The +++ Journals: Entry X (The Positivity In Positive)

The +++ Journals: Entry X (The Positivity In Positive)

About six weeks ago, the numbers 471 became my worst nightmare but also my biggest motivator. I was gutted by my CD4 count mostly because I was not expecting it to be so low despite my supposedly above-middle-class lifestyle. But as I have come to learn over the past few months, there was no room for assumptions. Nothing was ever what it seemed, at least when it came to being me. The not-so-low count made me feel like not only was I positive but I was more vulnerable to the virus than I was aware of, and my defences were seemingly depleting fast. It also meant I would have to go on ARVs and I was not ready for it; not because I was hopeful that some miracle in a bottle or in the laying of hands could cure me or perhaps I would still wake up and realise this was just a long dream. No. It was because I did not want to be confined to taking a drug perfunctorily for the rest of my life.

At least not yet.

Someday I would…

But not now.

So walking out of the hospital that day, I knew what had to be done, but getting my lazy ass to work with me on this was always the hardest part. Apart from taking the multivitamins that the doctors had recommended, I would need to start over; goodbye to cigarettes and wild nights in the city, more veggies, fruits and lean meat, less cookies and cream Haagen-Dazs. In essence, I needed to remodel my life towards the one I often dreamt it should be, but had kept pushing forward from one week to the next until months rolled by. One day sha, I often told myself.

Well that ‘one day’ became today.

With my new found passion and thumping desire, Josh and I started the campaign against 471. I joined the gym, promised Josh that for every day I did not go, I would give him 1k (I probably owe him a lot of money right now!). I also started my regime of healthy eating and grumpily cleaned out my fridge of every form of temptation. After my initial gra-gra, I noticed that the steam was cooling out fast after the first few days. Firstly, I was only able to get to the gym at the peak periods, and it meant that I would have to wait at least 30 minutes before I could run on the treadmill or cycle. In the end, I often left in frustration after I had ‘lifted’ a few weights and admired some fine-ass men. Then there was the realization of how expense it was to eat healthy in Nigeria. When the regular thousand bucks could buy you a good meal-and-a-half regularly (less in the office canteen), all the places that made nice salads and smoothies charged an arm to eat leaf and blended fruits. This was not sustainable in the long run, as I no fit use all my money de chop.

The first thing I did was substitute the gym with taking long walks in my estate thrice a week. With the help of Fitbit and the health app on my phone, I was able to track how much progress I was making during each session. I also found the walks more calming and a better way to clear my head after a long day at the office. As for that healthy living, I didn’t totally kick it aside. I simply looked for a cheaper and more pocket friendly alternative. I bought myself a blender and started making my own damn smoothies, which I religiously drank every night as a substitute for dinner. And during the day, I ate smaller portions, tried to nibble on healthy snacks and treat myself every once in a while. This would hopefully achieve the same results in the long term.

While I took care of the physical, I also decided to nurture the spiritual and the emotional side too, which were just as important in this new and better Temi. This involved the good, bad and the very strange.

First of all, I went to church! Which didn’t seem so bad. And I started praying too…not to be miraculously healed of HIV but that my compromised immune system would not deter me from achieving my purpose, whatever that was. I prayed for strength and wisdom and courage which I would need a lot; I prayed for the lonely days that would surely come around and the willpower to stay out of trouble, especially since it could have consequences on someone else’s life now. Something ironic about all of this was that prior to confirming my status, these were very similar things I would have prayed about except the bit about willpower. For me, it just meant that not a lot had changed about my ideals, dreams and aspirations in life even before I knew I was positive; it just meant that now, I was driven by something more concrete.

I was also certain I did not want to continue to pursue my career in finance; the battle between idealism and realism took to the fore again. In as much as it was very dreamy and pleasant to flirt with the idea of bringing change to the world, it just did not work this easily in reality. There would be plenty blood and sweat and dirt. Would I be able endure or would I snap after being stretched beyond my limit? It would also mean I may not have been able to sustain my present lifestyle and *gasps* I would have to move to the mainland!

Fortunately for me, my eye caught interest of a DP on volunteering. I probed out of curiosity and discovered a lot of interesting facts about the practice of volunteerism, which had been around for a while apparently (LASTMA jacket anyone?). The DP said it would work for me because I would get to enjoy the best of both worlds, keep my day job, which was my means of sustenance for now, and pursue my dreams of making changes, but in small ways and perhaps eventually transition into full development programs personnel. I could choose from environmental to education to healthcare, and he had a database of organizations that needed volunteers. He also had a database of scholarships, short courses and fellowships that would be of relevance since I was also interested in pursuing a second degree within that field.

