[Ed. Note — qnotes continues with this fourth installment of this special series by mother and son, Norena Gutierrez and Trevion Gutierrez. We’ll also be publishing upcoming installments in our next issue on July 31 and in our Aug. 14 issue out on stands for the Charlotte Pride Festival and Parade. Be sure to catch up on all past installments online at goqnotes.com/youngpoz/.]
Trevion: Miracle on The Ninth floor
Two weeks went by, and I was thrilled to be feeling better. I could get up without the nurse’s help. The nausea and vomiting was finally over. I started to wander the ninth floor of Levine Children’s Hospital and rebuild my muscle. I was becoming — day by day — happier. I think, but I wasn’t sure.
Then the Palliative Care team came to see me and my mom. The doctor said he had some great news, and that we would all be smiling. Together we learned about viral loads and CD4 counts. When I was diagnosed with HIV, my viral load was 8 million parts and my CD4 was 230. The viral load means how much virus is in my body and the CD4 is a measure of how strong my immune system is. In just two weeks of treatment, my viral load was now 1,045. My mom wept. I was dancing! My CD4 count was now 576. What I didn’t understand is that a CD4 of 200 is considered AIDS. This is when your immune system is really failing and anything can go wrong. Most normal immune systems are CD4s of 700 and above. I realized in those moments — just two weeks prior, I had been on the doorstep of death.
My confidence level went through the roof. Mom and I call this “The Miracle on the Ninth Floor.” I was going to live! I was going to be on the road to being “undetectable” (which is a viral load of 20 or below). The Palliative Care team were about to come visit and my mom asked me, “Who is Palliative Care team again, and what do they do?” I told her, “They are the ‘In case you die’ team.” The weirdest meeting I had with them was on what kind of a funeral I wanted. I told them I wanted my ashes scattered over Victoria Falls. They wrote it down and then said, “Where is that?” Africa. Weird, but necessary when you are HIV-positive.
A couple of days later when my mom came to see me, she was happy to report her HIV status. She got tested for HIV at the Power House Project (PHP). She declared she was negative, but she is considered a “High Risk Negative.” She told me she had a counseling session with Jermaine Nakia Lee and George Morgan at PHP. All over again, I got pissed off at my mom. I wished I was a damn “High Risk Negative.” I wished all this bad stuff hadn’t happened to me. I wished I wouldn’t have to worry about the three horse pills I take every morning. I wished… I wished… I didn’t have HIV.
They say everything happens for a reason. I just needed to support her — just like she was supporting me. I do get why she would be a High Risk Negative. She is 53, a beautiful single Latina; she is straight and never been married. She prefers to date Black men (nothing wrong with that, so do I). Some of the research I read says that 75 percent of all Black men who identify as straight, have gay “tendencies.” And that’s only of those people who would actually respond! Jermaine and George were right: my mom is a High Risk Negative. She doesn’t know if the men she slept with were with other men, or women, or both! She could have contracted HIV any time. Thank God she didn’t. We had a very serious talk about using condoms every time, all the time — both of us. It was definitely a unique mother-son bonding moment.
With the good news of my improving viral load and CD4, we started to talk about what would happen next. The Levine Children’s Hospital professionals talked to me about Cumberland Hospital in Virginia as a place that would continue to help me. They said Cumberland would deal closely with behavioral therapy and medical treatment for HIV. Apparently, there aren’t many hospitals that do both for teenagers with HIV and other chronic illnesses. At first, I didn’t want to go. I just wanted to go home and pretend it was all a very bad dream. Then I was mad at everyone — how can you all do this to me? I hate meeting new people, I hate trusting new people, I hate having to go through this. I had long days of thinking about it on the ninth floor. I thought about it and I thought about it. I realized I was on the verge of being 18, and this was an important opportunity for me to learn to take care of myself and make better decisions. It would be the time and the place I needed to figure out how I got here and how I would go forth into my new HIV-positive life. Honestly, I didn’t want to go, but I also knew it would save my life and so, I agreed.
I continued to get healthier by the day, and a week later we were on the road to Cumberland in New Kent, Va. I was trying to take it in one mile at a time; it was a long five hour drive there. I did my best to not think about the distance and being away from my home and family. I focused on all the love and support that was waiting for me there and all the love and support that was already behind me. I was nervous. I was scared. And I was alive. : :
Norena: The Blessed Mother Delivers
I reach out to the Power House Project on Beatties Ford Rd. as the Palliative Care team suggests. I meet George and Jermaine, two black gay men who are part of the counseling staff there. I ask about me getting tested. They confirm that the only way to get HIV is through sexual transmission. I ask how long would it take for me to get tested and how much does it cost. I remembered it was a two-week turnaround time and a good $150 for the test in the early ‘90s. I have never been tested before. George says it is only “10.” I confirm, “10 days to get the results and 10 dollars for the test?” He laughs, “No, 10 minutes to get the results and no cost — it’s free!”
Ten minutes later, I find out I am HIV-negative. As George and I talk through those long 10 minutes of waiting for the results, I thought of all the times in my life that I had not had “safe sex.” I could have HIV — it only takes one time. Jermaine tells me I am considered a “High Risk Negative.” That wasn’t registering with me. What? I have partners but I know them and we have “personal relationships.” We date, we get to know each other, we have the “talk,” and we mostly use condoms, sometimes not. I ask Jermaine to really profile and describe a “High Risk Negative.” I was thinking New York City call-girl, hooker on the East side, something like that. He kindly looks at me and says, “You.”
Armed with new information, several ugly cries out of the way, no job and an HIV-positive son, I return to the patio of my apartment where I pray. Today feels different. I look at the beautiful Virgin de Guadalupe statue. I get down on my knees. I pray for the first time in weeks. “Blessed Mother, I surrender. I lay my son at your feet and ask you to take care of him. I surrender.”
Fast forward three days. The Levine treatment team comes into the room while I am with Trevion. I don’t have a job now, so I can be there every day. “We have great news. Your viral load is now 1,070 and your CD4 is 576.” I stopped listening after the 1,070 number. I confirm what the doctor has just said, “He went from 8 million to 1,070 viral load in less than three weeks?” Yes. I take a huge breath, look at Trevion. We have a private smile with each other. I catch my breath and start to sob. I say a silent prayer: “Thank you God, thank you HIV meds, thank you to all who gave their lives over the last 30 years so my son could have this moment right now. All is well and all is well.”
I ask the doctor what I need to pray for now. I don’t know what I should expect as a miracle. He medically responds simply, “Undetectable — 20 or below.” I didn’t even know zero was possible. I know what to manifest for my son now and I am on it — Zero Viral Load.
Trevion and I don’t know what to do with ourselves so we decide going to the cafeteria for sushi as the best celebration. Chopsticks and soy sauce in hand, we look at each other. Wow. Is this really happening? It’s almost like “it” didn’t happen. It’s almost like “it” was a bad cold. Life is going to go on. The Blessed Mother has delivered a miracle. : :
— Norena Gutierrez is the adoptive mother of Trevion and his brother. Trevion is a student at Central Piedmont Community College. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.