- DENVER (www.nando.net) -- Jack Biderman has gone from expecting to die
in 1985 to clinging to hope in 1998. A big reason: the 62 pills he pops
every day at rigidly precise intervals. If he misses one, he's told, he
- So for anyone who thinks the new drugs
are magic bullets for AIDS and the virus that causes it, Biderman says,
- Those who hear him speak at Denver-area
junior high schools on behalf of the Colorado AIDS Project know his story
- "All I've got to do is take out
the pills and show them," says Biderman, 44, of Denver.
- Living with AIDS and HIV, even if these
drugs ultimately work for many, is not like living the good life. It's
more like living inside a jail of pills.
- They call the regimen "triple combination
therapy" because it involves taking three powerful anti-HIV drugs
- One is the new class of drugs called
protease inhibitors. Others are "neucleoside analogs" such as
the original AIDS drug AZT.
- The third group is for disease "prophylaxis"
to prevent the opportunistic infections that accompany AIDS.
- This is the grind Biderman must follow
seven days a week -- perhaps for the rest of his life:
- He begins gulping pills at 6 a.m. He
takes more at 7, 8, 8:30 and 9. Breakfast is between 11 and noon. He must
carefully space his meals between medication or, doctors say, he might
reinvigorate the sleeping HIV.
- Then it begins again: pills at 2 p.m.,
3 and 4. Dinner's at 5. The pills start again at 7 and continue hourly
until 11. That's when he has to go to bed to be up in time for the 6 a.m.
- If Biderman or people like him take a
weekend off without their vials of drugs -- AIDS literature calls it a
"drug holiday" -- they are taking a grave risk that the virus
will come roaring back.
- Patients also must avoid alcohol. It
can weaken their immune systems and induce them to take risks with their
- Biderman isn't risking anything now.
He doesn't drink or do anything else that might make him forget his five
dozen pills a day.
- "It's real hard work," he says.
- The pills cost $15,000 a year, paid for
by special state AIDS drugs reimbursement programs.
- The pills have other costs for this avuncular
former restaurateur with twinkling brown eyes.
- Side effects range from nausea to dry
mouth. He must stay out of of the sun or wear a ball cap and 30-factor
sun block everywhere. He drinks 120 ounces of water a day to prevent kidney
stones. And still he worries.
- Recently, Biderman felt a pain in his
side and wondered if his spleen were infected. When he can't find the right
word, he often jokes about dementia, a condition that consumes many AIDS
- A Rhode Island native who moved to Colorado
in 1971, Biderman says he does not know how he got HIV.
- Maybe it was after he left his wife in
1985 and had sex with men.
- Maybe it was during some of those wild
days when too many drugs were being passed around by too many people.
- Biderman was still a child of the '60s
when he got word in 1985 that he had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. He
did what perhaps most would do. He had received a death sentence, but he
was free, had money in the bank and felt healthy.
- "I partied hard," he says.
"I had sex, protected sex, but sex. I traveled."
- He bartended across the nation, getting
the most out of his moments.
- He didn't stop until 1989, when Biderman
says he suddenly realized, "I'm still alive."
- Unfortunately, he was out of money, had
maxed out his credit cards and had no clue what to do.
- That's when it hit him: Maybe he could
live with HIV.
- Biderman became a different man, obsessed
with health. He quit drinking, smoking and doing anything else with risk.
- He meditates every morning, imagining
"a little Pac-Man character racing around my body eating the evil
virus." He says he knows the meditations work but can't prove it.
- Biderman began to proselytize against
the very behaviors that caused his condition.
- It all seemed to be working. He was beating
- Then in 1993 -- right on schedule, according
to current medical theory -- Biderman developed AIDS.
- More precisely, he got an AIDS-defining
illness called pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, or PCP, a parasitic lung
infection that is one of the great killers in the AIDS epidemic.
- He was going to fight it as hard as he
- That first meant beating back the PCP
with antibiotics, then waiting to see if medical science could devise something
that could handle the AIDS virus.
- That may have happened 22 months ago.
Doctors began treating tens of thousands of HIV patients with protease
inhibitors. Though the drugs often reduce the virus to almost undetectable
levels, the immune system does not return to normal.
- For now, however, his life is consumed
with trying to make the new drugs work. And he's doing something he thought
of only rarely before -- getting a paying job again.
- Biderman is coming to terms with the
disease in other ways.
- He never told his family he had HIV until
1994 because of "fear of rejection."
- "My mom said, 'What did you think,
we would turn away from you?' "
- He says his family has grown much closer.
- As for a social life, Biderman says it
really doesn't exist.
- The pills, the speeches, the meditation,
the doctors, have pretty much taken care of that, he says.
- Still, he says, it is "better than