Up until a few years ago, people with HIV had to accept the fact that they would likely be dead before middle age — but many have survived thanks to advances in treatment. Now they’re dealing with new complications (some health related) and uncertainties about a future they didn’t really plan for.
My husband once found himself in this exact situation. In the late 90’s when he was diagnosed with HIV, he was already losing weight rapidly and beginning to see some of the other symptoms. He really wasn’t expecting to live more than a couple of years. After a rough start with some meds that messed with his system in nasty ways, he finally found something that worked for him…and today he’s happy and healthy, with many more years ahead of him than he was ever expecting. But the eventual realization that he wasn’t going to die before age 30 was difficult to wrap his head around, and it came with its own emotional and physical hurdles. Nothing like in the movies when the doctor says “You’re cured!” and everyone cheers, then the credits roll.
Steve Schalchlin would be the first to tell you he lives in a time of miracles, and about how hard that can be. In 1995, as his body wasted away from AIDS, he took the limited time in front of him as a challenge: he would write songs, make amends, fill his remaining days with life. And by the end, with his digestive system shut down, his figure skeletal, he was ready to die. Then he won a lottery for a new AIDS drug that had been rushed through the approval process. Almost overnight his health began to return, and with it, another, more open-ended, challenge: life.
“Suddenly the future seemed like this long, empty road going toward the horizon, and I felt like, what am I gonna do with my life now?” Mr. Schalchlin, 59, said the other day, still marveling at the turn of events. “I had already accomplished all my goals that I had set for myself. And now I had this endless amount of time ahead of me, and I felt depressed.”