“The bastard has been sleeping around behind my back,” lamented my best friend.
He and Tavi had been dating for nearly 10 years. A chance meeting at a bar followed by a few conversations and drinks established that they could be something more than just good friends. Tavi was 10 years younger to my friend and had been raised by a single mother. Yet his appetite for life was unmatched, a quality my friend found endearing. Over time, he and Tavi not only became lovers but he also assumed the role of a friend, philosopher and guide.
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That such a loving relationship could have room for pain, anger and disappointment would be unthinkable. And yet it had. Tavi had lately begun to lose weight. While my friend and Tavi saw it as a welcome change initially, I insisted that he consult a doctor since he had been wheezing and coughing.
Tavi was not only HIV+, but he had developed AIDS.
The little bit of hope that there could be years of gap between testing HIV+ and finally confirming AIDS faded away gradually. My friend sunk into silent despair, so did Tavi.
My friend turned to me for help. He was struggling with his own fears of the virus affecting him and the horror of not having Tavi around in his life anymore. Busting myths related to AIDS is not easy, and so I began to reiterate ways in which the partner does not contract the virus. I assured him that these days even an infected person can hope to live long provided necessary precautions were taken.
An honest conversation can be a great healer. Of the two, my friend recovered first and embarked on the most beautiful journey of life: hope. The first thing he did was to fix an appointment with the doctor to determine the course of medical treatment. With the right medication, the Western blot count could be drastically brought down. Some lifestyle changes would have to be made. Tavi would have to quit smoking since the lungs get affected first and the lower immune system would make it that much more difficult to fight infection.
The doctor patiently explained that AIDS could only be passed on through direct blood contact and if the blood in any way was directly exposed to air, chances of transmitting the infection were next to nil (and through body fluids like vaginal secretions or semen).
No other body fluid – tears, nasal fluid, saliva, sweat – could infect a person. Sharing food (eating out of the same plate), water (drinking water from the same bottle) and towel, could not possibly transmit the disease. Sharing clothes (shirts/tees), bed (they could continue to sleep in the same bed, even hug each other), soap (there was no need to have separate soaps) etc. was absolutely safe. No insect or bug can carry HIV and hence there would be no chances of getting infected by insects. In other words, my friend and Tavi’s life would go on as usual. However, they could have sex only with adequate precaution like using condoms (though nothing fancy like ultra-thin). With a list of dos, came a list of don’ts. No sharing of razors or toothbrushes. Safely disposing of any item like cotton swabs, bandage etc. used to clean blood. No sucking of blood from cuts. No oral sex without a condom (with a condom it was safe unless one partner had a mouth infection or bleeding gum).
Prior to this visit, Tavi had gone into a shell. He had once confided in me about his mortal fear (rather a suspicion) of having infected my friend and the guilt of being unfaithful to him. However, the doctor’s visit was a game-changer. As a couple, Tavi and my friend made an unspoken, unwritten pact, that they would treat it like any other disease and would not cry over it. Each issue would be handled medically, and not emotionally.
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The relationship dynamics between my friend and Tavi have changed too. They realise they are each other’s biggest strength as well as their biggest weakness, and hence equals in the relationship. Once in a while, Tavi slips into depression for not having disclosed his condition to his mother and sister. All in due time, we assure him.
Tavi and my friend have decided to take life head-on. For any of you, who might be in either of the shoes, know that empathy is as big a gift to the patient of AIDS as a medical help. Do not compromise on either.