Tag Archives: disease

The Face of AIDS Looks Better than Ever, Unfortunately

By Jason Menard

AIDS is my disease.

Fortunately I don’t mean in the way that I have contracted it, but in the fact that the spectre of AIDS and its complications have been a part of my life ever since I was truly conscious of disease.

Unlike cancer, diabetes, and heart disease – all worthy adversaries, mind you – AIDS was the disease that defined my generation. It was the issue that we were forced to deal with from a very young age, and it’s safe to say it defined the expression of sexuality for many of my demographic.

And as AIDS now turns 25 – a birthday that often is seen as a turning point in the transition from youth to adulthood – it appears to only be getting stronger. AIDS may be my disease, but I have no clue how to fight it, and the casualties are mounting.

Recently, we lost a family friend to complications of AIDS. That not-unexpected turn of events helped to put the disease back in focus. After all, for a while there we were looking at AIDS as an African disease. In North America, the disease is largely being viewed as treatable through the use of antiretrovirals. The “drug cocktail” has enabled North Americans to view AIDS still as a life sentence, but no longer as a quick stint on death row.

Africa, on the other hand, is so far away from our daily conscious that we can push it aside. We can hear about the horrors of HIV and AIDS and how they’re decimating entire populations, but not rationalize that with our more sterilized and sanitary AIDS epidemic on this side of the Atlantic. A human tragedy is only one when it can touch you – otherwise it remains too far in the realm of the abstract to directly impact us.

The last time I felt that detachment from AIDS was during my youth. Naiveté, innocence, and a healthy measure of arrogance, meant that I couldn’t truly understand the impact AIDS was having in the community around me. Sitting with the boys in the locker room, we’d make off-colour jokes, laugh nervously at expressions of sexuality that we only half-understood – but of which we had to fake so as not to reveal our immaturity, and compartmentalized the disease as something we would never be exposed to. After all, we weren’t gay. We didn’t know Rock Hudson. We were safe, or so we thought. Immature attempts at gallows humour were our defense against the unknown.

It wasn’t until later on in life that we learn that we’re never truly safe. Beyond the fear (and hate) mongering and ignorance of those who claimed that you could contract AIDS from toilet seats or sharing a glass, we learned that AIDS was not just a disease for others. It wasn’t just a gay or IV drug user disease (a pairing that far too often was lumped together), but rather a disease that any of us could get if we were irresponsible.

Sexuality, frightening enough on its own, became downright terrorizing. High school issues went beyond simply questioning the value of teaching sexual education in the classroom, but rather how we could justify not putting condom machines in the bathroom.

So where are we today, now that AIDS is 25 years old? We have a generation of youth who have grown up knowing nothing but AIDS in their lives. And, unlike those of us who were raised during the first, uncertain, days of the disease, they seem to have less fear of the issue. Perhaps the advent of these drug cocktails, allowing HIV-sufferers to live for years in relative good health, has prevented today’s youth from seeing the horrors and ravages that AIDS can impose upon the body.

My introduction to AIDS was one of emaciated bodies, feeble eyes that stared off into the distance, and the certainty of a rapid decent into eternal slumber. Today’s face of AIDS is robust, active, and – most importantly – alive in every sense of the word. It almost makes you think that living with the disease isn’t that bad after all.

And that’s why, at 25 years old, AIDS has matured and is more dangerous than ever. High-risk sexual behaviours are on the rise, simply because the consequences don’t seem that bad. HIV-infected stars like Magic Johnson represent both the best and worst of the epidemic: he shows that you can live an active and full life even with the disease, but at the same time, his relative robust persona diminishes the very real danger that HIV and AIDS presents.

The North American face of AIDS is simply a façade. The true nature of the disease is there for all to see as it ravages Africa. Unfortunately, we as a society just don’t care to look.

AIDS may be my disease, but the one that I encountered a quarter of a century ago has gotten wilier and more insidious. At 25, AIDS has matured. Instead of showing its age, it appears to be in the full bloom of youth. And that’s the scariest thing of all.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Our Health — Are There any Right Answers or Just Different Degrees of Wrong?

