(Is this title an oxymoron? We shall see. Meanwhile …)
The area of my brain that is rational, my left hemisphere (as some claim) is pleased to learn that Hep C RNA can no longer be detected in my blood.
So I’m virus-free, or at least I was on the day of the test. In all likelihood it’s been months since the last of my parasitic alien spherules ceased to be, but, of course, I remain sceptical – and so does the medical establishment, which requires an SVR12 (Sustained Viral Response at twelve weeks) before they declare the battle won.
This lingering doubt is probably the reason it hasn’t really hit me emotionally. Sometimes, I have moments, confusing moments … when I clamp down on my hopes and tell myself to wait. Just wait. Anticlimactic is probably a good word to describe it. Limbo might be another.
To make things even more uncertain, I’ve set eyes on my results, but have not had a specialist interpret them. ‘HCV RNA NOT DETECTED’ seems like a fairly definitive statement, but more and more wriggle room seems to open up with every discussion I have on the subject. If things go to plan, I’ll clear this up during the coming days, when I hope to be speaking with a notorious ‘pathology guru’.
What I can say for sure is that things will never be quite right until objects like this stop appearing in my house:
So, let’s assume – for good or ill – that the virus has gone. That my burden of evil nanomachines has been flushed away …
Aren’t we talking about billions, if not trillions of tiny corpses? I know they’re infinitesimally small, but still … they must bulk to something. I wonder if the carcasses are absorbed as food by hideous white jellies, as was seen in Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage, or might they be filtered by the kidneys and expelled in the urine, or do they just drift around, rotting, trailing ragged strings of amino acids, and sending the occasional false positive along with the blood work? I should inquire of the guru about this….
So the virus is gone. Probably. Has anything changed?
Since treatment’s end, my Ribavirin-induced anaemia has fallen away. Physically, life is easier. I’m able to exercise. And I have exercised. Once. And I’m definitely going for a walk this afternoon… But let’s say, my body has certainly paid a price of a sedentary lifestyle.
Aside from that… I’m tending to get up every day – often at a civilised hour. That’s something I know I wasn’t doing before the treatment – because the first three months of this year could be described as the most grim and degrading black hole I have ever occupied. The leaden cloud of depression has lifted, thankfully, but things are still a long way from rainbows and unicorns.
I do remember a series of days, very early in the piece, during which I simply felt good. Even better than good. Motivated. Excited about my life, looking forward to a future with limitless options …
Whatever that was, I think I got used to it. And rather quickly. It became the new norm – a more pleasant norm to be sure, but nothing to crow about. I’m functional. I’m beginning to do things I couldn’t dream of only months ago. I’ve tried to plan, but what are the possibilities? What to prioritise? Again, perhaps it’s better to wait for a final verdict from the doctors.
And might it be that I’m falling back into a mental rut gouged out by decades of illness?
In the meantime, true to my nature, I’ve been worrying. And during one of of my leisurely worry sessions – my brain brooding over unpleasant scenarios as my body attempts to sleep – it occurred to me that it might be possible for a person to reinfect themselves from their own used needles.
Though it has literally been decades since I’ve shared a needle with anyone, I’ve begun to predict that I might – through some entirely improbable set of circumstances – stick myself with an ancient and infected fit lurking somewhere in the omnium-gatherum that is my house. What if – whilst using my newfound energy to clean my office – I unsuspectingly pick up a crumpled old brown paper bag from a dark corner and stab myself? Didn’t I hear – was it last year? – that Hep C can last a remarkable length of time outside the body?
An extremely helpful (though slightly bewildered) researcher at Latrobe University, contacted a virologist with my query.
I learned that while on treatment ‘re-infection is … unlikely … because the DAAs are such potent inhibitors‘. But what about two days post-treatment? Or two weeks?
Virologist: I’m not aware of any literature on this, but my feeling is that one could be re-infected with the same virus. The “cure” has come about chemically rather than by the immune response, so I’m guessing one would remain susceptible‘.
So, be warned. One should indeed be wary of sharing with oneself – not so much during the actual treatment – but during the window between treatment-end and the death of any virus that may be loitering in used fits you may have misplaced, stashed for an emergency, or hoarded in order to stave off having to use what now passes for injecting equipment.
According to the Centres for Disease Control in the US, HCV can survive between 16 hours and four days on dry surfaces at room temperature. (That would probably include the toothbrush, razor and bloody sex toy categories.) However, in a liquid medium – and there is often a small reservoir of liquid in used syringes, whether rinsed or unrinsed – it has been detected at five months (in cooler environments).
My advice – based purely on common sense because, as the virologist suggested, there appears to be no research on the subject – is to destroy all used syringes immediately upon finishing treatment, no matter how old they are. And, if you want to be thorough, do the same with all those other potentially infectious objects. (NB: HRVic recommends that you properly dispose of all syringes directly after use.)
At this point, allow me to apologise for turning a happy news story of positive results into something grim and disturbing. It’s just the way I swing, I guess. In the world outside my worrisome head, there is reason to rejoice. So many of us are clearing the virus, it’s like an epidemic in reverse. So many of us are having the fog lifted from our shuttered brains that it’s comparable to a zombie apocalypse in reverse.
A friend of mine and her sister were blessed in being able to spend some weeks keeping vigil by their mother as she faded towards death, taking turns sleeping on a mat by her bed. By all accounts, it was one of those perfect departures for which we all hope. My friend, who has only cleared the virus during the last few weeks, said it felt like a miracle that she had come to herself again, after decades of brain fog, just in time to say goodbye to her mother in a proper way – and that she had the energy to avoid being overwhelmed by the demands of an always difficult time …
I hope all of you who have been treated are experiencing life with similarly heightened energies and heightened senses. Though you might feel like a new person, I think it’s actually the real you come in from the cold.
If you ever feel like sharing your experiences and observations, please do. The comment section is waiting for you below. I’ve already had some amazing responses to this blog. I’ve heard all kinds of stories – tragic, uplifting, comic, Kafkaesque – often freakishly similar to my own. So, thank you to everyone who’s contributed to the conversation.
The Golden Phaeton.