This isn’t how Alcee pictured his life. He never imagined that he would live in abandoned buildings and collect money in a paper cup. He never anticipated the sickness he would feel from not feeding his raging heroin addiction daily. He never thought his body would crave drugs more than it would food, shelter or companionship.
And Alcee never fathomed that he would wrestle AIDS in tandem with these other demons, without knowing he had the disease.
For years, Alcee went undiagnosed and untreated. When a doctor finally confirmed his illness in 2008, the Chicago native’s white blood cell count was 167. A person without HIV/AIDS has a white blood cell count of roughly 2,000.
“This wasn’t HIV. I was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS.” Alcee’s head dropped, and the muscles in his shoulders softened, making it seem as if the weight of this memory was too heavy for him to carry and maintain decent posture at the same time.
“By me not going to the doctor regularly, it got a jump on me. And like I said, there was a lot of things I noticed physically. I didn’t have the stamina I used to have. Wounds and cuts wouldn’t heal like they used to. Mucus was running from my nose, when it was hot as hell outside and I didn’t have a cold. But that’s the body’s way of setting up defenses. My lymph nodes were swollen between my legs, and I said, ‘You know what, I probably got that package.’”
His self-diagnosis was accurate, but he did nothing about it then, just like he did nothing about it when the disease was in its early stages. There was too much on Alcee’s plate for him to worry about these seemingly minor symptoms.