HIV: The Care Service Provider Disclosure Dilemma – It’s Real!
My recent visit to the dentist brought on a flashback to around 2006 (roughly two years after my HIV diagnosis) when I started visiting various care service providers other than my doctor.
By Cindy Pivacic.
The dilemma of who and when to disclose on a visit to a health or other service provider that comes into close contact with your body or body fluids in the early part of my diagnosis was frightening, embarrassing and created anxiety before and during my visit, as I had barely come to a personal acceptance of my HIV status.
If you think that it is easy to disclose, think again. As my health deteriorated and I acquired other chronic conditions, it became more difficult because it went through my mind that I was being further judged by them thinking, HIV positive, and now she has cancer, TB meningitis, and strokes etc., so you see where I’m going with this.
In the following years, if you are musing that there couldn’t have been that many, you are wrong. Remember, I did not go public with my HIV status until 2011.
To give you an idea of some of the healthcare and other service providers that created a dilemma I regularly found myself in, as follows:
- Phlebotomists who took my blood during my chemotherapy treatment. Besides disclosing, I sadly (and fortunately) had to educate them on my status. Many did not wear gloves, and one even cut the tip of her glove off to feel for a vein. Needless to say, my reprimanding voice was heard often in those early days.
2. Hospital staff, yes, nurses and cleaners alike. On another occasion, an IV was placed in my arm at one of the hospitals where the nurse thought she had missed the vein. She proceeded to remove the needle and realised she had found my vein. My blood sprayed everywhere and pooled on the floor. The mess only got cleaned hours later once I voiced my concern.
3. My tattoo artist was another service provider. I recall him double gloving on hearing my status. I did and still do ask service providers if they are ok with my HIV status. Remember, in those early days, we had no idea about U=U – Undetectable + Untransmittable. I became undetectable soon after commencing my ARV treatment and after my chemotherapy in 2009. We still weren’t aware of the U=U position. At this point, I did have regular blood tests and have been <40, which is fantastic! I update my tattoo annually and have shared knowledge with him regularly. At one point, my tattoo artist had a needlestick scare (not from me) and had the sense to call me for information on what to do and where to go.
- Nail Technician
FYI, I was so paranoid at one point that I avoided shaking hands, hugging, and even air-kissing as I was terrified that someone, for whatever reason, was ever diagnosed HIV positive, that I would be held responsible. I continued this practice until I went public with my status, and we became aware of U=U.
I can categorically say that upon disclosing my HIV status, the relief was enormous, and my anxiety disappeared overnight.
By deciding to take the bold step of providing people with the opportunity to engage with me or not placed the ball firmly in their court and transferred the onus from me to them! 😉
There is one message you can take from this post. The sooner you disclose, the better for your psyche. Legally you are not required to disclose your status, except in exceptional circumstances. There are laws regarding disclosure in South Africa which I will address in an upcoming article.
A chronic condition can affect anyone. How you manage it is what makes the difference.
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Disclaimer: The information in this article is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure, and is not a substitute for professional consultation with a health professional.
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