By Jason Menard

It seems like everyday something else has been shown that it will eventually kill you – and it’s getting harder and harder to know what’s good for you or what’s going to get you in the end.

A Health Canada expert panel investigating the risk factors of COX-2 inhibitors such as Vioxx, Celebrex, and Bextra released a report on July 7, 2005 outlining their findings. The good news was that these drugs offer no more risk of cardiovascular issues than ibuprofen.

The bad news? Ibuprofen’s worse for you than they thought!

It’s just another in the long list of products that were supposed to be of benefit to you that allegedly can end up killing you. Remember the wonder vitamin that was Vitamin E? People were gulping mass quantities of it and touting its antioxidant properties. Oh, wait, it seems that Vitamin E, in certain doses, may actually increase the risk of cancer. Oops. Sorry about that one. Or, with obesity being the number-one health concern for North Americans, people flocked to the fen-phen regimen, only to find that some of the side effects had nasty consequences for your heart – like death.

Where do you turn? The next time I have a headache to I have to weight the benefits of pain relief with the long-term risks of a stroke? Who do you trust? A couple of years back my wife and I were in an auto accident, the result of which has left us with lingering pain. Originally, I was given Vioxx, but I scrapped that after initial reports. Then I took Celebrex, after researching that it was a safer alternative in that class of drugs – but, lo and behold, that may not be the case. So that was taken out of the medicine cabinet.

So what now? Grin and bear it? Or pop a few Advils and mortgage my long-term cardiovascular health for short-term comfort? Continue taking acetaminophen and codeine and hope my liver doesn’t call it quits? Who do you trust, who do you believe? And how can we trust anything anymore when one year’s wonder drug is next year’s health scandal?

Advil or Tylenol? Butter or margarine? Fried or grilled? Sugar or aspartame? Boxers or briefs? Are there any right answers or just different degrees of wrong? Sometimes it makes you long for simpler days – like when we were still drawing on cave walls and trying to make that wheel thing work. At least then the things that would kill you were obvious. Trees good, water good, dinosaurs and big, toothy cats – avoid.

We’re a society obsessed with the conflicting ideals of youthfulness and longevity. We’re so desperate to combine both that we’re always looking for the next great advance in medicine and science. That’s why snake oil sellers were – and are – so successful. They play on the base need we have to find that magic bullet, a panacea for all that ails us.

This desire for optimal health now has blinded us to the importance of long-term studies. We’re willing to believe anyone and anything as long as we can justify it to ourselves. Whether it’s the pharmaceutical industry hyping the next wonder drug or anecdotal evidence on a particular natural health product, we’re starving as a society for anything that offers the promise of living a long and healthy life, without considering the consequences.

What we really need is a pill for patience – but that would probably end up killing you in the long run anyway. The simple fact of the matter is that there really is no magic bullet, and all we’re doing is playing Russian Roulette with our lives. Time and time again the key to a long, healthy life has been laid out before us – eat right, exercise occasionally, and avoid poisoning yourself with habits like smoking and excessive drinking.

But we’re all hedonists at heart and that simple, yet boring, message of practicality doesn’t mesh with the lifestyle we want to lead. We want it all, and then we want a simple solution to eliminate the negative effects of our actions. Conversely, when we’re legitimately dealing with pain, we’re always on the lookout for something newer, something that works better to improve the quality of life – and hopefully not affect its quantity.

Whether it’s fat in foods, aspartame in drinks, compounds in medicine, there are always going to be conflicting reports about whether or not their good for you. Some people are so concerned about micromanaging what goes into their body they end up creating yet another insidious force to their lives – stress.

So perhaps we should turn to a revered Canadian anthem for guidance. As Trooper once said, “We’re here for a good time, not a long time. So have a good time — the sun can’t shine everyday.” It’s sound advice. And, to quote another 80s icon, Schoolhouse Rock, “knowledge is power.” Today’s world moves so quickly that we have to inform ourselves to the best of our ability and try to make the best decisions we can, given the resources we have.

All we can do in this life – and to live our lives – is to do our best. And to avoid the things we know will kill us in the end. I know about dinosaurs, it’s just the rest of the world that I’m not sure about.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved