for Health Care Providers
My Life during the First 30 Years of HIV/AIDS. A Perspective from Donald MacIver, a Veteran
The first half of my life was defined by the Vietnam War, the second half by HIV and AIDS. My friends started dying in the early 1980s and I didn't know what to do. Then I tested positive at the VA's West L.A. Medical Center in 1987. With only AZT as a treatment, "hope" wasn't a widely used word then, but I knew that the VA would do everything it could to keep me healthy. My own "activism" began in 1988 with donations to AIDS Project L.A. And still they were dying, including my two closest friends within 6 months of each other in 1991.
Then my "voice" was heard at the 1993 Gay and Lesbian March on Washington. We made a human chain around the Capitol building demanding more research and assistance for People Living with AIDS, as well as an end to the ban on gays in the military. Now I had two causes to fight for!
Living in New York City in 1995, I got very sick, but the VA doctors and nurses took great care of me. Then they sent me up the street to NYU Medical Center where I received the first 3-drug combination therapy through the AIDS Clinical Trial Unit (ACTU). I got better and healthier; then I joined the NYU ACTU Community Advisory Board (CAB) where I now serve as Chair.
In 1996, I walked through the 40,000 panels of the AIDS Quilt laid out on The Mall in Washington. I saw quilts for friends who I didn't even know had died. Veterans' quilts emblazoned with uniforms, headgear, insignia, and photos were in every row! I couldn't believe the extent of the military tributes! I listened as Elizabeth Taylor, among others, read the names of those "real people" who were represented by quilt panels. She then named her friends who had died of AIDS, including actors Rock Hudson and Roddy McDowell.
The next day, I walked with Veteran friends from The Quilt to the Vietnam Memorial Wall where we "visited" those buddies we lost in Vietnam. And then we walked back to The Quilt with dazed looks on our faces. The Wall and The Quilt; The Quilt and The Wall. The emotions ran deep.
In 1998. I was asked to become a member of the VA's National HIV Community Advisory Board. We gave input on how the VA could improve systems and research to help those with HIV/AIDS and even the general patient population. The computerization of records was the first such action in the nation for a large health care organization. Changes in pharmacy operations and access to medications for HIV and mental health; dental access; clinical reminders; rapid testing for HIV; prevention programs; and telemedicine to expand to rural areas: All of these were issues we discussed, and areas in which we saw changes forthcoming because of the efforts of the researchers and doctors in the VA system. In later years, I was asked to have "a seat at the table" on other VA HIV/Hepatitis Committees and Study Teams. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with the dedicated professionals at the VA, both locally and nationally. They have our backs covered!
Today my commitment continues with my work for the ACTU at NYU Medical Center and with the Department of Veterans Affairs. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is on its way out, but AIDS is still "in."
When it will end, nobody knows; but we must keep up the fight!
And, when will I stop? I don't know. Maybe not until it's all over.