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Holiday hassles and HRT, by Caroline Guinness
A much-needed holiday. Tickets, passports, driving licence – all go in my hand luggage. I leave the toiletry bag out till the last minute. I don't care if everything else gets lost, but those pills must come with me on the plane. Into the bag they go.
The taxi's here right on time. Easy check-in at Gatwick, time to buy a few duty frees, which I've left space for in my hand luggage...I open it...stab of ice-cold fear...the toiletry bag...at home!
"Oh my God!" Husband goes pale. "Do you want to go back ?" A few seconds' hesitation – "No! I'm getting on that plane."
A frantic call on the mobile (didn't forget that!) to the travel agent. No more flights till next week. FedEx will not courier medicines. A friend at home will try other courier companies.
I call my clinic. No, they do not know any doctors in Lanzarote but they will fax a letter and prescription to the travel rep there. I call the travel agent for their fax number. It turns out they are also the car hire company at Lanzarote Airport. My friend calls back, she has found a courier but the pills will have to go via Madrid and will not reach me till Monday (it is now Thursday). Our flight is being called.
Sitting on the plane, I realise that the travel rep and the car hire person will now know that I am HIV-positive. Oh great. In addition, I do not have my HRT – hormone hell for me and hubby, not a good prospect!
We land, find rep, she is fantastic. Married to a local doctor, she has spent the last two hours trying to sort things out – no go. The clinic system is like the UK – they don't just hand over HIV pills willy-nilly. She takes me to the airport pharmacy. A sweet man hands over my HRT, which is a major relief, but no HIV combo.
Weather perfect, accommodation divine. I call my clinic, they tell me not to panic, things should be OK. I have been adherent for four years, undetectable and feeling well. There might be a small 'blip'. Just make sure to take my pills as soon as they arrive, make sure I have bloods done as soon as I return. I have done everything I can.
I do not feel stressed. In fact, I feel fantastic. Have my first good night's sleep in years. Have my first 'real' dreams. Wake up refreshed for the first time in years. Husband says he can see my shoulders dropping. I feel light and NORMAL.
Monday, I call Madrid. My pills have left there and are on their way to Las Palmas, then another flight to Lanzarote, and should be there by 4.15pm. I do not feel relieved. Strangely sad, in fact.
"Why?" my husband asks.
"Well, let me try and explain. Imagine you lost a leg and were given an artificial one. You are grateful for the mobility it gives you. Then for four days your leg grows back, but only for four days. Does that make it clearer?"
Pills in my hand, swallow. Within two hours I am feeling weird, slight hallucinations, sick. That night 'the dreams'. Wake feeling vile. How come? The sun is still shining, I'm still on holiday. Yet that low level of anxiety is back. Now I know it's not me, it's the efavirenz.
I know what it is to have AIDS; I know these things are a better alternative. I should be grateful, but still I grieve. You may not see the disability, but this is what it feels like. It's real.
A week later, I am back at my Clinic. "How do you feel?" They ask anxiously. "Fine," I reply. "You look great." I always do with a suntan!
I see my consultant on 20th March. No viral 'blip', thank God, but psychologically, it has not just been a 'blip', it's been an explosion. I must discuss (again) a Structured Treatment Interruption. Oh for a cure!
This first appeared in issue 78 of Positive Nation, May 2002. Many thanks to both Caroline and Positive Nation for giving permission to reprint it.