I lapped it up very greedily and spent the next few weeks researching online and submitting applications. I also got in touch with one of the NGOs looking for volunteers. Their field of expertise involved enrolling children from slums into primary schools and also the renovation of schools in the really poor clusters of Lagos. It seemed perfect since I was passionate about education and teaching kids; it would give me the opportunity to finally experience what I believed was what I was supposed to do with the rest of my life and I would at least get to dip my big toe into the water instead of lunging in.

Someone once said it would get harder, but for me, it seemed like the opposite. Once I made peace with who I was and what I was living with, I was full steam, determined now more than ever to go out and live my dream. Every time a piece of doubt crept in, I would try to think of counter positive thoughts to nullify it.

You are more susceptible and it can kill you. Yeah, but so can a million other things; people drop dead every day and most of them are not HIV positive.

You are going to be alone for the rest of your life now, Temi. Well, you were always averse towards commitment in the first place, so why does it matter so much to you now? Besides, don’t rule out the options of finding happiness and love; even if you do not, find an avenue to pour out all your love and passion…maybe you will make a ton of money along the way doing that, and if not, at least you will feel a sense of fulfillment from doing these things.

What of Ma’ami, how long will you keep lying and deceiving her and everyone else you are keeping this from? They have a right to know. I am protecting her and myself. If she knows, she will only fret and worry and make you worry. And as for everyone else, they probably all have their demons and issues they keep to themselves. Just as long as you are not putting them in jeopardy, then you do not need to discuss your status with them. The world still has a lot to learn about HIV and the battle is not yours to fight. At least not today; maybe someday…

So every time one of my three biggest fears crept on me, I would tell myself these things. Chant them until they became a mantra. Till I believed it and it became part of me. I won’t say there are no bad days. There are really bad ones… especially the loneliness. At my age, a lot of friends seem to be getting married, having babies and settling to what would be a normal adulthood, and I find myself staring at a DP or PM and feeling a pang, a yearning, envy, rage. These times, I question God and ask why, and wish I could just be…normal.

But I am not alone. I am sure that there is someone out there who is not positive and who feels the same emotions I do. So back to my realization, a lot of challenges and battles I face daily are similar to not just a gay man but the everyday people out there.

So it was back to see my doctor after six weeks; and oh boy, was I scared! I remained terrified as they took my blood sample. I was told to come back the following week, and it was yet another long week. Finally the moment came as I walked into Doctor Kintan’s office. She was her usual pleasant and sunny self. We made small talks but she could tell I was nervous from the way I tapped my feet and glanced at my wristwatch from time to time. She proceeded to open my file on her computer. She looked up and smiled at me.

“Mr. Cole, I don’t know what you have been doing, but it is working! 633…”

I let out a whoop of joy and clapped. I almost did a little dance in her office! I felt elated. Because for a while in a long time, I set out to do something and achieved it. I was grateful for my small victory and felt I could do bigger things now.

Dr. Kintan laughed. She was probably used to seeing elated patients and downtrodden ones too.

“So what’s next, doc?” I said, still beaming like I had just won the lottery.

“Well, continue to do what you have been doing. Eat right. Exercise. Take your supplements. We will check the count again in another two, three months…”

“Someone told me that I may still have a high viral load despite a fairly okay count. How true is this, Doctor Kay?”

“Hmmm… well I have heard of that, but it is rare. I feel like it can only be this way if your cells are reproducing faster than they are being destroyed by the virus. The relationship between CD4 count and viral load, as I have always known it, is inversely. When one is high, the other will be low…”

“Ok. But will you advise I take the test?’

“Yeah, just to put your mind at rest. But I suggest you take it at the end of the year…when I put you on the ARVs.”

“Ah-ahn! ARV again?” I said incredulously.

She laughed. “Yes. Eventually you have to go on the drugs. There is nothing attacking and suppressing the virus and we still need to address it. I would recommend it, but once you are above the 500 count, it is not mandatory and I can only recommend it to you.”

“Ok…when we get to that bridge, we shall cross it!”

