Winter's chill living with AIDS

January 23, 1995|By H. B. Johnson Jr.

I RECENTLY CALLED a friend only to learn that he had gone out for a walk. I hung up the phone feeling dejected. I was envious of my friend.

I stood up, went to a window, opened the blinds and looked out. It was a cold and brisk January day, but the sun was shining brightly. For a long while, I stood at the window, admiring the scenery and thinking about my friend who was out there somewhere enjoying the day.

I pressed my fingertips to the cold windowpane and realized that I suddenly was trying to cope with a very real and overpowering sense of confinement, not unlike my days as a prisoner at the Maryland State Penitentiary. I felt alone and very sad. As a person who suffers from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, no longer find pleasure in a cold midwinter stroll. It's one of those simple pleasures that this chronic disease takes away from you.

Either because of the disease, weight loss, the medication or some combination of all three, cold air has become my enemy. I no longer even enjoy air-conditioning in the heat of summer. Within seconds of stepping outdoors in cold weather, I become thoroughly chilled. Then, in a matter of four to seven minutes, I feel a tingling in my spine that rapidly spreads throughout my body.

The next discomfort, which arrives in another 15 minutes, is a numbness in my feet and hands, followed by an inability to stand or walk. By this time, I am choking and gagging, from an extremely dry mouth and throat. Drinking to quench this abnormal thirst is pointless because, by then, my weakened fingers can't grasp a container of liquid.

Finally, my eyes begin to itch and burn and are only soothed by cool water. Rubbing my eyes only makes the discomfort worse, sometimes leaving me unable to see. When the burning begins, I must immediately find shelter from the cold to ease the discomfort. That's not easy to do when you must rely on public transportation to travel.

My friend (and others like him who are blessed with good health) is fortunate. He can do something I probably will never again be able to do: enjoy the freedom and independence of walking in the bite of winter's blessed cold.

H. B. Johnson Jr., a Baltimore playwright and poet, writes occasionally on living with AIDS.

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