Beat the Devil: Hep C, Harvoni &/or There’s H.I.P. and there’s Hip
April 1st, 2015
Upstaging it being the cat’s birthday comes the startling news that 2 weeks into a 12 week course of Harvoni treatment 30 years accumulation of the Hepatitis C virus in me is “undetectable”. And on April Fools! How apropos. A disease without symptoms cured by a drug without side effects, save its $90,000 cost; a smidgen over $1000 a pill.
I can’t help thinking it all a psychosomatic joke. When I was initially diagnosed in ’84 by the only doctor I’ve ever really trusted (he treated bookshop employees for free), Stan Mirsky, told me not to give it a second thought. “Something else is going to kill you before this ever does.” I took that to mean it was relatively harmless, particularly when compared to my high-risk behaviors. Remember Divine Decadence?
I didn’t let it crimp my style for a while but the AIDS epidemic and fatherhood made a sufficient dent in my divinities and my self-induced trances diminished to secular levels through the 90s. The great majority of hard-core users of anything get over it, like a first marriage or being “born again”, by the time they hit 40. When I did, in ’93, my problem was my son being diagnosed autistic and there wasn’t an inebrient that helped.
I was having a difficult relationship with mortality as it was.
By ’93, one-hundred and twenty four friends and acquaintances were gone to HIV and the hits just kept on comin’. When I decamped from the decimated East Village to Brooklyn in ’88 dark shadows, not unlike Richard Hambleton’s street art, lurked around the old familiar places. That same year my son would be diagnosed as weird, an Angel of the Odd, autistical, and I was given extremely poor odds of his ever snapping out of it. In 1993 insuring the newly self-employed family man with pre-existant conditions like ours was something like getting a pay-day loan. Our health care was for shit, as were its assigned practitioners. I disagreed with their professionals opinions. Their hacks disagreed with each other, so nothing got paid for by insurance anyhow, and I found myself in fiscal ruins like nobody’s business. I got the kid away from them and stayed away, self-unemployed.
Then in the spring of 2000, after a routine check-up, insisted on by yet another low-rent health insurer, from the piss-stained linoleum downtown Brooklyn offices of HIP (Health Insurance Plan of NY) my assigned physician, Dr. Wong, a new immigrant, called me — hosting a summer’s day garden party on that borough’s Heights — quite alarmed. Hysterical even.
“YOU GONNA DIE! YOU GONNA DIE!” was how he started the conversation. Having only just met him, I had to ask Who is this really? It sounded like the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu but “This Dr. Wong,” he got that right, “You got lots Hep C — Nooo good — You gon’a DIE!”
He gave me an appointment two weeks away, during which time I pondered how soon?
When we met again he hadn’t changed his mind. “Three years, maybe five most. No alcohol, no peanut butter.” My life expectancy and style changed like that. Suddenly Hep C, “the silent killer,” was the new epidemic, somewhere on the scale between AIDS and Ebola. And no peanut butter. I could understand the booze but … If not today, it may be tomorrow. He told me I’d be fine until I’d be deathly ill, beyond help, and destined to an ugly finish. Liver failure has a domino effect. As you emaciate, your abdomen swells, you stink. Enough so that loved ones turn away. I could expect to become yet more jaundiced, you turn yellow and bitter, my cynicism over-taxing my family, who are being ruined at my expense, so they’re going to be glad when I die.
“Is life worth living?” “Depends on the liver.” (I want to thank George Horner for that line)
Naturally, anticipating this gets on your fucking nerves. The stigmata attached to HIV comes with Hep C. “Geez, I dunno, Ma. Maybe was a toilet seat.” Of course, Inquiring Minds Want To Know. Having taken so many pleasures where I found them, its hard to say. Amusingly, as I made discrete inquiries to the bad company, nearly everyone I suspected seemed to have Hep C as well. But unlike HIV, not much seemed to be coming of this epidemic. For the longest time, nearly everyone with HIV died. Instead of going to nightclubs, we went to funerals. In the three decades since my initial diagnosis, I’ve only one friend with Hep C to die of cirrhosis. The guy I thought I caught it from’d quit getting high thirty years ago and, cleared of the virus naturally, in tip-top condition, a year younger than me, had a heart attack apropos of nothing ‘-I-N-G-O!
Another friend almost died of the treatment. In 1999, the Big Pharmaceutical solution was a long-term, excruciatingly expensive, Interferon/Ribavirin regime that induced suicidal depression (which we saw up close and personal) that I didn’t think I could stand. Things that were working out badly enough, could, and in many ways would, get worse. Turns out, the “cocktail” didn’t work with my virus’s genotype anyhow but Wong thought it was right, as did the second and third opinions. I disagreed. While I was skeptical, basically not a day passed that his fateful decree and my imminent doom did not weigh on my brain. Usually in the shower.
In consequence I made short-term plans, which suited me. Of course, we are all doomed. I didn’t feel singled out. To the propensity for suicidal depression that runs in the family, my Hep C diagnosis provided a practical check. I got un-relatively sober. In fact, it was the up side. About all I could do was not drink or eat peanut butter (!) and, living, as I’d grown accustomed to, for the day, made that relatively easy. I put a sign over my son’s bed that read Carpe diem. My title for my anthology of Nigeria’s Onitsha Market Literature was No Condition Is Permanent. The editor’s suggestion, Life Turns Man Up and Down (I wrote the book) achieved its poetic justice when published on September 11th, 2001, when we, then living within a mile of Ground Zero, were caught in the undertow.
The Imp of the Perverse is a Hep cat. When things get ugly, it gets pretty and poses all angelic. It also knows it can wait you and your best intentions out. Of course, occasionally I had a drink, or peanut butter, one, two, occasionally a few with good friends and my lapsed-Catholic conscience was spellbound into long Lents. I was gonna Die, Die, Die!!! Soon, soon, soon. Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it, I’d say to myself, as I’d wash my steak frits down with Bordeaux in Bordeaux with my red wining ever-lovin’ wife. It has something to do with the jelly. My resistance was low. So sue me.
But for a long time I been clean Gene, Nay-so fast. Doom isn’t as imminent as one thinks. Steering clear of bad habits, I’ve fallen into good ones. I’ve got myself to cool it on the booze and nuts. In their stead I’ve taken up eating well and swimming distance. I feel better coming on 62 than I did at 52, when I still contentedly smoked. What I miss is bad influences. Nothing’s as interesting as sin. As I explain myself to the kid, you learn as much from bad as good influences. Hep C’s bad influence was dues enough to beat the Devil, for now…right in the kisser.
Harvoni’s the shit. I used to be hep now I’m hip. If you’ve got the virus get it.
Paret disrespected Griffith during pre-fight hype calling him a maracon, or faggot.
If you’re not using it as a term of endearment, don’t.