Dennis Schildhauer’s Story

I can remember the day I found out I was HIV positive: September 9, 2013. I just had a feeling that I was time to get tested.  My last test being about 7 years prior with a negative result. I went to my local county health department for the test. I remember thinking the 15 minute wait seemed like eternity.  Then when the nurse came back in to deliver the news, a positive result, I remember not really reacting.  I just went numb.  She said a few things, something about a follow up, more extensive blood work to confirm the result, etc. The only thing I definitively remember is the look of sadness in her eyes when she said, “I’m sorry.”

Oddly, the news really didn’t surprise me. I had made a lot of choices in my life, obviously not all of them healthy. Fo
rtunately I accepted that from the start.  I wasn’t blaming anyone but myself, and I was now living with the consequences. I think the hardest part was telling my partner. By this point we had been together almost 9 years. So many thoughts and emotions and scenarios rolled around in my head, all of them worse case. Finally a few days later I had the follow up lab appointment which confirmed the diagnosis: HIV positive with a viral load of 115,000 and a CD4 count of 230. Then I told my partner the news. I was a mess. To this day I will never forget the outpouring of support and love he showed me that night at our kitchen table. He said, “No matter what, we will get you through this and get you better and I love you so much!”

Flash forward 3 years later, I have been on Atripla from that day on, Getting my viral load to undetectable and my CD4 counts up into the mid-500 range. Ironically, I’m the healthiest now since I found out I have the virus. I’m loving myself more because I know I’m still worthy, I’m still a good person, and I still can offer so much. I’m taking care of myself by eating better and exercising more, having taken up running. I’ve even started volunteering for an area HIV
services organization, fundraising each year and participating in their annual AIDS Walk 5k run.

If there is any advice I can give anyone newly diagnosed it would be: It gets better, it’s not the end of the world, it’s not a death sentence. Go to your health care provider, get on meds and get to undetectable. Take care of yourself. You’ll love yourself more, I promise!

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