15 November 2007

De-dramatizing Lab Results

I'm coming up on the tenth anniversary of my diagnosis with HIV (actually, directly to AIDS because I was silly enough not to be tested along the way and was diagnosed when I developed PCP, an AIDS-defining illness). The actual anniversary will be 22 December, ensuring that I will never again forget my friend Lois' birthday, even if it is stained by something a little darker.

The anniversary seems like a good time to share a little bit of the various things I do to deal with my condition. Here's a little thing I like to do in order to get a good grip on the significance of my lab test results: plotting them on a graph to get a good sense of what is dramatic and what isn't.

Above is the graph of my viral load (in copies per ml) through 44 test results over the last ten years. You can see how starting at close to 75,000 copies (per ml!!) of HIV in my system seems a bit scary, but how at the next test only 49 days later I was undetectable (below 500, recorded by my hospital lab as 499, not 0), which was dramatic indeed. The fear of my two experiences of blips (677 and 1169) really fades when seeing those incidents plotted on the graph.

Here is my absolute CD4+ count, from the scary starting position of 4 (I told you I waited way too long to get tested!) to my all-time high a couple of years ago (315) and on to my last result (210). I have long been frustrated with what seemed like the lack of progress, never reaching those lofty numbers some of my friends have managed to get to, but that stagnancy, too, seems to pale when plotted on a graph. I do feel like generally there is a levelling off, but at the top of a rather steady rise over the years.

I have been told that the CD4+ percentage is a more stable indicator than the absolute CD4+ count, and the above graph seems to bear that out. Yes, there are still peaks and valleys, but they are a little less pronounced, and the trend seems more clearly upward.

All of this to teach myself not to hang on the last number, but to follow the trends.

Ten years in, I'm not doing too badly.


Acid Reflux said...

Showing off your "Lab Porn" again I see!

Well, that was a nice christmas gift ten years ago.

Happy Anniversary to come. You'll have to join me on my "She's Still Here! Tour"

Ken Monteith said...

Yes, indeed: Baby J's got nothing on me - I was visited by 73,360 viruses per ml and early to boot, not a mere 3 wise guys who arrived a little late for the party.

As for the 'lab porn' commment...I think you need to get out more! ;-)

Paul said...

Congrats on the excellent results. Your Viral Load results should really be plotted on a log scale tho'.

Mine (slightly out of date) are here: http://www.buggery.org/thelab

Keep it up!