Hello! So you want to know a little more about me. Well my name is Tony Gardner. I have been HIV positive since 1985. I don't know why I've been so lucky and others have not, but I try to keep a positive attitude and keep myself informed. I had to stop working in 1991 because I became very ill and the doctors gave me a choice quit or die. Wow, what a decision! I finally got back on my feet after a 3 month rest period, but felt very useless, so I started volunteering at a local AIDS services agency in Dallas, Texas. I started giving speeches and seminars set up by the agency and I told other people my story in the hope that it might be of help to others.
Why am I surviving? Well like it has been said before "GOD ONLY KNOWS" but all I know is that there is little or no stress allowed in my home and life and, I am very happy because LIFE will go on! I feel that I am very lucky to be here and I hope my little story will inspire or encourage others to keep on living.
Where do I begin? I have already told you basically who and what I am, but not any of the why, where or when. This part of the story will not be as easy. I want to state that I am not writing this story, for the entire world to see, to ask for any sympathy or pity. I am writing this because I want to and because I can. Where was I? Oh yes, why, where, and when. What is so funny is that the answer to those questions does not really matter. What does matter is what and how do I deal with this disease NOW. I just want people to try and understand how this disease has affected one personís life, and also how the people around him have been affected.
So, on with the story. I became ill in the fall of 1985 sometime around late September. I thought maybe it was just the flu. Well "just the flu" lasted for 4 weeks. I was working as the General Manager of a local restaurant and putting in around 55 hours a week. The company I worked for had no health plan, so I could not afford a doctor. Here is where my mom comes back into my life full swing because four years earlier when I told my parents that I was gay things fell apart in a big way, and I did not speak to my parents for the next two years. Things started to get better as we began to start talking again. When I got sick my relationship with my parents had gotten better. They did not like the fact that I was gay, but they learned that I was still their son just as I always had been, and will continue to be. Anyway, as I was saying about my mother you see my mom has worked for doctors all her life, as she still does. I made a call to her and explained that I really needed to see a doctor and asked her if I could see the family doctor. Our family doctor for whom my mother worked for at the time has known our family for over 25 years, but he did not know that I was gay. I told my mom the problem and also suggested that I should be tested for HIV. You see in 1985 the world was just really starting to talk about HIV/AIDS awareness, and I was in a high-risk category. Mom at first disagreed about telling the doctor about me being gay, but did agree I should come in and see him to see what was wrong with me. I think at that point my mother had two problems. First, she still didn't want a lot of people to know that I was gay and secondly and most of all I think she did not want to find out the truth that I might be HIV positive. I didn't really want to find that out either, but I ended up seeing the doctor without mentioning anything about HIV. The doctor started giving me antibiotics to treat my symptoms, but I never really got better.
I continued seeing the doctor until April of 1986. I had changed jobs and was now working as a manager for a major retail chain, working up to 65 hours a week. I continued to be fatigued and I was losing weight faster than I could eat. I had also just started my second year of what would end up to be a four year relationship that wasn't going well and would end abruptly, so needless to say stress levels were very high. I decided to tell my mother that this had gone to far and that I really needed to be tested for HIV and that if she didn't want the family doctor to know then I would go to the clinic and have the test run. I had to know! Mom said she would rather I go ahead and see the family doctor, so I did. When I saw the doctor and told him about my life and that I could have been exposed to the virus, he was furious. He was upset because I had not told him earlier, in his eyes we had just wasted six months of my life when we may have been able to start treating my symptoms from another angle. Although treating HIV was harder then, than it is now, we still could have been doing other things to try and make me feel better. We decided to run the test!
Two weeks passed and finally late one afternoon, on a day that I luckily had off from work, the doctor called and told me he needed to see me in the office first thing in the morning. I don't claim to know everything, but at that point I knew what he had to say, but it would have to wait until the morning. The next day I was at the doctor's office bright and early. My mom was at work and she was in a good mood (I later found out that the doctor had not told my mother until he talked to me). So I sat in my little room, you know those cold sterile little rooms, waiting to hear the results of the test, and I already knew the answer. When the doctor came in the first thing he did was shake my hand and asked me how I was feeling. I told him I had been feeling better but not quite up to par yet. Then he said it "Tony the test came back positive." Reality hit I was HIV positive and I started to cry...