Photo credits: Michael “Zee Strong” Zalnasky
In 2014, I was diagnosed with AIDS and hospitalized; it was evident early on that I was in need of care. I had? CD4 count of 12, a viral load of 873,000,?Pneumocystis pneumonia, Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC), and a host of other infections. I requires home-care nursing for three months following discharge, weekly PIC line dressing changes, along with labs: long story short – my life was hanging by a thread, and honestly, I wasn’t expecting to see Christmas. Once the PIC line was removed, I packed up and headed south, turning my back on a life I cherished.
Revealing my status to the first person I ever told cost me everything: my job, my life, but most of all my pride. Having to be cared for, I moved into my daughters home with her and her man, along with their two young sons. Like I said, in my mind, life was expiring and expiring ever so quickly. Every task was a chore, a struggle beyond difficult. Sleepless nights and days. Comfort, well that was an afterthought. Being skin and bones, looking skeletal in stature, comfort was hard to come by. “Eat,” they said, “you need to gain weight.” Sure, weighing in at 113 when my normal weight was 185-190 certainly was on my mind. The problem being, I was so violently ill I couldn’t stand the taste of food, even the smell gagged me, forcing me days on end with zero food and minimal water. In common terms, I was dying and I knew it. “Make him eat shakes,” the nurse said, “Nutrition, you need protein and nutrition.”
What those shakes did was beyond marvelous: three shakes a day provided nutrition and protein, but most importantly, they provided me the ability to digest my medications. Through those shakes and staying steady with my meds, my health began improving. Along with that, came my ability to do things. Getting stronger, I was capable of keeping an eye on at least one grandson at a time, when my daughter needed to run a quick errand. That usually ended up being the youngest of the two. In order to entertain him, I began walking him in a plastic playschool car. Each day, we walked a little further, then a little further, and the next thing I knew I was upright and moving each day. As each walk passed, my strength improved, as well as my stamina.
All this was in preparation for what I didn’t realize at the time: a simple challenge to ride a bicycle impacted my life in so many health-improving ways. Road cycling on A1A in South Florida has resurrected my life and my health from that ever-so-devastating AIDS diagnosis. Cycling removed me from isolation. Its public involvement made me feel accepted, and trust me, my status quickly became known: I hide from nobody.
That damn bicycle has given me a life back when I thought I had none. It’s rejuvenated my creative abilities to record and acknowledge such an incredible, health-rebuilding journey. Spinning my wheels to the tune of 8,880 miles since August, 2015, and I was diagnosed August, 2014. Those miles are accumulated. You see, my bicycle, the Eraser, has become my transportation. I ride to and from all appointments, doctor and dentist, case management, even to the food pantry, as well as my grocery shopping, even to all my advocating events and meetings. All on two wheels.
What’s more incredible, after 8,880 miles, I weigh in at 186 pounds, my CD4 is 101, and my viral load is undetectable. And I’m solid as a rock. Amazing how that simple challenge to ride a bike resurrected my life and my health from AIDS. AIDS told me to crawl under a rock, today I am the rock.
Information and Resources from HIVE
As Treatment as Prevention (TasP) and PrEP become more well-known across the U.S., HIVE is wondering how men who have sex with women are finding out about the possibilities for safer conception, what they think about it, and what barriers remain.
We love sharing stories about men living with HIV who are having, have had, or want to have children. We also love sharing stories about dating and disclosure. Applause for clinics who are routinely offering PrEP to women, and clinics who are telling people living with HIV that TasP works.
We are on a journey, learning and growing together. Looking for a platform for your voice? Interested in helping others by sharing your story? We can work with you if you prefer to be anonymous. No professional writing skills necessary. Contact caroline@HIVEonline.org
Check out the links below for resources around TasP and disclosure.
Something that I have thought a lot about is why? Things happen to people?
Why do people cross our paths?
There may be a reason but we may never know.
Thanks for sharing this.
Those crossed paths are what makes us wh we are
OMG, ZEE, had no idea of the struggles you have had to overcome.
I thought you were amazing before, but shit man!!!!
Keep biking as I know you will. Thanks for sharing.
The struggles were real but today bro because of that bike struggles have dissipated
You tell an amazing story of a will to survive, strength to ride and a soul of love to reach out to others with your story. I’m sorry that you lost everything with the first person you told, am proud of you and your daughter for fighting this together. Stay strong, keep riding and keep fighting. Amazing story and wow…speechless mostly! You have made an amazing recovery from where you were in 2014.
What an amazing story! You are truly an inspiration to many, with or without HIV/AIDS.
I am so happy that you were able to overcome your diagnosis. Keep strong and KEEP MOVING FORWARD???????
Lots of days pedaling has saved my ass too. I’m a nurse and a cyclist.
I know how easy it is to give up. Many days I’ve wanted to. I had a bad crash in November 2016. I still can’t ride that bike. But I am back riding.
I’ll think about you tomorrow when I’m turning the crack.
Sending you a good vibe from Atlantic City
It will come I had been hit twice now myself
Amazing what cycling can do my rides are incredible views
My FB is Zee Strong
This is beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing your story. Keep on cycling!
Great personal story! Thank you for fighting and being a great example of the power within to overcome. See you on the road.