Sheryl Ubelacker, Canadian press
Published on Friday, November 30, 2018, at. 12:35 EST
Last updated Friday, November 30, 2018, at noon. 12:36 EST
TORONTO – Randy Davis remembers having a social function already after he has been diagnosed with HIV infection, and watched as the hostess met the guests in a row, warmly sat down. But when his turn came, the wife's arm climbed and she suggested that he would not be too close, because she was cold.
"The excuse that I was not covered was to protect me from the cold," said Davis, who was open about his HIV status. "But all night they still applaud other people."
It was a lesson that Davis needed to continue stigmatizing those who have HIV-AIDS, based on the concern of many people that they have some risk of being infected with a simple touch.
And it's a belief that Casey House, a separate Toronto HIV-AIDS hospital, hopes to help get out with a pop-up spa that offers mass-media free massages provided by HIV-positive volunteers trained in healing arts.
The Healing House, which operates on a Friday and Saturday (World AIDS Day) site in the central location of Toronto, aims to engage members of the public in the debate about the myth that rock shaking by touching their bare hands or exchanging apples is a potential means of catching the virus.
As a result, the spa has a reminder of the need and the touch.
"It really creates a link between one person and the other, and it ensures that we do not feel alone," said Casey House's executive director, founded in 1988 to care for the sick.
"It's the skin's skin's warmth on the skin, which makes us feel comfortable and enjoyable, safe and loved," she said. "Without that, it would be a very lonely world, I could imagine."
However, people with HIV are often deprived of this experience – a fact confirmed by the Legger questionnaire conducted in Casey House, which found that although 91 percent of Canadians believe that human nature has wanted to feel the touch, only 38 percent of the respondents said they would be ready share skin-skin contact with anyone diagnosed with the virus.
Although Americans are slightly more likely to touch a person with HIV-AIDS (41%), more than a quarter of the respondents in a separate US poll thought they could be HIV-positive through skin-to-skin interactions, compared to one-fifth of Canadians.
"It's a really hard human spirit, and we know that the touch is so important," Simon said. "So it really was an incentive that the public should talk about HIV in order to try to challenge people's thinking and behavior."
To this end, Casey House received Melissa Doldron, Massage Therapist at Toronto Blue Jays, to teach 15 HIV positive volunteers on the basics of therapy.
Doldon said that members of the public can choose a 10-minute hand and forearm massage or sign up for a chair massage, which involves manipulating the back, neck, shoulder and head with stress.
The massage has many benefits throughout the body, stimulating blood vessels, lymphatic and neurological systems, as well as relieving stress and promoting relaxation, she said.
"So the massage helps both physiologically and psychologically. Everyone who deals with the disease has two benefits."
Davis, who works as a male sexual health coordinator at Gilbert's center in Barrie, Onta, where he lives with his husband, thinks that the touch is essential to everyone, whether HIV is positive or not.
"I remember when I was first diagnosed, the first thing that came to my notice – and at the same time I was the only one – was that I would only live for the rest of my life and no one would ever love me anymore, not to mention touching me or turn me in, "said Davie, who voluntarily became one of the healers in Casey House.
"When I found my status, many of my close friends were warm and caring, but acquaintances, medical specialists and people who did not know me well showed signs of obvious discomfort and made me apologize for not touching me."
Almost 40 years after the start of the single deadly AIDS epidemic, fears that someone can only get infected with a routine touch. However, for many people, modern antiviral medicines can reduce the level of HIV in the body, and it is unlikely that they can carry the virus to another person, even through sex.
Davis, who started using antiviral drugs shortly after he was diagnosed at the beginning of 2015, believes that HIV is a chronic disease that he can easily manage. "I take a pill every day, and that's all."
His hope for a pop-up spa is that people will come not only to massage, but also to find out about people living with HIV – "so that they can feel comfortable and understand that you know what we do not cause to someone."
"This is a great thing for me. It's not a virus that we have to fight, it's a stigma to fight with."
Surveys for 1,581 Canadians and 1,501 Americans were recently conducted using Leger's online panel LegerWeb. Samples of the same size probability would cause an error margin of about 2.5 percent plus and minus, 19 times out of 20.
Massage appointments can be booked at: www.smashstigma.ca.