She laughed. I shook hands with her and told her I would see her around. She nodded and got clicking away on her computer. I smiled at the next patient walking in. As I stepped out of the hospital, I dialed Josh’s number, excitedly waiting for his voice over the phone so I could tell him about the success of our Anti-471 Campaign! In that moment, I felt like I could take on the world. Whatever challenges and storms there are out there, bring it on!

Positive Temi is waiting!

Fin.

Author’s Note: I want to use this opportunity to thank Pink Panther for the platform to share my story with everyone out there. Keep up the amazing work! I just might take you up on that offer soon! I hope that my story has inspired someone out there to get tested.

And for every positive person out there, we can still be all that we set out to be. Living with HIV really isn’t the end; poz people live normal, happy lives. The only thing that truly separates us from the other person is ourselves and opportunity. So remember this and always strive to be the best version of you. Let them see you and say, ‘See Mr. Lagbaja, see all what he has done despite his compromised immunity.’

And if you haven’t been tested in a while and you may have slipped just once, please go get tested. Do not assume that because the dick or ass comes from xyz or the person earns 6 figure salaries, then he must be clean. The average positive guy out there today looks like you, maybe even better. Think about that the next time you want bareback.

Thank you.

XOXO

Temi Cole.

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44 Comments

  1. black
    October 27, 08:15 Reply

    I got so much love for u brother man! Keep up the positive attitude. Warm hugs.

  2. Teflondon
    October 27, 08:26 Reply

    “At my age, a lot of friends seem to be getting married, having babies and settling to what would be a normal adulthood, and I find myself staring at a DP or PM and feeling a pang, a yearning, envy, rage. These times, I question God and ask why, and wish I could just be…normal.”
    This statements above, this is so me right now.

    Temi D Wow!
    Inspirational stuff Bro!

    No one forced me or anything but I just felt the need to add that (haven been a champion of #TeamHoe #TeamSexOverLove and #TeamBareBack) its paramount to live responsibly, safe sex is non-negotiable, Checking your status regularly is a must. I heard these days you can even contact HIV and other transmissible diseases through Blowjobs.
    Play safe always, be safe always.

    This message was brought to you by the head of the federal ministry of hoes association.

  3. KryxxX
    October 27, 08:28 Reply

    **Heavy Sigh**

    You are not alone oh! Sometimes I just wonder, why can’t I be normal for once? Why can’t I be like my bro who changes ladies like used always ultra? Why can’t I be like all those friends of mine trying to woe that latest chic?

    Why can’t I just fit in?

    All this “why” coming from the thought that when the marriage ish finally hits me, its gonna hit hard! Knocking me off my feet nd in the dirt!

    Anyways, may you find that strength you crave nd may we all too!

    Cheers to a healthy lifestyle!

  4. PETROVICH
    October 27, 09:02 Reply

    Keep up the good work bro, i’m happy you were able to make progress. You are an inspiration to every positive person out there.

  5. simba
    October 27, 09:19 Reply

    Hi dear, nice spirit u ‘ve got.. as a medical personnel and someone with lots of experiences in HIV mgt. I advise u start ARV. It’s not gonna be easy, but if u want to attain undetectable status u must commence ARVs. Lots of benefits in reduced viral load,both to u and to ur partners.. even new studies has discarded using CD4 count as a basis to commence ARV.. just consider my advice..dear

    • Temi Cole
      October 27, 19:24 Reply

      Thanks Simba!

      Yeah it’s something I’m seriously considering. That and a support group…just need to ask Doctor Kay about a few concerns I have.

  6. Francis
    October 27, 09:34 Reply

    Nice to hear from you again and see that you’re making good progress and keeping fit. You seem to be restricting calories. Please once you’re down to a healthy weight, switch to maintenance phase one time. You need good nutrition to maintain a robust immune system. Long term calorie restriction has negative effects even if you’re loading on antioxidant rich foods.

    If you have a good rapport with your doctor, beg her to do that viral load for you even as you’re not yet on drug. WHO recommends switching to viral load to monitor patient’s progress and the NGOs have started working towards that though the machine is quite expensive to procure and maintain. As it is now, all HIV patients must have one viral load done yearly. For now the focus seems to be those that are on drugs but hopefully it will involve those who aren’t on drugs yet.

    I learnt something yesterday in a training I’m currently attending so allow me to share.

