"Since 1986, I have been participating in the annual AIDS Walk in L.A. to help raise money and awareness."

"Abbey, my new Shitzu, has been my daily companion and support."

"I like to go out and keep busy. I can't stay at home and just watch TV during the day."

"Being positive is not a death sentence anymore. It's not the end of the world. HIV is just a little bump in the road."

"I have no regrets. I am living a good life."

"I may not have a lot of money, but I am rich when it comes to friends."



Dave Handel

Photographer: Gail Romero

Journalist: Muskan Srivastava


I am a 55-year-old Los Angeles native. I was diagnosed as being HIV-positive in 1994 and am living a good life.  

I run errands, meet friends for lunch, go to friends' houses for home cooked meals, go out to different restaurants, love Japanese food and Indian food, I rent movies, and my friends and I have made it a tradition to have a party for the Oscars every year. I also like making my street beautiful. I recently called the L.A. Forestry Department and had 12 trees planted in front of my building on this street. Now after getting off the main street it's like entering another world.  

In the late '80s I had four friends who passed away because of AIDS. It was called the gay cancer then. I couldn't believe it. I wondered how could this be? The gay community was usually very healthy. They ate healthy, went to the gym regularly, and really took care of their bodies. To die at such a young age was just a shock, a nightmare. We had no idea of the how or why or what of the virus. We never thought it was something that we could be infected by since it was more prevalent on the East Coast. My straight friends would warn me to be more cautious, and for the most part I was. But it just takes that one time to be exposed to the virus, and that one time for me did it.

I am lucky. I have a lot of close friends in Los Angeles. They have been my support group, since I don't have any living family. Friends, especially if you are a gay man living here and in the West Hollywood area, are your family. That's just how it is.

The virus emerged during a very different time when the values weren't the same. I think the kids today think differently, they want to date you first before being that intimate. But back then we were coming out of the free love era, when anything you were infected with could be treated with a shot or a pill. When HIV came along, it curtailed people's sexual activities and values changed. People don't meet at bathhouses anymore, they meet in Internet chat rooms. Different times, different behavior. But I do miss the free spirit, and people being very active in their community. We were very involved in politics, but now they are all apathetic. As the saying goes, "Youth is wasted on the young."

The biggest difficulty I faced was right after I was diagnosed and was prescribed AZT, the first generation of AIDS medicine. It was meant to slow down the HIV process but the effects of AZT took a horrendous toll on me. I had terrible diarrhea, felt very low, run down, lethargic, and just miserable. Many people have passed away simply due to the effects of this medicine, and not HIV. It's toxic, it is a poison. After six months I voluntarily took myself off of AZT. In that period I also got severe Rheumatoid arthritis, which has brought the most drastic effect to my health and changes in my lifestyle.

My job wasn't giving me health insurance and I was battling government agencies to help me.  I kept getting rejected for Medicare. I just didn't have any coverage. I felt like I was being attacked on two fronts. I used to enjoy going to the gym regularly and taking care of my body. Then because of the HIV and arthritis it was difficult for me to get out of bed, I couldn't even walk, and I had to be in a wheelchair. That's mainly what devastated me. Without getting financial and medical help I was lost.

I never felt I needed to join a support group because my friends were there for me. I don't have a lot of money, but I'm very rich when it comes to friends. I'd pick friends over money any day. My friends were there for me through thick and thin, when I needed help with doctors, financial help, picking up medicine, taking me to the doctors, they never hesitated to help.

I remember I was sick one time and I couldn't get out of bed to even go to the pharmacy to get my medicines. A couple of my friends came over, visited with me, picked up my medicines, and got me through the day.

On April 17th, 1994, the year I was diagnosed, I found Chloe, my first Shitzu, under a car. She became a part of the family and I fell in love with her. After Chloe's passing, Abbey, my new shitzu, has been my daily companion and support.

In 2001 because of the new treatments, my health really improved, and things really turned around for me. My T cells went up to 370 and my viral level was undetectable. I got a little more stamina, felt healthier, and was definitely sleeping better. I used to take six pills a day at the height of my HIV. Now I just take three, which are more for arthritis, and only one for HIV.

I believe education on prevention and treatment for AIDS cannot be  mutually exclusive subjects, especially in places like Africa, or anywhere else in the world. Being positive is not a death sentence anymore. It's not the end of the world. HIV is just a little bump in the road, or a big bump depending on the kind of day you have. But for me things are consistently pretty good now. It's my arthritis pain that affects me the most. I have no regrets. I am living a good life.


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