World AIDS Day…and Bill

OK…I know…I’m a little late to the game, but it’s the 2nd of December when I’m starting to write this… Besides, I just this morning learned that yesterday was World AIDS day. I haven’t had a lot of exposure to the effects of HIV or AIDS. In fact, that I know of, I’ve only known two people diagnosed with either one. One of those I only know over the phone and through emails, and the other I didn’t know about until after he was gone from my life and I never saw him again.
 
What I do know about HIV and AIDS is fairly limited to the awareness classes I used to be required to sit through, when I worked IT at a hospital, and that was more than 22 years ago. I have done some research in preparation for writing this, however. Most people already know that HIV is a virus that attacks the immune cells and weakens the immune system. The result is that those infected become increasingly more susceptible to other viruses and infections, and even some forms of cancer. People can live many years being HIV positive, without it turning into AIDS. However, once a person’s immune system becomes severely damaged and can no longer fight off serious infections and illnesses, then the person is considered to have AIDS.
 
Now, I’m about as anti-pharma drugs as you can get, but I think if I were to discover that I was infected with HIV, I’d probably cave and go with the pharma drugs. I’m decidedly more “anti-sick” than I am anti-pharma. Either way, there are a number of herbs that can definitely help this condition. The important things to look at are what this virus does. Since it attacks the immune system, you’d obviously want to incorporate herbs that help to support the immune system. Generally, most adaptogens are good for this. I’d probably recommend a couple of different adaptogens and maybe another herb or two that would specifically target the immune system. Some good options would be ginseng, eleuthero, maca, ahswagandha, cat’s claw and a good multi-mushroom complex that contains at a minimum, some shiitake, cordyceps, maitake and lion’s mane. Since HIV doesn’t disable all parts of the immune system, some parts of the immune system may already be over-worked and over-stimulated, so you have to be careful not to over do it with the immune stimulants. I’d recommend adding in one herb at a time, for at least a week at a time, and then gauging how each is tolerated. Once a good protocol has been established, it’s best to cycle these herbs, in order to give the immune system a break. Basically, take them for a few days or a few weeks, then take a break from them for a few days or a week (generally, this is considered best practice with these types of herbs, anyway, even with a healthy immune system).
 
Additionally, you’d want to incorporate some antimicrobial and antiviral herbs, as a preventative against any potential infections that would otherwise probably be eliminated by a healthy immune system. These types of herbs are not going to bother any of the existing bodily systems, so they can be taken every day without any issues. There are number of great herbs that fit into this category. My favorite? Garlic. Lots and LOTS of garlic. I love garlic, just for it’s…”garlic-ness.” I do most of the cooking at the Oasis and there’s very little that doesn’t contain at least four very healthy-sized cloves of garlic…at least. Honestly, the only thing I don’t put garlic into is probably deserts. When I started geeking out on herbs and found out all of it’s multiple health properties, I got even more excited about garlic. Some other notable antimocrobials would be goldenseal, neem, and tea tree. It’s not an herb, but bee propolis is another helpful antimicrobial. Onions are also antimicrobial, and if you get the red onions, you also get antioxidant benefits. Also…have I mentioned GARLIC?
 
One of the many things that I’ve been obsessed with, over the past few years, is the microbiome and gut health, and how everything about health and wellness seems to be tied to the gut. While I was digging for info on HIV and AIDS, I found myself wondering how HIV might be connected with the microbiome. Sure enough, I found some references to some studies that are being done on the effects of probiotics on the progression of HIV. The theory is that there may be a connection between gut health and HIV, and that improving the microbiome may actually help to slow the progression of HIV. At any rate, since the microbiome is a crucial part of the immune system, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that a healthy microbiome will definitely help to prevent some of those illnesses that a compromised immune system might otherwise have trouble fighting off. Adding a good probiotic to the mix would definitely be beneficial, particularly if you are taking pharma drugs to treat something like HIV. Many pharma drugs do indeed have a devastating effect on the microbiome. Just be sure to stagger the times when you take any pharma drugs (particularly if there are antibiotics involved) and when you take the probiotics. In other words, take the drugs, then wait a couple of hours before taking the probiotics.
 
Speaking of antioxidants… It has been found that those infected with HIV tend to have higher than normal amounts of free radicals in their blood stream. These free radicals are essentially your body’s equivalent to rust on a car, i.e., “they’re bad.” I won’t go into huge detail on this, as there are hundreds of articles on free radicals and why “they’re bad” and all of the virtues of taking in antioxidants. Just suffice it to say that free radicals do a lot of damage to your body and help to speed up the aging process. Antioxidants help by scavenging free radicals, thus preventing and even reversing the damage that they do. Generally, you can get a good number of antioxidants from good, healthy food – organic fruits and veggies, humanely and consciously raised meats, poultry, eggs and dairy, wild-caught fish (well…might want to bring your Geiger counter, these days…but, ya know…). If you go the supplement route, Vitamins C and E are good examples, as is astaxanthin. There are several others, just search for “antioxidants” and you’ll find LOADS of available supplements.
 