    High CD4 counts can be quite tricky. It so happens that the test that measures CD4 count takes into consideration both functional and non functional CD4. The non functional CD4 are those that have been attacked by the virus but are yet to die off thus inflating the real CD4 count. Therein lies the need to be guided by viral load and not CD4 count.

    I hope I didn’t confuse anyone with that.

    Just like your doctor recommended, I always advise patients to start drugs as soon as possible even if the CD4 count looks good but you must be ready for that one sha as me no go lie I hate popping pills even vitamin C. The current once a day regimen makes it easier sha.

    • Dennis Macaulay
      October 27, 11:10 Reply

      Fortunately because of my job I have learnt a thing or two about HIV management. It is however quite funny that the entire Rivers state has only one viral load machine which is even in a private lab (Pathcare) and each test costs as much as 50k (yes you read right). Sometimes they are forced to send samples to Uyo and Ibadan with the logistics challenges that come with it.

      This begs the question, where does the millions of dollars of HIV funding money that comes to Nigeria go to if Viral load machines are far and inbetween?

      My very close friend is dealing with a new diagnosis and if you don’t have money and become positive in this Nigeria you are finished……literally! Each CD4 test costs us 5k and he had to repeat a few times because samples were not tested immediately therefore results were inconsistent.

      Now I feel very useless and I have made it my life’s mission to have a free sexual health clinic for LGBT persons in Nigeria. Even a small outpatient clinic will do where everything is available and free!

      Sorry for ranting, I just had to let that out.

      • Francis
        October 27, 11:30 Reply

        Donor agencies are pulling out and funds are dropping. The working plan for Africa has always been that as the years go by, the government of each country is expected to take up the bulk of HIV care funding. Other small countries are complying but our so called Giant of Africa continues to lag behind with their infamous nonchalant attitude.

        The NGOs are only supporting CD4 and Viral Load testing. All other investigations must be from the patients pocket or something called revolving fund if the facility has one. I’m surprised you say CD4 has a fee attached to it and an exorbitant fee at that. Both investigations are free over here. Looks like we are really enjoying in the north in terms of costs of health services.

        The donor agencies are still working on getting more viral load machines but they are hindered by data which show poor utilization of the viral load machines that are on ground. Poor utilization due to machine breakdowns, lack of reagents, lack of skilled personnel and most importantly lack of samples as some doctors are yet to start requesting for viral load testing as they are not aware of its existence in Nigeria.

        Just like you I dream of having an MSM facility sha. In fact I specified that in my last job application hoping the NGO might be thinking in the same direction.

        • Dennis Macaulay
          October 27, 11:47 Reply

          I will see to it that we have that facility running, even if it’s the only good thing I do before I die.

          My eyes are open now, people are dying from poor funding. Some patients come and their combination is not available and they are simply given another one….just like that.

          Patients don’t bother with CD4 because they don’t have 5k. It is with my connections at the teaching hospital that they collect 1k from my friend.

          Let me not even enter confidentiality? That one is another matter. They are secluded in a part of the hospital and every person who passes there knows that these are ARV people.

          These are some of the reasons why people stay away and die in silence. Now HepB is the one ravaging gay men in PHC….I should stop talking

          • Francis
            October 27, 12:10 Reply

            Lol. Abeg keep talking. Rivers state don take over Benue in terms of HIV rates. We need to start taking our health seriously while catching fun.

            Please which hospital are you describing so? Changing drugs anyhow is an abomination in a tertiary hospital. E be like say no NGO dey manage that your clinic or they are not performing at all.

            Poor funding aside mismanagement of funds by Ministry of Health dey too. Hopefully Buhari will elect someone that can fix the mess.

            With regards to confidentiality, it was discussed yesterday and they are advocating that all patients be seen at the outpatient department but then this will depend on how each hospital’s outpatient department functions. My fear with this move is that patients will be exposed to health workers that talk too much and have a dislike for HIV patients.

          • Pink Panther
            October 27, 12:15 Reply

            *feeling cold chill go up my spine* My goodness. This situation is even more dire than I presumed.

            • Francis
              October 27, 12:31 Reply

              That chill go increase if you’re privileged to volunteer in a HIV clinic….. such was my case 5 years ago

      • Temi Cole
        October 27, 19:47 Reply

        Very true Dennis… the viral load tests are pretty expensive around that range of 50k… That’s why doctors like mine often shy away from it and advise that we do the CD4 counts. Because sadly most of the people who come to these clinics (whose HIV programs are mostly funded by government agencies and NGOS) cannot afford it and the funds provided by the donor doesn’t cover a viral load test.

