The HCV Affair

Normally I wouldn’t talk about my HCV infection unless I wish to get depressed, but after my recent surgery it’s actually an exciting topic, of sorts.

Hopefully we know the difference between HCV and HIV, right? Some 35 years ago, in my days of misguided youth, I was infected with Hepatitis C (HCV). The virus first appeared in blood supplies in WWII, but it remained unidentified and undetected for decades, so it spread among untold millions worldwide. Today it’s easily-detected, so new cases are rare. HCV is a blood-transmitted disease, usually through blood transfusions, dirty needles in tattoo parlors and other seedy places. It can’t be sexually transmitted, fortunately, or my wife Darlene would be infected. Sometimes it can be transmitted through toothbrushes, if lots of blood is involved, they say. (But mosquitoes can’t spread it, which I don’t understand.)

Sparing the sordid details, let me digress into a truly bizarre story. There was a certain Joe Lombardi who made top headline news in ‘76 when his mother walked into the emergency room and shot him dead as he lay there helpless, overdosed on drugs. (She was declared innocent by reason of insanity—a real stretch, but prosecutors knew Joe and secretly applauded, I imagine.) I mention Joe because six months earlier he blessed me with euphoric contraband laced with HCV. I nearly died. The virus incubated for six weeks, invisibly, then exploded with terrifying jaundice (when liver toxins turns skin and eyes yellow, urine is black, feces are white…yes, ”terrifying”) and I regurgitated all food for over a month. I believe I weighed only 110 pounds at one point.

My poor mother took me to the doctor, and while she was standing there he asked me if I used hypodermic needles. (What was I going to say? “Yeah, doc, you got any to spare?”) Of course not, I told him and my mom. He shook his head and said he didn’t know why I was sick, but added that if I did use needles, then I had hepatitis. The ride home was a miserable conversation.

The jaundice disappeared, I became a Christian, went to OSU and moved in a ministry house. But the virus remained. Two years later I became jaundiced again. The OSU docs said I had Hepatitis Non-A/Non-B, which meant they didn’t know exactly what kind of hepatitis this was. It was surfacing everywhere, and it was highly toxic to the liver, so they knew enough to warn me I would have “problems in my 40s.” Whatever that meant, I cared very little, because I was young and “my 40s” were on the other side of eternity, right?

When I hit “my 40s” I had a wife, two boys and another little rat “in the oven.” I recently moved the pack to Cleveland, where a routine physical uncovered liver enzymes elevated six times above normal. It sounded bad. My doc said it was HCV, which was the first time I learned about this mysterious virus. The liver enzymes were bonkers-crazy because HCV was scarring my liver, creating liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Fortunately, the renown Cleveland Clinic was nearby with some of the world’s leading hepatologists (liver doctors), and they ran an HCV research center. They knew all about HCV by this time. They ordered a liver biopsy, and one doc warned me to be prepared if they found cirrhosis. Suddenly I remembered the OSU doctor’s warning, but was relieved when the biopsy showed no cirrhosis.

In short, after batteries of tests, two liver biopsies, and consults with an array of experts, for 15 years the medical consensus said I would be blessed if I lived to age 60. I fought the prognosis with three series of prolonged, debilitating treatments of “cocktail” chemotherapies from leading-edge research, but the HCV remained. Lesser treatments did cure several friends I knew with HCV, but mine is a robust and aggressive genome (HCV-a1a).

Friends and family occasionally ask me to seek more therapy, and I simply refuse to waste any more years on those useless efforts. It’s fair to say those poisons hobbled my early ministry in Cleveland until 2001, when I stopped further treatments. Besides, a leading HCV expert at the Cleveland Clinic said there was no evidence any further treatments would work. Since then, I’ve been waiting to see if they discover a new cure, but so far the “new cures” are simply FDA-approved treatments I took a decade ago as experimental therapy from Cleveland Clinic researchers.

I’ve been living with the tacit understanding that my work here needs to be finished before age 60. Steve Jobs—my age, and the guru of Apple—is a multibillionaire with the best medical attention money can buy. Now, as the world watches, he is slowly dying from liver failure, despite a liver transplant. I understand he has HCV.

But Keith McCallum, who is definitely not a multibillionaire, was recently spared a similar death sentence, and no liver transplant required.

I wrote about the new extension of life recently granted me through surgery. They ripped a foot-long hole in my midsection, spread me open like a dissected frog, and while tinkering around in there, thoroughly examined my liver. It was pretty and pink, without any signs of cirrhosis or other malefactors. The two surgeons said I should expect to live a normal lifespan. I still have HCV, but my body can cope with it, they said.

Not only did I reach “the other side of eternity” and hit my 40s, but now I’m in my mid-50s, and looking better than ever (it seems). I’ve even lost weight.

Steve Jobs is a titan, truly an idol in the World System, wealthy beyond imagination. Yesterday his company single-handedly gave the stock market a 200-point boost with its profit earnings. He is brilliant, the epitome of success, and yet he should consider what a poor carpenter said 2,000 years ago: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?”

That crazy carpenter said something else which I keep learning to be true, despite my lowly station in life:

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33,27

Now I ask: who is more quotable–Steve Jobs or Jesus Christ?

2 thoughts on “The HCV Affair

  1. Diana

    Thanks for this reminder about worry (and eternal life!) Keith. I think it’s funny you called Connor a “rat”…hehe.

  2. dardrops

    As the wife who has walked the road with Keith on this, I must say, what a relief and thank you, God. I do occasionally think, “Wouldn’t it be funny if he got struck by lightning now.” Just kidding.
    I am looking forward to having him around now. I kept envisioning being retirement age and single. But now a whole new world has opened up. Yay!
    Love you, honey. Can’t wait to see what God’s got in store for us now, can you?

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