Tag Archives: vision-impaired

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.

Seeing In Time

This article – now edited – was written in 2001. I intended to sue St Vincent’s for causing my loss of sight by not testing me for CMV in 1996. I had been given a list if solicitors by HALC (HIV/AIDS Legal Centre), and had picked one out. It was pro bono, and I had several discussions with him. However, charges such as searches and photocopying etc were my responsibility and when the first bill for $1500 came in, I just had to drop it. 13 years on, the predicted retinal detachment has happened and a lot if other shit besides. I am now contemplating having my left, totally blind eye, removed and replaced with a prosthetic. What happened here was just an introduction!

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 50-something 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

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