The bus of doom

I've recently read the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman (which, if you haven't already read, I highly recommend). In this theological novel disguised as a children's book, a group of kids are pursued through parallel universes.

I was struck by the concept, as we have recently moved from London to rural Wiltshire, and the contrast between the two is obvious. I grew up on a farm in Cape Town and had wanted to get out of London for many years, as I feel so much more at home in the country.

But quite aside from my daughter being at school in London and having all her friends there, I was too nervous to stray far from my HIV clinic.

Once I did fall seriously ill, while staying with friends near here. Rather than face the local A&E, I got into my car and drove 200 miles to the Royal Free in north London. I promptly passed out in the waiting room and on coming to was asked how I got there. I said that I had driven from Dorset. They gasped. "But Caroline, you have a temperature of 104 and E-coli septicaemia!" "Yes," I answered, "That's why I drove here."

But now I've had six years of successful HIV treatment, married a fabulous man, and my daughter is at university in America. So I thought it was time to take the plunge and go back to my country roots. Through a friend, we found a gorgeous 400-year-old thatched house on a country estate near Salisbury, and four weeks ago we moved in. I promptly forgot about HIV, and telling the locals about it seems not so much impossible as irrelevant. I will drive up every three months for the usual check-up at my clinic and catch up with friends at the same time, but almost instantly I felt the stress fall away. Our two dogs and cat think they have landed up in paradise. We do not need to drive to the nearest park for a walk – it is right outside our front door.

Everything was perfect until my daughter returned for a break, and we decided to drive to London so she could catch up with friends. Setting off on a sunny day, we got to a crossroads just outside the nearest village, where there is a completely blind corner. I edged the car out so I could look to my left and was promptly hit by a bus driving at around 60 miles an hour.

It all happened in a second. I blacked out for a few minutes and came round to find the airbags in our faces and smoke pouring out of the car. How we stepped out alive I don't know. The car was a complete write-off and the bus missed my daughter by inches.

Other than a few bruises, we seemed to be physically OK, but the shock was indescribable. In the midst of it all, however, I found myself laughing. In all the years of having HIV, the one thing that drove me completely mad was the old phrase: "Yes, but everyone dies one day. You never know, you could be hit by a bus!"

I would try to explain that being diagnosed with a terminal illness was very different, and anyway, how many people did they know who had ever actually been hit by a bus?

Well, I have now. Here I am, 16 years after diagnosis, eleven years past the sell-by date I was originally given, still alive, still HIV-positive, but no longer in a position to feel anger at one particular unthinking remark. Next time someone mentions being hit by that bus I'll say, "Well, I already have, actually."

I am now getting country sympathy about the appalling driving of the local bus drivers, speed limits on country roads and how this corner has been a notorious black spot for years. Also the odd condescending remark, such as, " Oh well, now you know that driving is different here in the country. You'll have to adjust." Parallel universes, indeed. Takes the mind off HIV, anyway.

This first appeared in issue 80/81 of Positive Nation, July/August 2002. Many thanks to both Caroline and Positive Nation for giving permission to reproduce it.

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Time will tell

By Paul

The sex police

By Paul

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Community Consensus Statement on Access to HIV Treatment and its Use for Prevention

Together, we can make it happen

We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

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