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Excerpt from Below 200 by Ronald Alexander

from Below 200

The day I went in to get my results, I could barely speak. As a child, I'd been a hopeless hypochondriac and as an adult I have only slightly overcome my irrational fear of doctors. When the receptionist smiled and wished me good morning, I searched her face for an indication of my fate and managed to squeak some sort of reply. She asked me to wait, and after forty-five minutes of agonizing in a corner chair, while the sick and emaciated paraded in and out of the office, she directed me to an examination room behind the reception area. The room was cold: the stainless steel examination table would probably have fogged over if I'd blown my breath on it. I heard people walking back and forth in the hallway outside, and after fifteen more minutes of waiting, I heard a clipboard being taken from the holder on the other side of the door. A moment later, Dr. Townsend came into the room.

“As I suspected,” he said with no preamble or indication why he had suspected anything, “your test came back positive.” Although I realize that tens of thousands of others have gone through that moment, I hope their doctors were at least somewhat sympathetic. Dr. Townsend scribbled on his clipboard. “We'll start you on a protocol of azt and possibly ddI,” he said.

I couldn't understand why, even before he did blood work, he was so eager to put me on AZT. I'd read that if your T-4 cells were in the 400 or 500 range, they were recommending AZT, but Townsend didn't even know what range my cells were in. I said: “I'll take care of myself.” I didn't tell him I did coke occasionally because I was determined to stop. “I'll practice safe sex.” I believed that if I cleaned up my life, I could stay healthy. “I'll get plenty of rest, work out regularly, and eat right. I've stopped smoking.” And I had, except when I slipped and did coke. “Maybe I could try eating macrobiotic?” I made the mistake of phrasing this as a question.

Dr. Townsend seemed wired. He isn't old, he looks my age, I guess he's in his thirties, but he wears a hairpiece and has startled, blue eyes. “That's denial,” he snapped. “Sleeping and going on a macrobiotic diet isn't going to cure AIDs.”

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