I found out I have Hepatitis C, and have had it for over 40 years

OPINION: "Your results are positive. You have Hepatitis C," my doctor said.

She then told me other medical stuff on that phone call but by then I'd gone straight to gobsmacked. A fairly reasonable "who me?" reaction had set in.

Greg Jackson with first grandchild.
Greg Jackson with first grandchild.

Shock, awe and the awareness that this was the disease that had taken out my rock and roll idols like David Bowie and Lou Reed.

At least 37 years ago in a vast chemical diet I had been at times a junkie. Not devout and committed like so many of my now dead friends, but a junkie all the same.

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There was no needle exchange scheme then. You shot what you got with what you could get. Lots of sharing, cooking dirty needles over candle flames for the fussy and lots of cross infection.

Prime infection risk for the hepatitis family A,B and C and then not too much later for HIV/AIDS.

Trouble is you don't have to have been much of an anything to get Hep C. Injecting once will do just fine, as will unsafe body piercings, snorting drugs, tattoos or sex that involves some blood. Even that "safe" ear piercing will do. Blood transfusions have also figured. This club is hyper promiscuous.  

One of the upsides of having been a chemical pig was that I was done by 28.The doctor who helped me detox said that basically I had pushed it all so far there weren't a whole lot of benchmarks to work off for how recovery would go.

When the drugs ran out - deceased friend Ken on left, Greg Jackson on right in the 70s.
When the drugs ran out - deceased friend Ken on left, Greg Jackson on right in the 70s.

 It actually went pretty good.

My old gig in advertising was pretty much a closed door. I think the Christmas party where I and my first wife had danced to a noisy aircon thinking it was unexpectedly groovy early techno may have helped that.

Detox was hard because by then I was hooked on sedative drugs, alcohol, and had parked up the opiate habit with a daily diet of codeine pills. I got through.

I turn 65 later this year and the Hep C test was sprung on me by the doctor who knew enough of my history to say that the cure was now great and effective and it would be good just to eliminate Hep C as a possible.

So despite my late blooming hatred of needles and blood tests I had some.

Which came back positive.

The medicos who are not prone to romancing pathology call Hep C the "sleeping dragon". You can have it ticking away in your liver for nearly 40 years like I did and then get sick enough to present with cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer.  

None of my liver tests over the years had triggered the alarm bells. The recent battery of blood analysis shows only slightly elevated liver function problems, no signs of cancer, nor of blood clotting issues.

Before the next pre meds step, a liver scan, it's hard to say fully what damage has been done. The Hep C diagnosis may explain why my recent years have felt physically like driving with the handbrake on but again I don't know yet. 

Hep C has very recently become a good news drug story where the cure really is a cure within months. Before that there was only Interferon which was not overly effective, as brutal as chemo some said and so hard mentally people on it either bailed or suicided. 

My post addiction story saw me first pick up the advertising strand as an AdEd writer and then editor, then general reporter, award winning political reporter, political campaign manager, speechwriter, small business owner and political advisor, aid and development  communicator, political  and communications advisor in Haiti after their big quake, comms anchor post the Christchurch February 22 quake. Plus I helped do the development for the ChCh quake movie When A City Falls.

Oh and three healthy sons all with orthodontically perfect teeth. A very middle class life.

All quite a long way from scoring, shooting, nodding and scratching with opiates. Which is part of why I had that "who me" reaction and at times still am.

The feelings department of a positive Hep C diagnosis seems to be one that changes stock often. In the last few weeks I've gone from shock to darkly listening to Bowie's Blackstar, over to delight at the thought of rejuvenation and energy with the treatment to the latest phase, a nagging feeling of being on borrowed time. 

 Am I unique? Not at all, the folk at Hep C Action Aotearoa think there are about 25,000 people like I was in New Zealand undiagnosed and untreated. All it takes is a blood test to eliminate it or not. The Maviret cure is easy and total.

And me? I'm never going to hum along quite so sadly or smugly to Neil Young's "I've seen the needle and the damage done" again.