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.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Let Me Rephrase My Doctor Visit

After a conversation with my mom, I realized that my previous posting about my doctor's visit may have come out more negatively than I intended. So, I want to try to clear some things up... because if my mom misunderstood what I was trying to say, then I know some other people probably did too...

The doctor was super duper extremely positive and optimistic about the outlook for me and a partner in a serodiscordant relationship. To give the clearest picture of what was discussed, here is an outline of some of the ideas she presented:
  • With continued medication and Undetectable Viral Load, I have the same life expectancy as any other normal person. There is no reason to expect my Viral Load or health to change or diminish over time as long as I continue to take my meds regularly. As I age, I will have no more/greater health concerns than the average person. The only difference between me and any person sitting next to me is that I take a pill each night.
  • HIV is a very hard virus to catch- it is not as contagious or easily transmitted as other viruses (Hepatitis, etc.). Even with direct blood to blood contact, the percentages of transmission are very low.
  • With an Undetectable Viral Load it would be very difficult for me to pass it on. I am not really all that contagious since I have very little HIV in me to begin with.
  • Female to Male transmission is much less likely than Male to Female transmission. Semen contains a much higher viral load than vaginal fluids. Vaginal fluids typically contain very low amounts of HIV.
  • It would be highly unlikely to pass it through activities such as digital or oral sex on either partner. Take more caution if fingers, genitals, or mouth has open cuts or sores.
  • If we were to want to have babies, we could either try the low-risk traditional way, or no-risk alternative methods (turkey baster, inside out condom, etc.). Either way, it should not be a big deal. Many couples have sex with condoms normally, but risk having sex without condoms just when they are trying to get pregnant. PrEP could be helpful during this time.
  • If I get pregnant, I should stay on my medications throughout the pregnancy and all should be fine. There is a less than 1-2% risk of the baby contracting it. A natural birth or a C-Section are both equally acceptable and safe delivery options.
  • As far as a possible recommendation for him to take PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) as a method of prevention, she does not feel it would be necessary. With the combination of condom use and my Undetectable Viral Load, she again repeated that I am not really very contagious and this really isn't very risky.
So, that was the information we got, with lots of smiles and positive attitude all throughout. The information was totally optimistic, and I was happy to hear it (and as I later found out, so was my guy).

However, even though all of these were great general ideas presented... what we actually wanted (and did not receive) was the research and exact numbers behind all of these general ideas/statements/opinions. I know that for some of our questions, an actual specific number may not exist. But I also know that there are numbers for some of the other questions, and this doctor just wasn't as up on her information as she could have been.

Long story short... I was happy for the information the doctor provided. I don't doubt the validity of most of it. But, we were hoping for additional factual and statistical evidence to help settle our fears/concerns.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Good News & Bad News & My New Plan

We will start with the good news...

I had a doctor's appointment on Friday and got back my latest lab results. Viral Load remains Undetectable, my CD4 count is 821, and CD4% is 37%. I am very happy with these results :-)

My guy also came to the appointment with me. We had some questions that we wanted to ask the doctor, so that we could make sure we were the most educated as possible about risks, safety, etc.

Unfortunately neither of us was totally satisfied with the doctor's responses. She was extremely optimistic and positive about how very small the risks were, and overall seemed to have the opinion that this should not really be a big deal for us. She was very confident in my stable health, medication, and lab results, and feels it would be highly unlikely for me to transmit to someone else. However, in all of her talking, she really was not able to present the hard statistics, numbers, percentages, research that we were both hoping she would be able to give us (she either didn't have them or she was trying to pull vague numbers from memory). In short, she just really didn't sound like the most educated and up to date HIV doctor- I felt like we were more up to date on current research studies than she was.

So, here comes the bad news...

I am no longer dating my guy. He called on Saturday morning to end it. He gave me two reasons:
(1) not totally comfortable with the HIV
(2) my seeming loss of self-confidence the past couple weeks (and he found my confidence in the beginning to be one of my most attractive features- therefore when I have not been so confident, it has not been so attractive)

I am of course very disappointed in this turn out. With regards to HIV, I have felt so completely shocked, surprised, amazed, and just blessed that he accepted it and me from the moment he first found out. He has been so open to it the whole time. It is really hard now to know that, after further deep consideration and time, he is no longer so comfortable with it. It is hard to know that the doctor gave him such optimistic and positive responses, but in the end it was not convincing enough. It is hard to accept that this is probably not the last time I am going to have to go through this situation and rejection. I am not angry or upset at him for this. I understand how hard and scary it must be. It just sucks. I was hoping and praying for more.

As for the loss of confidence in myself recently, I admit to being uncomfortable and less confident the past 1.5 weeks. You see, we have been having a little commitment issue/discussion lately. Basically, we have been dating for a little over 2 months, and I'm tired of "dating", I'm ready for it to be a "relationship". And he was not ready for that. We discussed it in depth and both expressed our feelings on it, but the conversation still kind of ended in an "agree to disagree" kind of way. However, I did try to explain to him that it was probably going to be difficult for me to continue on as is without pulling away a bit or starting to put walls up, because I feel like I'm putting myself into it and making myself more vulnerable than he is. Anyways, we attempted to just keep on going as normal, but obviously that didn't happen. Obviously, I didn't feel as confident in what we had, and as a result started to lose some confidence in myself. I really don't feel like it should be that surprising... when a girl really likes a guy, but he doesn't want to commit to a relationship with her... I think many women would naturally either lose confidence or lose interest or a combination of both.

Well, so that's that. I'm back to ground zero.

Ironically, I got a text Saturday evening from my HIV+ friend in the area, and he needed to talk to someone. He had just disclosed to a girl and she did not take it well. This is his 3rd straight disclosure that has not turned out well. Please, as you think of me in my situation and pray for me, please pray for him as well. This is a hard life we are living.

As I was on a 2 hour drive this morning, I was reflecting on my situation... and I came up with a plan. It may be kind of a crazy one, but I am going to risk it anyways. Because, as I thought about it and planned it out in my head, I felt my confidence coming back. I've decided that I am tired of still hiding from select groups of people (i.e. my kickball team, dating world, school). Why put myself under the stress of hiding, keeping secrets, and obsessing over disclosures? So, here is my plan:

(1) As of today, I am accepting friend requests from kickball players and whatever they happen to find on my Facebook linking to this blog is okay with me.If they don't want to be my friend after finding out, oh well.
(2) I am re-writing my profile on the regular dating site and I am going to include my HIV status. I have seen gay men do this, but have never seen a straight person openly do this. It may be a huge risk, but I'm going to go for it. Maybe I'll get 0 messages, or maybe I will get the RIGHT ONE.
(3) I am not going to announce myself to the school. However, I am going to tell my one co-worker who is also a kickball player, and therefore I knowingly open myself up to the risk of gossip being spread to others at the school. If the school or someone else doesn't like it, then we will just have to see what happens.

Thank you ***** for giving me my power (confidence) back!