I am 28. White. A Female. And a former Peace Corps Volunteer. I am HIV Positive. This is my story of how a few months, a few people, and a few events in Zambia changed me and my life forever. This is the story of how I contracted HIV and brought my Peace Corps Journey to a crashing halt... and how I am working now to pick up and put back together the pieces of my life as a newly diagnosed person living with HIV. This was not the journey I had originally planned... my path has traumatically and dramatically changed... but it is the one I am on now. There is no going back. There is only forward. I welcome you to follow along with me as I attempt to explore this new life ahead of me, whether you are someone from the Peace Corps community, or someone living with HIV. I welcome your comments, questions, suggestions, and opinions. Let us go forward together. To start from the beginning, click here He Gave Me More Than A Bracelet.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Life As A Medevac- Part 3

A few thank you’s are needed…

As I mentioned in the last post, I did actually end up receiving a roommate a few days after arriving. And she ended up being one of the best things that happened to me there in D.C. She was another volunteer, but a stranger nonetheless… from another country… with a whole different set of experiences and issues than me. But we became instant friends. We spent our time lazing around the hotel, going to our respective appointments, and occasionally visiting some of the sights of D.C. We talked and shared our stories and experiences. We vented and shared our frustrations about Peace Corps and what was or wasn’t being done. And, after a week or two, she became the first person outside of my immediate family that I disclosed my status to. I had been thinking about it days ahead of time and deliberating about whether or not I should tell her. Then one night, as we were sitting there talking, I just knew it was the right time. I shared my story with her… the whole story. And her reaction was better than anything I could have expected. She just said “I want to give you a hug.” We hugged, and we talked some more, and from that time on she was my partner through it all… the long appointments, the weird side affects, the tears, the laughter, and anything else I threw at her. Thank you dear roomie, you kept me alive and sane during a time that I could have easily slipped away.

During that first week in D.C., I was also set up with a psychologist in the Peace Corps office. I met with her about 3 times a week, for about an hour each time (although my roommate would tell you that it always lasted at least an hour and a half). My counselor was amazing and a huge support the whole time. She went above and beyond what her job required…accompanying me to doctor appointments, calling local organizations, learning more about HIV, and staying overtime just to keep talking with me. She helped me sort through my emotions…guilt, anger, frustrations, sadness, adjustment anxieties, etc. She became more than a counselor during that time, she became a true friend. Thank you my counselor for your time, openness, support, and honest desire to spend time with me.

The third person that I owe a huge thank you to in D.C. is my International Health Coordinator (IHC). Each Medevac is assigned an IHC when they arrive. This person helped arrange and manage anything relating to my case, including appointments, phone calls, paperwork, financial issues, health issues, prescription issues, etc. And although I got frustrated at times when I felt things weren’t getting done (or getting done quickly enough), I realize now how much she did for me… and how much she continues to do for me today. She continues to be my Peace Corps contact, even after Medical Separation, and I’ve spent hours upon hours on the phone with her. So, thank you IHC for everything you have done for me. You have made this extremely stressful time so much easier. I don’t think I could have handled it without you.

Finally, I want to thank my family and friends, who although they were not in D.C., I know they struggled at home in their own way during this time, and provided support to me through phone calls, e-mails, and prayers. My mom stood by me since day 1… since that first day I called from South Africa and said, “Mom, I ruined my life. I have HIV.” She’s always been my best friend, and this didn’t change things one bit. She just switched from obsessively reading Peace Corps blogs to reading HIV blogs instead! (It was also her who I called last week and said, “Mom, would you kill me if I went public with all this?”, and she said, “Of course not. I think that’s an absolutely wonderful idea. Go for it!”) Then, there is my grandmother who was kind enough to offer her place to me to live for awhile until I get back on my feet. And my sister and brother-in-law who have shocked me with their overall acceptance and love from the beginning. And my neighbor in Florida who not only provided support to me, but also the much needed support and friendship to my mother during this time. And my ex-boyfriend, who is still my best friend, and has been there through the middle of the night crying phone calls since I first called and told him from D.C. And a fellow Zambia RPCV who came home shortly before me, who has been a non-stop friend, providing such open ears and understanding, and is always just a short text message away. Thank you, all of you, for sticking by me and being patient and loving and understanding through all of my ups and downs and selfishness and grieving. Now, I think we can hopefully finally start to move forward.


  1. I love you Jessica!!! I took my tree down, but my African ornament is still out and I think of you every time I see it. Happy New Year my friend! Michele

  2. Hey Jessica, I just finished all your blogs and wanted to thank you one last time for sharing your story. I am a Gator too and was just back in Gainesville for the holidays. I would have loved to meet and talk with you. Keep your chin up. I will be thinking of you.

  3. You are amazing and loved by so many. If you never knew it before, I pray you KNOW it now.

  4. I am sending you so much love right now from Azerbaijan! I ran across your blog as I was up late due to the confusion I saw at our New Year Party-random people hooking up with other random people-maybe because of lonliness or vodka or whatever. Thank you for the beautiful poem, for your fresh honesty and also wisdom. You are loved babygirl. May the Universe continue to open doors for you to change lives! Happy New Year. Go into it with a smile. Everything is ordered and worked out. Just show up!

  5. maybe you don't know it yet and i'm pretty sure this isn't how you wanted this to happen but you should know you are a super star. writing about your experiences in this blog with such honesty and clarity is amazing. i am in total awe of you for your grace and willingness to share.

    i was just thinking the other day about how bitchy i felt (and still felt to this day) when i insisted my boyfriend in romania be tested before we did anything. in an effort to be fair, i got peace corps to test me so i could also show that i was, as far as that one test went, hiv neg. that alone was a nerve-wracking experience. i can not, not even for a second, begin to imagine what you have been through.

    i will be sure to keep reading your blog (and learning SO much in the process - you are an incredible educator!) and i WILL find a way to include it in my media course curricula this spring semester.

    beyond that, i'll be sending you virtual hugs and good energy all the way from istanbul.



    rpcv, romania, 2001-03
    and a former gator!

  6. Thanks for sharing your story. As a RCPV (Malaysia 80-83). I can relate to your story, and know that if 8 had to leave early (I stayed an extra year), I would have been heartbroken.
    I've also been HIV+ for over 25 years, and have had AIDS since 1993. It's been tough, especially the times I had been very sick, but to also opened up so much of an experience to me that I would have never had otherwise, and challenged me to do things I would have never have done - such as taking up mountain climbing (I've climbed dozens of peaks, including Kilimanjaro).
    It takes time to adjust to the new normal, and as I'm many people have told you, just give yourself that time, don't beat yourself up too much, and that you're ok just the way you are.
    Take care.

  7. Your entries are so well written and engaging. You have taken a bad situation and turned it into an incredible teaching tool for other people. Stay strong, and continue your work.