        I mirror this your dream of starting up an LGBT clinic. It would really serve an urgent need.

        • Max
          October 28, 08:30 Reply

          Reading this was depressing. I feel so sad right now.

    • Temi Cole
      October 27, 19:28 Reply

      Very enlightening… I will do it probably at d end of d year of beginning of next year, then take it from there…

      Thanks bro!

  7. Dickson Clement
    October 27, 13:14 Reply

    Starting ARV’s with high CD4 count is still a debated issue, most N.G.O ‘s support it because they want more people enrolled in their program so that the financiers will not cancel the program. It’s a common medical knowledge that there is a higher chance for drug reactions if your CD4 count is high and you are placed on ARV’s. As a medical practitioner, I must stress that ARV’s are not like paracetamol or multivitamins. Every drug has the ability to alter normal biological process. So ARV’s come with their own side effects. Severe vomiting, lactic acidosis, peripheral neuropathies , mitochondrial toxicity, and other skin manifestations. It’s side effects is enough to make anybody to reject the drugs. So why would you start a drug, when you know the immune system is still normal and chances of reaction is high? When the person truely needs the drug, would he still accept it knowing the dire consequences of the said reactions?

  8. Norkin
    October 27, 16:57 Reply

    Been catching up on all the previous journals.

    Mr Cole, please can I have your email address, I ve a situation I’d like to corrspond with you on.

  9. KingBey
    October 27, 19:10 Reply

    This life sef Don taya person. Wahala every angle.

  10. iamcoy
    October 27, 22:24 Reply

    Temi you are a champ, keep weathering the storm

  11. Dickson Clement
    October 27, 23:17 Reply

    I made my comments based on the piece above. The recent W.H.O recommendation for commencement of ARVs is CD4 equals or less than 500cells/mm3. Normal CD4 range for un-infected persons is from 1000- 1600. An uninfected person who is having some other regular infections outside HIV can equally have low CD4 (as low as 500 or less). So someone with a cd4 of 500 still has a low count, whether the standard for commencement of ARV’s was raised from 200 to 500, it’s still low. Some HIV patients do have near normal CD4 like say 800- 900, and you can’t start the therapy with those ranges. Nevirapine is the ARV with a popular side effect, it doesn’t mean that others do not have their side effects! My previous comment was to support the doctor who didn’t start the drug with counts above 500 and to explain the basis of her decision.

  12. Dickson Clement
    October 27, 23:28 Reply

    It’s doesn’t mean that once you take ARV, you will have the side effects, but ARV’s are long term medication and chances of side effects exist. patients still take the drug without side effect. I once had a needle prick and was placed on 21 days prophylaxis! I wouldn’t want to go through what I suffered with the drugs. I am not making this comment to discourage people from enrolling in the program or taking ARV’S, I am just stressing the need for the timing for commencement

    • Francis
      October 28, 00:10 Reply

      Eeeya! Some of my colleagues have had the same complaints too.

      I wasnt aware of post exposure prophylaxis when I had my needle prick accident 8 years ago. Two days after the incident was when I was called aside and told the patient was HIV positive. Even at that i brushed it aside as a non-issue. I was just lucky I scaled through without getting infected.

  13. Uziel
    October 28, 07:17 Reply

    I just want to add that if you are negative, you can reduce your chances of getting the virus if you get on the PreP medication. The medication can also work if you take it immediately after being exposed to someone that has the virus.

    • Max
      October 28, 08:40 Reply

      Depressing depressing depressing, everything I’ve read here..all depressing. From CD4 count to side effects of drugs. ??

      • Uziel
        October 28, 11:17 Reply

        Even the talk about positivity? 😀

  14. Stranger
    November 01, 19:58 Reply

    Ermm. I’ve got so much to say but I don’t know how to begin. Could I get the email of any doctor here please? I need free consultation. Francis? Simba? Someone should respond biko.

  15. Stranger
    November 08, 21:13 Reply

    Just seeing this. Thanks. Pink Panther, pls could you help me with the mail address?

  16. Stranger
    November 09, 07:20 Reply

    Yours. So I’d be able to get through to Francis.

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