows looked out over Beauty Bay – who had terminal cancer. Not once, despite whatever he may have been going through, did I hear him complain or whinge about his lot. He virtually lived in the hospital, and even had his own stereo moved in with him. And the young guy who was at the opposite end of the ward to me. He also had CMV, but fuck, he was so young, so innocent! We sat together in the eye clinic one day, and he grasp[ed my hand, cuddled up to me, and cried. I wanted to give him some hope, but I would have felt like such a hypocrite. I didn’t know if their was hope for me at that stage, let alone try to give it to someone else who I knew was worse off than I was.

Well, they saved my sight – sort of! The injections, and eventually $10,000 worth of ‘Vitrasert’ ganciclovir implants managed to save the sight in my left eye. As for my right eye, the optic nerve was damaged by the CMV, and despite efforts on everyones part, I lost 80% of the vision in it, and the impact on my life has been…disconcerting. I have regular checks every few months now, and I have to be careful not to bump my head hard on anything. The scar tissue in the left eye is so dense that they are concerned now about me ending up with a detached retina. I’ve also had two operations to remove cataracts caused by the implants. They originally estimated a 4% chance of cataracts from the implants, but 12 months later this prediction was upgraded to a 100% chance. Some odds you can’t beat.

But this has been the least of my worries. Sure, my right eye has, in some respects, compensated for the loss of vision in my left, but not entirely. It took me twelve months to adjust, but that twelve months was not without incidents, such as tripping over some tree roots in Crown Street, and landing flat on my face in front of some people coming in the opposite direction. I also tripped and stumbled a great deal as my vision tried to compensate for a change in everything, including perspective. Stairs with contrasting edging strips became ramps – at least from my perspective – and ‘I’m sorry!’ became part of my everyday vocabulary as I bumped and staggered my way around. That is something that even 5 years down the line, I have never quite gotten used to. This would not be the first time I have stated that in some respects, it would have been easier to have ended up completely blind. At least that way, I would have a white cane, or a dog, and people would know I was definitely blind, and not give me condescending looks every time I run into someone. For some unknown reason, it has always ended up my fault. I just accept. 

Rules of our household – don’t leave anything sitting low on the floor, or hanging to my left when I don’t know it is there. When walking down the street, keep to my right. If you don’t keep to that side, expect me to keep moving to ensure you are there. Go into the city? Not on my own these days. As much as I love the city, and love to watch it grow, it is a place for people in a rush, not a place for people who are visually impaired. Too many people, too many doorways for them to rush out of, and too many people crushing into confined spaces. I miss it very much, but it is not a place for me anymore. I shop locally, and that is hazardous enough for me. Do anything during the peak hour rush? Not likely these days. I had to meet David at 6.00 at the Entertainment Centre, to attend a couple of concerts. I actually mapped out a way to get there that would have a minimum of people that I would have to avoid. I go to daytime lectures and tutorials at UTS to avoid travelling too and fro during peak hours. I’m also trying to get them to contrast edge-strip the black granite stairs in the Tower Building, so that visually impaired people can see where the stair edges are. That is one fight I may yet win. Oh, and I shouldn’t forget that I kick small children.

David, who is my partner, and I went for a walk down Hall Street, leading to Bondi Beach, for one reason or another – we were probably looking for somewhere to eat breakfast. Sure enough, for a split second, I wasn’t watching where I was going and the next thing I knew, this kid had run straight onto my foot as I took a step forward. He just came out of nowhere, as kids do, and I managed to literally lift him into the air with the forward motion of my step, and launched him off to the side of the footpath. Thankfully, he landed in the grassed area around some trees growing on the footpath. I would hate to think what may have happened if he had landed on the footpath itself. I don’t know who got the biggest fright – the kid, myself, the kid’s father, or David. The father came running as I picked the kid up to make sure he was okay, but the look on the father’s face said it all – It was my fault, and I should have been watching where I was going. Even an explanation that I was  partially blind, and hadn’t seen the kid coming didn’t seem to sit well with him, nor did a multitude of apologies. Now, I dare say the kid probably forgot the incident 10 minutes after it happened, but It is still a nightmare with me. Whenever I think about the state of my eyes, that is the one instant that comes straight to mind. It’s not just the incident with the kid – I’m aware of that. It is that in some way, these sorts of things happen to me everyday, though fortunately with larger adults, not small kids. Despite all my precautions, despite taking my time getting around, despite walking metres up a street to use crossings or lights, despite great care at intersections I feel it is only a matter of time before I either seriously hurt somebody, or they seriously hurt me.

