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.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Today's High School Speaking

I went (as mentioned last week) to a local high school today to speak to the students in the health classes there. We spoke to 5 class periods, totaling about 98 kids. It went really well, and I hope that they found some value in my story and the other information that we presented. They were very well behaved, receptive, and had lots of great questions! I look forward to more opportunities like this one!

Here are some of the questions they asked, and the answers we gave:
(I know there were more, but this is just what I can remember off the top of my head.)

* Have you been in contact with the guy?
Yes, at first. He was eventually tested and turned out to be HIV positive. From further communication, we found that it was likely that he may have contracted HIV when he had sex with another woman just a few months before me. We no longer communicate. He also has a new girlfriend/fiancé that may not know of his HIV status.

* Can/do people with HIV still have sex?
Many people with HIV feel a guilt or shame about sex after being diagnosed with the disease. For this reason, I know many who may choose not to have sex for months or years after getting it, until they are better able to accept and come to terms with the diagnosis. Some HIV+ people choose to seek out other HIV+ people because it may be easier and they do not have to worry about disclosure or other things as much. Many HIV+ people have relationships with people who do not have HIV. These couples can have safe, happy, healthy relationships and sex lives for years (or forever) without infecting one another.

* Do you feel like it is unfair that you got it?
No. I don’t blame anyone other than myself. I made the choice. Does it suck? Yes, of course. One of the first poems I wrote, entitled “Punishment” talks a bit about how I first thought that maybe this was my punishment for stereotyping and judging others’ behaviors.

* Why did your first 2 tests come back negative?
The initial tests that they do are actually testing for HIV antibodies, not the actual virus itself. Because it was so early in my infection, my body had not yet developed antibodies to the HIV. The next tests that were done were a different kind, ones that actually tested for the virus itself, and this is how they then knew that I was HIV+.

* Can you still pass HIV to someone else if your viral load is undetectable?
Yes, even though your viral load is undetectable, you still have the virus, and you can still pass it to others. Also, a viral load test measures the amount of virus in a blood sample. The amount of virus in your vaginal fluids or semen may hold a different amount of virus than your blood does.

* Can you have a baby without giving it HIV?
Yes, HIV+ women can have babies. If the woman is on medication, has an undetectable viral load, and the baby takes medication for the first 6 weeks after birth, there is less than a 2% chance of the baby having HIV.

* How would an HIV+ person get pregnant?
HIV+ people take many routes to getting pregnant. Some take the risk and do it the old fashioned way (unprotected sex). Others go with a medical route and use techniques such as in-vitro and sperm washing. Still others attempt home remedies, such as injecting the woman with semen using a turkey baster or a condom turned inside out.

* Can you drink/do drugs with your medication?
With my medication, Atripla, I am allowed to drink, but it is not recommended that I drink in excess. I have not gotten “drunk” since my diagnosis and starting on treatment. I have never done drugs, so I can’t answer that. Also, if a person drinks or does drugs in excess, it could lead to their HIV medication not working properly and/or them building up HIV drug resistance.

* Is your medicine expensive?
Yes, very. One month supply of my medication costs about $2,000.

* Do you regret joining/going into the Peace Corps?
No, I don’t regret joining the Peace Corps. I regret making a choice that ultimately made me lose my dream of completing the Peace Corps.

* Can you get HIV from drinking from someone’s water bottle?

* Can you get HIV from kissing someone on the cheek?
No, You can not get it from hugging, touching, or kissing. I could even spit on you, and you wouldn’t get it.

* Can you use a male condom and a female condom together?
No, you should not use both a male and female condom at the same time. When they rub together, it will be easier for them to rip or break.

* Are there some days when you feel worse/more sick than others?
No, medically, I am just as healthy as you are right now. My immune system is now at a normal level, and I have no current medical issues to worry about. If I stop taking my medicine or if it stops working, then I may be at risk of becoming more susceptible to developing illnesses.

* Do you have side effects from your medicine?
No. My medicine, Atripla, often gives people a drunk or dizzy feeling after taking it. However, for most people this side effect wears off after taking it for about a month. I no longer feel this side effect. However, for some people, like my roommate (who has been taking Atripla for 4 years), he still gets this drunk/dizzy feeling many nights.

* In addition to the one pill each night, do you have to take any other medicines?
No, I currently only need to take my one Atripla pill each day. In the first few months of my sickness, I had to take other antibiotics to prevent pneumonia and thrush/yeast infections, but I no longer require these at this time.

* Does the guy have to ejaculate in the girl’s mouth for HIV to be passed?
No, not necessarily. Pre-cum may also contain HIV, so even without ejaculation, there is some risk that HIV could be passed by pre-cum.

* If you have unprotected sex with someone with HIV, will you definitely get it?
No, you will not automatically get HIV if you have sex with an HIV+ person once. But you could. There is no way of knowing or predicting whether you will get it or not. You should never take the chance.

* What is a dental dam?
A dental dam is a barrier used for performing oral sex on a woman. You place it on a woman’s vagina, and then give her oral sex.

* What is/how do you use a female condom?
A female condom is an alternative to a male condom. It is inserted into the woman’s vagina. Female condoms may be used if the male does not/will not wear a condom. Some people may prefer it, some may not. Female condoms are not as effective as male condoms, and they can more easily slip or move around during sex.


  1. Hi, I'm one of the students from the health class you visited yesterday. I loved your presentation and to see how strong you were. It makes me curious about HIV and makes me want to go get a test done. I'm planning on that some time soon. Thank you for your inspiring words and strength to come and see our school<3

    1. How wonderful of you to thank Jessica! It is great to hear "from the horse's mouth" that these talks are making an impact.

    2. Well she really made an impact. I would have replied sooner but it wasn't allowing me to send a message for some reason. Many others wanted to say thank you but we're to shy or thought it wasn't the cool thing to do. So I speak for many others as well.

  2. Hi, I found your blog through a post by your sister. I have a question. How do you pay for your medication? Is it through health insurance? Are you working full time? I'm curious because $2,000 a month is my mortgage. How would one pay for it if they didn't work full time or have insurance? Thanks!

    1. Hi Lauren,
      Sorry it took me a few days to respond to your question. This actually seems to be a touchy and controversial issue for my readers, but here I go:
      Any conditions or injuries that a Peace Corps volunteer develops during their service overseas is covered by something called FECA (Federal Employee Compensation Act). This means that a claim is filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, Division of Federal Employees' Compensation. My claim was filed upon my Medical Separation from the Peace Corps, was accepted by the DOL, and they now cover my HIV related medical costs for the rest of my life.
      I also pay monthly for private health insurance (through the Peace Corps) to cover any other health issues non-related to my HIV condition.
      Other people with HIV may get assistance through a variety of means, including Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security/Disability, private insurances, or most commonly through "Ryan White" assistance programs.