In case you missed it, today has been World AIDS Day. Good old Radio 4 had a mix of upbeat stories about babies born to positive mothers, and more downbeat warnings that the incidence is on the rise again here in Blighty.
Ambridge has been somewhat cocooned form the ravages of the HTLV. My one brush with the disease was vicarious at best, but none the less tragic for that. Phillip left Ambridge towards the end of the seventies for the bright lights of the big city. He soon hooked up with Terrance. Chef and Actor, they made a fine couple, until Terrance became ill, and started loosing weight and coughing a lot. Phillip nursed him through a protracted and difficult terminal illness before the days of widespread and affordable (at least in the “civilized west”) antiretrovirals. At the onset of Terrance’s illness Phillip was tested and was pronounced clear of infection, but to be certain would have required a second test three months later.
Poor Phillip was too distraught by his partner’s rapidly progressing illness to handle a second test then. Shortly after the funeral he came home to live with his mum. He found work locally and kept himself going, but lived in constant fear. Every cough and every new blemish brought him shaking to the surgery. We talked at length and repeatedly about his fears. We offered him access to a final test for reassurance, though with each passing year and each successful recovery from illness the likelihood that he had contracted the virus became increasingly remote. Still neither we nor the psychologists could reassure him, and he could not face up to getting tested.
In the end, one Monday morning I came in to surgery to find the coroners officer had been on the phone. That weekend mum had been away with her chums, and poor Phillip had given in to his demons and washed down some pain killers with vodka. Though never infected he died as much a victim of AIDS as those many of his friends who were.
I’m not a great fan of “badges” and “ribbons” for this and that. AIDS, Cancer, Asthma or COPD to name but a few, are worth more than just a 365th of our attention, as are the myriad other causes and conditions that don’t get a proper “day” to themselves. And yet, today I’ll be wearing the red ribbon, and thinking of an old friend I couldn’t help.