Notes on a Plague


solanasI OFTEN PONDER how I have survived HIV for 27 years. I attribute my longevity to my mother’s inspired lessons that food is medicine and to avoid allopathic drugs unless absolutely necessary. I look with gratitude to my grandmother, who in her bright kitchen would make carrot juice while introducing me to the wonder of the herbs harvested from her garden.

Lastly, and very importantly, for ten years I have taught a healing modality called the Frequencies of Brilliance. Working in this crucible of transformation has strengthened and centered me in many ways. I am deeply grateful to whatever Grace it is that allows me to continue to live, and to live well.

My orientation to alternative health helped me resist the first medicines used to treat HIV infection. My abstinence was vindicated as the drugs decimated my friends, killing many before achieving benefit. For 13 years, strengthened by natural medicine, I remained free from all types of opportunistic infections. However, by 1999, the virus had nearly eliminated my immune system. I started anti-viral drugs. It was these very medications that brought me to death’s door. Traditional Chinese Medicine, particularly acupuncture, helped me circumvent the challenges.

My first acupuncture treatments were received at a clinic created by an innovative AIDS organization in San Francisco called The Shanti Project. A practitioner always began the session with a short interview, asking about my physical and emotional states. After taking my “pulses” and examining my tongue, she would lead me into the clinic treatment room where she would apply a unique configuration of needles, designed to meet my unique needs at the time.

To step into the Shanti acupuncture clinic was entering a battlefield hospital. People of varying degrees of health lay on massage tables in a large room without separation. In our culture, the lack of privacy might have been jolting, but I valued the sense of community. I would rest quietly on a massage table in the soft light made dusky by the pungent smoke of moxa, an herb burned during treatments.

I am sensitive, so it was natural for me to feel the response of the “qi” in my body expanding as each needle was inserted, softly creating an ocean of vibrating energy. The volunteers who applied moxabustion silently approached the table to tenderly add heat to each needle. I would drift into a deep sleep, waking later at peace and renewed. This communal gathering allowed some of my isolation to dissolve, and for an hour, I was not alone in my quest to heal.

I honor the brave acupuncture doctors who treated the HIV patients, rejecting the prejudice and fear that existed at that time. This ancient healing tradition is still a potent, modern ally.

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