Again, I don’t have any real experience with HIV. All I can do here is basically look at this from the perspective of “what would I do if this is what I had”… A lot of this is similar to what I’m already doing for Lyme Disease, which is more of something “hacking” my immune system, than actually compromising it. I understand that these are two totally different diseases, though. If you, or someone you love, has this disease, I feel for you. My heart and my prayers go with you. No one deserves this…
 
So, what actually sparked my desire to write this piece was that, all this week I found myself thinking about a friend I had when I was a teenager. His name was Bill and he had AIDS. I was working a part time job in a library. Bill was an older guy, probably in his late 60’s, and he was one of the two building maintenance guys that took care of the library. Even when I was a kid, I loved listening to my elders’ stories. Bill liked to talk and he had fantastic stories. He’d been in the Airforce in his youth and was stationed in England. While he was there, he met a local girl and married her. When his Airforce hitch was up, he said, he’d wanted to go home, but his wife wasn’t interested in going to America. So they just decided to part ways. At the time, I thought it was strange and it seemed there was something missing from the story. He made it all sound very matter of fact and didn’t seem upset or regretful about it. It was just a story.
 
Like most of the boys of my generation, I thought homosexuality was “gross”, something to giggle about, something to accuse others of who you didn’t like – “UGH. He’s such a fag!” –  something to be feared and reviled. There were two gay men that worked at the library, one was the head librarian, the other was my supervisor. They both fit the effeminate gay male stereotype that TV and movies of the time told me was how all gay men behaved. To my knowledge, at the time, they were the first gay men that I’d ever had any direct contact with. Since both of these guys were…not very nice people, they did nothing to instill any tolerance in my teenage mind. As an “old guy,” now, I know that those two guys not being very nice had nothing to do with them being gay (then again, maybe the way the world treated gays back them did indeed have some bearing on them not being very nice…who knows?). Keith, the supervisor, was always trying to catch people doing something wrong and seemed to get entirely too much enjoyment from lording what little power he had over everyone who worked under him. And the head librarian…well…he tried to fire me, once, for getting on the phone at the end of my shift to let my mom know I was on my way home. Mom worked at City Hall. Needless to say, I kept that job for as long as I wanted it…
 
Early on, Bill often spoke of having a roommate. He said the man was sick and he often had to take care of him, but he never indicated what was wrong with him. Eventually, his roommate passed away. Bill was obviously sad, but also very stoic about it all.
 
I would occasionally be tasked with helping Bill set up chairs and tables in the library event room. Being the angsty teen that I was, our conversations would often turn toward my distaste for my supervisor. It turned out that Bill didn’t care much for him, either. On one occasion, I even remember him making the “limp wrist” gesture in reference to him. Later, though, he showed me some things that, were I a little older and wiser, I’d have immediately recognized for what they were.
 
Bill had one means of transportation. A motorcycle. We lived in Florida, so riding all year round wasn’t an issue (well…when it wasn’t raining). He was also a member of a motorcycle club. He showed me some pictures of him and his brothers, as well as their patch and insignia. The club actually had a German military theme and was called “Meister Der Manner” – Masters of Men. Keep in mind, I was a 17 year old kid who lived in suburbia through the 70’s and 80’s…totally clueless. Thought nothing of it. When I think back on it, I think it’s hilarious. Here I am, bitching about the gays…to a member of a gay men’s motorcycle club.
 
Eventually, Bill moved on. If memory serves me, he had a head-to-head conflict with the head librarian and quit on the spot. Later, one of the librarians who’d taken me under her wing handed me a copy of one of our local papers and Bill was on the front page. The article was all about his motorcycle club…and his struggle with late-stage AIDS. In the article, he spoke of caring for his partner while he was dying from AIDS – his “roommate.” I knew this for certain, as the article mentioned the partners name and it was the same name he used when he referred to his roommate. I was floored. Why hadn’t he told me? Then I was a little mortified. Why hadn’t he told me?! Here I was, trashing gay men…to a gay man…and he said nothing. He didn’t correct me, he didn’t shut me down…and he still talked to me and treated me as a friend. I’m sure at some point my teenage-boy brain was even thinking, “Wait…he was gay?! But he was so cool!!” The man actually broke the law for me and went and bought alcohol for me, once!
 
Reading further into the article, he told the reporter about the philosophy of his MC. Basically, “Just because you’re gay, doesn’t mean you have to be effeminate.” At the time, I read it as “you shouldn’t be effeminate.” Now I realize it was just saying, “Be who you are. You don’t have to fit a stereotype.” Either way, it changed my outlook. It was the beginning of my learning to just accept people as people, to look past preconceived notions about a how a person believes, who they love, where they come from, what they look like, and just see the person underneath all of that. I count this as one of the most important lessons of my youth. I’m not sure if Bill realized what he was teaching me, at the time, but I will be eternally grateful to him. Cheers, Bill…wherever you are.