Living with AIDS

Living with AIDS

Four years ago, George Edwards’ friends were concerned about him. He had no strength, his fingernails were dark, he was losing weight, and his right foot and leg were extremely swollen. They asked George if he there was any chance he had AIDS. He didn’t think that was his problem. Although George knew that he had lost a great deal of weight and that he felt weak and cold much of the time, he didn’t think he could have AIDS. The 48-year-old man did not want to believe he was that sick.Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before George found out that he had the dreaded disease. He went into the hospital, thinking all he had was a cold. He learned that it was far more serious than a cold – he had double pneumonia. The doctor decided to run some more tests, and informed George that he was very ill, with AIDS. George’s immune system was so compromised that the physician was amazed George was still alive.“You are blessed – you shouldn’t be living,” he told George. George’s initial reaction was surprise and worry. One of the first steps he took to deal with his fear was to pray and go to church. He was so ill that he had to be helped up the aisle.“The best thing you can do is pray,” he said. He prays with his pastor, his brother, who is a minister, and his mother. He and his girlfriend are regular church attenders. “ I was raised going to church,” he said. “My mom is very spiritual.” George said he’s been in and out of church all of his life, but that, for a while, he stopped attending services and lived a life very different from the one he was taught was pleasing to God.George said that having AIDS has brought him closer to God. Before he got the medications he now takes, he was so sick that he cried out to God, and he gives God credit for helping him to survive this ordeal. “You have to have faith, and I have a lot of faith in Him,” George said. “God has brought me a long way.”George’s faith has helped him to forgive the woman in South Carolina who gave him AIDS. Although she knew she had AIDS, she did not share this information with George. In addition to giving him the strength to forgive her, George has dramatically changed his lifestyle. Caught up in a lifestyle of smoking, drinking, using drugs and being sexually active, George has, with God’s help, changed the way he lives. George’s family has been very supportive of him as he deals with the challenge of living with a life-threatening disease. His daughter moved to the area recently to help him out when he needs it. Although George is grateful that she made the move, to Texas, he is thinking some day of returning to his home in South Carolina and helping his mother, who is also very ill. Soon after the diagnosis, George looked into receiving the help he would need to stay alive. Through Medicaid, he receives the medicine he needs. George has to take several pills a day to maintain his health. In addition, he eats many vegetables, drinks orange and pineapple juices and a great deal of water, as well as Ensure. George also likes to drink Green Tea Fuse, an energy drink that he says helps him to deal with stress.George regained the weight he had lost and is healthy enough to occasionally jog. One form of exercise he enjoys is walking, and says he often walks to get around town. One place that George visits on a regular basis is Big Country AIDS Resources which has a food pantry for people with AIDS. George goes there weekly to pick up his groceries. BCAR also provides transportation to doctor’s appointments, as well as HIV testing, prevention counseling and education, information and referrals, community outreach programs, and guidance to individuals seeking to change their lives in ways that will eliminate their chances of getting AIDS. BCAR also provides case management, basic dental care, assistance with health insurance payments and substance abuse counseling.Because of the stigma associated with having AIDS, only a few people know of George’s diagnosis. Some people at church and one or two of George’s friends are aware of the health challenges he faces. Although George would like to be more open, he knows that it is not worth the risk of losing friends and alienating people. One individual George was glad has decided not to “write him off” was his ex-girlfriend, with whom he had two children. When he was in the hospital, she came to see him and brought their sons. His illness has even caused her to make some lifestyle changes.“Now that I’m sick,” he said, “she’s going to church and jogging.” George describes her as a sweet woman with a big heart. George is living with a friend, but he will soon be getting his own apartment. His roommate has health problems and does not sleep well, which makes it difficult for George to get the rest that he needs. In spite of the challenges in his life, George also feels he has much to be thankful for and many reasons to live, including his fourteen grandchildren. He realizes the importance of taking care of himself. “It’s up to me whether I live long,” he said, “and I want to live long. I want to see my grandkids grow up.”