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22nd February

How a unicorn saved my life

In the entry of my journal for February 21, 1989 I describe how I stood in a half-dark kitchen at dawn to take the first of my six daily doses of AZT, the only medication available at the time to fight HIV. I had been diagnosed just sixteen months earlier.

I looked at the two blue and white capsules, printed with the image of a unicorn. They made my head burst, my mind fog, and my vision blur. I was constantly nauseous, my muscles ached, my legs trembled. But I was convinced that these pills were going to save me from a grueling death.

I wrote how startled I was to hear myself say ‘I love you’ to the pills. Those are not words I use easily.

“I feel the unicorn rushing through my blood and attack the HIV virus that is wreaking havoc on my defense system. Thanks to that unicorn I will survive.”

And I did survive. When, after a year and a half the virus became resistant to AZT, there was DDC and then DDI. Each time a medication lost its effect I had the immense luck of having access to another one, sometimes still in a trial phase. They got me through long enough until the more effective combination therapies became available. They keep the virus under control without causing serious side effects.

For those of us fortunate enough to have access to proper medication, HIV has become a chronic disease. At sixty-six I feel further removed from death than I did at thirty-three.

Then Covid struck. Even though we don’t yet know the long term effects of this illness, it seems far less lethal for the wider population than for the elderly and those of us who have an underlying condition.

I don’t travel, I don’t go to restaurants, avoid social events, restrict my contacts, wear a face mask religiously, keep a meter and a half distance. I wash my hands regularly.

Still, no matter how careful I am, it is impossible to reduce the risk to zero.It would be a bitter turn of events if, after thirty-three years of fighting one virus, I’d succumb to another.

So when it’s my turn to get a jab of the Covid vaccine I will feel the same gratitude as on that early morning in 1989. I will not say ‘I love you’ out loud this time—I wouldn’t want to confuse the medical staff. But my feelings will be very similar.

How a unicorn saved my life
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