So I’m not just going to sit back and cop it sour anymore. Somewhere along the line, in a hospital, on a particular time on a particular day, somebody, for whatever reason, decided not to do something, and now I’m paying the price. Well, it’s time for someone to pay for their oversight, and the time to pay is NOW! My health is as good as it’s going to get at the moment, and with it being unlikely that I will ever return to full-time work, or to any job that requires me to get stressed, it is time to take action. I’m not going to ignore it anymore, or pretend that it just didn’t happen. It did, and my life has never been the same since.
Personally, I think that they, like Prince Henry, and certainly me, never expected me to live, so just doing a minimum of care in 1996 may have been acceptable practise, especially in an area of medicine that has always been cash strapped. But I didn’t die! I am well and truly alive, and the time for revenge is at hand. I hope that at the end of the day, they will learn several lessons. Never assume anything; never underestimate the strength of the human will, and mind; and never think people are just going to forget about it! We Don’t!
Tim Alderman

Copyright ©2001 (Revised 2017)

P.S: despite the solicitor instigating an action against St Vincent’s, and doing this pro-bono, I was expected to pay the bills for photocopying and incidentals. I received a bill for $1,500 from them to cover this…and being on a pension, this was the beginning, and the end, of the action. Justice never was served.

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)

Getting On With It! A 33-Year Retrospective of Life with HIV/AIDS

The challenge of writing about 33 years of living with HIV/AIDS isn’t so much to write tomes about what actually was witnessed over that period. That is easy to do, and I could ramble on forever about it. The challenge lies in being objective and succinct, to tone down the schmaltz and sentimentality and cut to the chase. Not as easy as one may think, as these were the most challenging, relentlessly ruthless and heartbreaking period of my life. But if survival is the gauge of ones strength and tenacity, then I have come out at this end of it with flying colours. Indeed, the cup is half full!

So what was it really like in 1982 to be reading snippets in our local gay press about this mysterious illness in The States that seemed to be targeting gay men who frequented the saunas, and quickly killing them? Well, cynicism and disbelief to start with, and the surety that within a short period of time they would find an antibiotic to clear up yet another STD. Soon the snippets were to become columns, then pages as the mysterious and deadly illness leapt from the shores of America and found its way here.

Our response was mixed. The first recorded case of HIV at home was 1982, and the first death in 1983. We had our usual ratbags who yelled and screamed about God’s vengeance on the evil, sick and perverted gay lifestyle (obviously a different God to the compassionate, all-forgiving one that I had heard about), the advocates of hate who demanded quarantine for all infected persons, and those who either quietly or vocally wished that we would all die or just go away. Not that easy folks! Thankfully, common sense prevailed and both the government and the grassroots gay community combined to put both AIDS Councils and NGO programs in place. Our quick response was instrumental in Australia always being at the forefront of HIV/AIDS care. Within 2 years every state had an AIDS Council under the national umbrella of NAPWA (National Association of People with AIDS), and the formation of support organisations such as The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, Community Support Network (CSN) and Ankali. Without these organisations life would have been grim for those infected. In 1985 testing was introduced. It was a bit of a strange affair in the early days. Due to hysteria and discrimination no one wanted their personal details on a database, so you chose a name, and Albion Street Centre issued you with a number that then became your ID. You had a blood test, and waited for two weeks – talk about high anxiety – to get your result. I had a mystery illness in 1982, a flu-type illness that wasn’t the flu, and already suspected that I had sero-converted and was going to come up HIV+. I was right. Counseling? Oh yeah, we had a lot of that back then. “You’ve got about 2 years to live”. Shrug shoulders “Okay”. And off we went knowing the inevitable was rapidly approaching, and it was time to PARTY!!! What else could you do? However there were horror stories. The disgusting treatment of young Eve Van Grafhorst is something for all Australians to be ashamed of. Born in 1982, she was infected with HIV via a blood transfusion. When she attempted to enrol in her Kincumber pre-school in 1985, parents threatened to withdraw their children due to the (supposed) risk of infection. The family was literally hunted out of town, and forced to leave the country and go to NZ. I will never forget the sight of this poor, frail girl on her way to the airport. I, like many others, was horrified that this could happen in Australia. Thankfully, her NZ experience was quite the opposite, and she lived a relatively normal life until her death in 1993 at 11 years of age. Her parents received a letter from Lady Di praising her courage.

Meanwhile, the Australian nightmare was well and truly hitting home. My first close friend, Andrew Todd, died in 1986. At that time there was no dedicated AIDS ward, and Andrew was shifted between wards as beds were needed for other cases. He died on Boxing Day in A&E at St, Vincent’s. I had the sad duty of ringing all my friends at a party to tell them the sad news. Party pooper recognition acknowledged! Ward 17 at St Vincent’s eventually became the dedicated AIDS ward, and for the next 10 years was never empty. Palliative care was through The Sacred Heart Hospice. Hospitals such as Westmead hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons; full contamination clothing for those working with HIV people, rooms not being cleaned, meals left outside doors. Even the poor old mosquito copped a hiding as a means of contamination, along with toothbrushes, glasses, cutlery and crockery. An advertising campaign featuring the Grim Reaper bowling down poor people created an apocalyptic vision of HIV that scared the life out of everyone. It was quickly withdrawn. In the interim, my 2 years became 4, which became 6 followed by 8. My life became a haze of alcohol and cigarettes, not shared alone.

In the 80’s I held a lot of parties with anywhere from 40- 60 friends attending. By 1996, if I had tried to hold a party I would have been lucky to have dug up 10 friends to attend. In the blink of an eye my social circle was effectively wiped off the face of the earth. Hospitals, hospices, funerals and wakes became the dreaded regular events. It was death on a relentless and unforgiving scale. The Quilt Project became the focus of our sorrow, and it’s regular unfoldings and name readings were tear-filled times of remembrance and reminiscence, along with the yearly Candlelight Rally. I attended until I became so empty that I could no longer bear it. I submitted my names but no longer attended. In the early 90’s four friends died close together – two from AIDS, one a heart attack and one cancer. This was a particularly heavy blow as two of these friends had been regular “gutter drag” partners, and that part of my life effectively ended. In a perverse way, it seemed strange that the Big A wasn’t the only thing stalking our lives.

Despite its reputation for being human Ratsac (the Concorde Study in France named it such, after conducting an unethical trial; turns out they were correct!) I started taking AZT when my CD4 count started to take a dive. Hard work, long hours, heavy drinking, chain smoking, a shit diet and emotional turmoil didn’t help. Pub culture became lifestyle. Did several drug trials – D4T, which was sort of successful, though the same class of drug as AZT. Also p24 VLP (Very Light Protein) which proposed that stimulating the p24 antigen may help control HIV. Total waste of my time. It did nothing. We started alternating drugs – 6 months on AZT, 6 on D4T, 6 on DDI, 6 on DDC. Perversely it seemed to keep the wolf from the door. Dosage was huge. Everyone on it ended up with kidney problems and peripheral neuropathy. Prophylactics added to the drug burden. In the meantime there was no HIV dental service and our teeth rotted or fell out due to bouts of candida. I left work in 1993 after being seriously knocked around by viral pneumonia which should have killed me…but didn’t. I was shuffled onto the pension, and given rent subsidised housing by DOH. The subsidy seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, weren’t we all eventually going to be killed by the Big H, so no one would be on it for that long? Famous last words! My alcohol consumption and chain smoking increased, if that was possible! Was losing weight at an alarming rate, and naturally no one noticed because I took to wearing baggy clothes to disguise it. Nothing quite like being delusional. Moved from Darlinghurst to Bondi. Nothing like moving away from the scene to help your health…not! Collapsed in the street, and admitted to St Vincent’s not with PCP as suspected but a collapsed lung. Two weeks later and a change of female GP’s saw me back in the doctor’s rooms while she read my hospital discharge report. Had they tested me for CMV retinitis? No! Was I having trouble with my vision? Yes, but I do wear glasses. Guess what? We’re sending you for a little holiday at Prince Henry Hospital (now closed). I was a little bit sick. Chronic CMV retinitis, chronic candida, chronic anemia, had 10 CD4 cells and weighed 48 kgs. Mmm, prognosis was not good. Well, it had been a good life. I was certainly joining a band of party people. But no! Life hadn’t finished with me yet. Protease Inhibitors had come along at an auspicious time, and within a fortnight I had been stolen from the arms of death. Mind you, that fortnight had been no picnic. Ganciclovir injections into the eye, Deca-Durabolin injections to help put weight back on, blood transfusions, and enough finger prick blood readings to last me the rest of my life. And the problems had just started for this return-to-lifer. Not dying when you are supposed to really fucks up your head space.

