The Positive Side

Winter 2010 

Chatty CATIE

Enquiring minds want to know: What’s inside your medicine cabinet?

Interviews by RonniLyn Pustil




Western Newfoundland
Diagnosed with HIV in 1997
CD4 count: 465
Viral load: 250

WHAT’S IN MY MEDICINE CABINET? That’s a scary question. I wanted to find out, so I faced my fear and went upstairs to investigate.

My medicine cabinet isn’t cute by any stretch of the imagination — just a regular, ordinary, standard cabinet with mirror, no frills. After the deepest of breaths I reached out to open the cabinet and peer inside.

I climbed 12 steps for this?!

On the first shelf is a bottle of camphorated oil that I bought when my husband had an ear situation. There are also a few tubes of creams for his skin irritations (and he’s neg!!).

Shelf number two: Three lovely half-used bottles of facial cleanser. (I have a 16-year-old son who’s trying ever so hard to keep his face clear, and I must say he’s doing a great job.) Toothbrush with a cap, which is also my son’s. (I have no memory these days and every toothbrush is mine in my mind, no matter what the colour. After throwing out several of his toothbrushes that I’d used, he got a cap for his current one and now I know it isn’t mine.)

On the third shelf I find a ponytail holder for those days I don’t want to wash my hair or when I want my hair up when I clean the bathroom. Next to that is Crest Whitening Expressions toothpaste. I like it; other toothpastes make my mouth sore. Tweezers — I can tweeze every day! Too much testosterone, perhaps? It drives me insane! Also, there’s my real toothbrush and a bottle of Myoflex for the aches and pains of everyday life.

WONDER WHERE MY MEDS ARE? IN MY WICKER MEDICINE BASKET IN THE KITCHEN. It houses my multivitamins, ibuprofen, selenium (which is supposed to be great for cholesterol) and saquinavir (Invirase) — I also take ritonavir (Norvir) but it needs to be refrigerated. My basket serves the purpose and I remember to take my meds because they are right there — unless I choose to forget, at which time I enjoy the most blissful medicine-free 60 seconds of all time. What freedom!



Diagnosed with HIV in 1986
CD4 count: 707
Viral load: undetectable

MY MEDICINE CABINET IS FULL OF SOAPS, body washes and hand cleaners — I have lots of those in there, I don’t know why. I guess I’m stockpiling them because I don’t like to run out of stuff.

The stuff that generally should go in a medicine cabinet is in a plastic box on top of a shelf in the bathroom. IF ANYONE SHOULD LOSE A LIMB, I HAVE ENOUGH BANDAGES AND GAUZE PADS IN THERE TO STOP THE BLEEDING. At one point I bought more bandages because I looked in the medicine cabinet and there weren’t any in there so I thought I had run out. Then I realized I already had Band-Aids in this plastic box.

There’s also cough drops, hydrogen peroxide, tweezers and tape in there. And a thermometer, which I can’t read because I have CMV (cytomegalovirus) and I’m blind. I’m not a hundred percent blind; I’ve still got about two percent of my vision. I’m hopeful for stem cell research to come around and rescue me before I go into darkness.

I don’t keep my medications in the bathroom because of the moisture. I keep them in a steel box in a cupboard in the living room because I’m supposed to store them in a cool, dry place. All my HIV meds are in there, as well as my neuropathy med and ganciclovir (for the CMV). My vitamins are in the kitchen in a cupboard — lots of garlic tablets (it’s an antiviral), vitamins C and E, calcium, a multivitamin, zinc, selenium, vitamin B12, magnesium, flaxseed and cod liver oil.

I developed AIDS in 1995. I had MAI [a kind of Mycobacterium avium complex], PCP and toxo[plasmosis]. I lived through that and everyone was stunned. I almost died four times but I’m still here. I think humour is an important aspect of surviving AIDS and keeping your spirits up. Plus, I’ve never given up hope. I’m listening to a book now that’s called You Can if You Think You Can, and it has this quote that I’ve adopted: “Keep up the fight if hope is out of sight.” Even if you don’t see it, hope is still out there.

IAN, 49

Diagnosed with HIV in 1986
CD4 count: 350
Viral load: 150

YOU HAVE TO SEE MY MEDICINE CABINET TO BELIEVE IT! Inside are the meds that I currently take — drugs to manage pain, high blood pressure and depression — and then there are the expired drugs — from Advil to Tylenol 3’s to Percocets, migraine meds, naturopathic remedies, lots of things that end with “an” or “pam,” muscle relaxants, asthma sprays and other ancient prescription and over-the-counter pills. I’ve had numerous roommates, a few of whom have died, and I inherited their pills as well. I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT SOME OF THOSE PILLS ARE FOR. IT’S BASICALLY A PHARMACY IN THERE.

There are no HIV medications in my cabinet. I was diagnosed in 1986. In 1993, I did a brief stint of AZT and ddI, but I was having such bad side effects that I decided to opt out of HIV treatment. The idea was that if my health declined I would reassess this. It hasn’t, and so I haven’t gone back on HIV treatment.

I would say that three-quarters of the meds in my cabinet have expired. In preparation for moving in with me, my boyfriend recently cleaned out the bathroom and found the oldest medication I had — dated 1995. He was quite concerned, as he used to work for a drugstore and says that meds become toxic when they’re past their expiry date. So the next time I go to the drugstore I’m going to ask if I can give them my expired medications for disposal. My boyfriend thinks this is a great idea.

I’m not comfortable with flushing pills down the toilet because they’re toxic to the fish and the environment. And I know that some people on the street go through dumpsters and medication is a popular find, so I don’t throw my meds into the trash. That’s a big reason why the medicine cabinet just starts to overflow.

So I’ve become a medication hoarder. I think of it this way: If you’re told you’re going to die next year, then everything you’ve got becomes precious. Besides, I’ve lived way beyond my expiry date, and I’m still good.


Diagnosed with HIV in 1998
CD4 count: 390

I’m living between my two parents’ houses at the moment because I recently moved from Montreal to Toronto to start a Master’s program at York University and I don’t have my own place here. I am actually literally living out of a suitcase right now, so when I go from one house to the other, I bring my meds.

MY MEDICINE CABINET IS ACTUALLY A LESPORTSAC ZIP-UP BLACK BAG. In there right now are my HIV meds — atazanavir (Reyataz), Kivexa (abacavir + 3TC) and ritonovir (Norvir). Ritonovir apparently has to be refrigerated, but my doctor told me it’s no big deal because it only goes bad after four months (and I have to renew my prescription every month), so I’m trusting him on this one.

There are a couple of other things in my “medicine cabinet”: Advil, Robaxacet for my back and probiotic pills. Back when I was on Sustiva (efavirenz) I think I destroyed my intestines, so I pump myself up with probiotics to help make my stomach healthy.

In a separate LeSportsac bag — I have a matching travel set—is my toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, fluoride rinse (I’m all about oral hygiene right now), deodorant, cologne (Issey Miyake) and a razor and shaving cream, although I can’t really grow a beard.

When I was a child, I moved back and forth between my parents’ houses because they were divorced, so I’m used to being a nomad. But I’d love to have a giant medicine cabinet with a big shiny mirror. Maybe one day…