America, the home of the free…True, or are we bound?
I have pondered this article for weeks. What topic? What is most important to those of us readers infected and/or impacted (affected), by HIV? I certainly can’t speak for every positive individual. I’ve tried to represent…and can tell you, along with my other “active” advocates, aka activists, it is a lonely place. I thought of telling you about the over 4,000 HIV positive Arkansans NOT-IN-CARE. Holding that figure against the 5,200 known Arkansans, living with HIV. While this figure tears at my heart, and is totally unacceptable. I am told that in America, we have the freedom to elect to die instead of live healthy productive lives. So, with much sadness in my heart…I have to decide, to consider throwing up my hands, shedding tears for folks like my nephew, who elected not to stay in treatment…and are dead, and tell you good-bye. Or, do I tell you, that there are individuals that will help you, as limited as resources are, to get and stay in care? That there are people that gather one day each month, for one hour, from their phones, and have an opportunity to “connect” with others infected and affected to identify priorities and make changes and adjustments with a goal of eradicating stigma, ensuring treatment, directing resources, and maybe…just maybe, getting more than a 37 percentage mark increased. Maybe, just maybe, getting one more human, breathing, brother, sister, mom, dad, cousin, nephew, friend…into care and a healthier life. So with that all being said, here’s a plug for the Community Advisory Board, also known as CAB, which calls in toll free, (thanks to Bristol Myers Squib) at 1-866-217-3840, code 0024764#, each second Thursday of each month, at 11am – noon. All infected and impacted are invited…which means all, everyone, anyone, you reading this, and the mom’s and dad’s.
Okay, that out of the way…we get to what some call politics…wait, wait, please don’t stop reading… I’m not talking republicans or democrats of libertarians or vegans…I really don’t care. This is America, be who you want to be. I do care, when an arm of our government, given to public trust of health care…extends a carrot with one hand, and slaps with another. I speak about the friends we have at the Arkansas Department of Health, (ADH). Make no mistake, I do say friends…and mean it with the same heartfelt message delivered above. Though I have many friends in my life. Some are liars, some are thieves, some are doctors, lawyers, (oh wait, I said that already…jk), and many are working at the ADH. When my friends that borrow and never return an item or money are around, I don’t leave my wallet of prescriptions around. When my friends that can spin a verbal yarn are around, I nod and smile a lot. When my friends at ADH tell me they need me…I wonder what is in it for them…versus, what are they doing for the positions of public trust that they hold, and get paid for.
Recently, they have again put themselves under the public microscope relating to the discretion of the Community Planning Group for HIV prevention, which I have encouraged y’all to be involved with. Yes, this is the politics…if you speak up…have your vote…express your concerns, aspirations and needs…either directly, or through your representatives…that is politics… Relating to policies that pertain to you and impact you, or someone you know and you care about. I continue to “encourage” each of you to find your personal empowerment in life, in health, and in personal and public community. Live like today is the – best day of your life. Stepping off of that soapbox, and onto another platform, I was honored to have the opportunity to share a time with young university and high school students in Pine Bluff. The topic that they asked me to share was Living with HIV.
Now get this, an ole 59 year retired Air Force veteran, with a pension of almost three grand a month, who just recently got back from a cruise to the Caribbean, was suppose to chat it up with a group of youth, and tell them what it is like living with HIV? My life is G R E A T! Not so for my nephew who decided that HIV/AIDS was too much for him to bear, was non-compliant, and died the day before my birthday of AIDS associated dementia and complications. He had been diagnosed for about two years…and has not only me, a fervent HIV advocate, but a brother, that is positive and healthy and vibrant. Yet his life with HIV was quite different…and there was nothing I could do about his choices. I was concerned that sad introduction, just would not tell a young person what it was like LIVING with HIV. So I, a man with only a “land-line” phone, asked about cell phones. I proceeded to advice the auditorium that they were at risk by raising their hand…and then asked a young college student in the front row for her cell phone. She gave it to me. I took it. I handed it off to a friend on-stage who began “using” it. I advised the young lady, in front of everyone…that she would NOT be getting it back.
Gasp…from her, and the audience. I took her cell phone! How mean of me, how stupid of her? All kinds of thoughts rushed through her mind, and her associates that filled most of the room.
Bang…”you just got HIV”, I told her. You put yourself at risk in trusting me…and you no longer have a cell phone/your health. “Ouch”, I reflected to her. I truly empathized. I asked her if she could go buy herself another. She indicated, “no”. I empathized with her, and told her I, with all my blessings, can’t buy my health back either. But I assured her we would both live on. Life had not stopped for either of us.
I pulled out my wallet, and asked her, “what if I bought you another phone?” She replied that it wouldn’t be the same. I understood, and listened to her heart that there were PEOPLE in that phone that would be lost. I acknowledged that I understood…cause I lost people in my life due to losing my “health” to HIV. But again, life goes on…and we would both live. Just altered lives. I then asked the crowd, if they had sat next to someone that they knew. Obviously, they had, just like when I was in school. So I said, now give that person your cell phone. OMG is I think the expression I would associate with the din that resulted. No way. I saw what you just did to her. So my question to them was, “If you wouldn’t give someone you know your cell phone…why would you give them your body–your health?” I got feedback later, that they “got it”.
Reportedly, in line to be tested, a young lady was being “hit on” by a young man. After a bit of youthful flirtation on both parts…the young lady looked at the young man and declared, and I bet you wanna borrow my “cell phone”!
Full circle…over 4000 HIV positive Arkansans are not in care. Please do what you can to fix that. The Arkansas Department of Health is filled with individuals paid to pay attention to more than just the numbers…they need to be held accountable to humanity. We each have a responsibility to make our little part of the world a better place.
Live…Better in 2012 than in previous years~
With much thanks and respect…
Bob, Volunteer Advocate