So started the next round of therapies. Peer Support groups; counselors; Caleo (a treatment management group who help you maintain the impetus to take the billion pills a day we were taking); clinics; dental care (now up and running); volunteer work (to keep one sane). What started out as volunteer work at the then PLWHA (NSW) Inc (now Positive Life) turned into paid employment as a research assistant. I started writing for “Talkabout” magazine, joined the Positive Speakers. Bureau, and learnt to use a computer. A couple of stints back in full-time employment made me realise that big changes needed to be made with my life. By this time my health was pretty well back together. A couple of nights out pushed home just how few people I knew, however did lead to meeting my current (now ex) partner. A brief encounter with Indinivir sludge in my kidneys (which involved having a stent inserted then removed) also made me aware that for HIV+ people the unexpected can happen at any time. Yet another change of doctor. Self-empowerment had become an important issue, and I wanted a say in my health management, as distinct from being dictated to. Big changes were about to happen.

In 2000 David and I did a big (and expensive) holiday to the Red Centre. It was an amazing experience. Before leaving Sydney I had applied to the University of Technology in Sydney to do my degree in writing. Shortly after arriving back home I was informed that I had been accepted. Ah, the advantages of mature age AND disability. So spent three years doing my Graduate Certificate in Writing, was office- bearer for the Special Needs Collective…in fact I WAS the Special Needs Collective, and discovered I hated having to deal with the moronic “radicals” who called themselves the Student Association and did nothing except rant and rave, and waste student money. I was glad to leave uni. Towards the end of 2004 I decided to get my chef’s credentials from East Sydney TAFE, and crammed a 12-month course into 6 months. As much as I hated uni, I really loved TAFE and found it more grassroots and honest. David and I started Alderman Catering, a top-end catering business though it only lasted about 2 years as I found it very exhausting. I then sort of returned to my retail roots by opening a web site called Alderman Providore to sell Australian made gourmet grocery items. The site proved successful, and within 4 years I was opening my second site, this time specialising in tea, coffee and chocolate products. I got involved in a trial using Goat’s Serum to treat HIV, but again another waste of time. I did manage to get a skin rash from it, and managed to score a $1,000 for participating. In late 2009 the GFC hit, and online shopping took a major hit. After a disastrous Christmas that left me severely out if pocket, I decided to sell the business and put it behind me.

More eye problems followed, this time involving my blind eye. Back to the regular rounds at the Sydney Eye Hospital, and an injection of Avastin into the blind eye to stop it creating new blood supplies to an eye that couldn’t see. By this time, the interior of the bad eye was collapsing, and it took on an unnatural colour. Before this I hadn’t looked blind. Now I did!

The next step, which sort of brings us up to date, was a major move. Plans to move north had been on the agenda for 10 years – in 2011 it finally happened, though we did jump the border which wasn’t in the original plan. Recently my retina detached in my one seeing eye…or rather was pushed off by all the scar tissue present from my original CMV infection. An emergency operation to scrape down the scar tissue, and replace the retina and fluid (called a vitrectomy) has seen my sight degenerate even further and I am now the proud owner of a white cane curtesy of Guide Dogs Queensland. It has become obvious that our two Jack Russell’s are not, despite their best of intentions, good seeing-eye dogs. I can see, though very poorly. A lot of life is a blur these days.

However, I am not going to complain. I have always enjoyed a challenge, and this presents yet another one. I gave up smoking 15 years ago, and drink only lightly and socially these days. My partner and I both adopted a healthy diet and exercise program 8 years ago when we both started getting unattractively over-weight and inactive. We have both turned our lives around by adopting this course of action. In 2013, I obtained my Certificate III in Fitness from Southbank TAFE. It proved both a challenge for me, and for the TAFE, as they had never had a student with severe visual impairment do the course before. And finally, at the beginning if this year, I had my troublesome blind eye removed. I now have a very life-like prosthetic that I dan do drunken party tricks with.

33 years eh! OMG where have those years gone? Despite all the discrimination, stress, anxiety, illness, deaths, survivor guilt and despair, there have been moments of great introspection, illumination, strength and enlightenment. That over-used word “empowerment” springs to mind and that is perhaps the one word that sums all those years up. Victim? No way! Survivor? Not in my words! And I have never been one to wallow in self pity. You just need to grab life by the balls, and get on with it. I trust that is what I have done.

Tim Alderman

Copyright 2012, 2015

AIDS Quilt unfolding in Government Pavilion, Sydney Showground circa 1988. L-R Peter McCarthy, Peter Gilmore, Bevan, Steve Thompson, Tim Alderman
AIDS Quilt unfolding in Government Pavilion, Sydney Showground circa 1988. L-R Peter McCarthy, Peter Gilmore, Bevan, Steve Thompson, Tim Alderman