My HIV Story: A Needle Stick, Pregnancy, and HIV
In the spring of 2017, I was working in a long-term care facility as a nurse. I worked the night shift at a small facility with one nurse and a nurse’s aide. One night, I was collecting a trough (syringe) on a new patient and experienced a needle stick. I didn’t panic. Although I protected myself daily as if anyone could have anything, I did long-term care and HIV is usually the last thing on your mind in a geriatric facility. I cleansed the area and bandaged it. Then I checked the patient’s information and septicemia was the worst finding. I called my director several times that night to report the incident but didn’t get an answer, so I continued my night. Two hours after my shift, my director returned the call. I was asked how I felt and told to monitor for any signs or symptoms of infection. That was it. Nothing more was thought about it.
About 3 months later, I recall being far more tired than usual. I was sleeping all day after work, falling asleep in my car after work, and in the garage when I made it home. I had picked up some extra shifts so I just attributed it to that.
When my days off came up, I declined extra shifts and went out of town to visit my best friend. We went shopping and caught up on things after having spent a year apart. While we were at the mall, I felt faint and developed a migraine headache. At her request, we stopped at a grocery store. She then ran in and returned shortly. As we sat down at her home, she handed me a pregnancy test. I laughed and said, “What do I need that for?” She reminded me that she was my best friend and that she knew me better than I knew myself.
I was indeed pregnant. We sat in disbelief as I had just been to my gynecologist the previous month to schedule tubal ligation because my birth control had been wreaking havoc on my body. I already had two children, the youngest being nine years old. I called my boyfriend and he was so excited that he wanted to meet up immediately. We were both about an hour from my house so I drove wide-eyed and in complete silence. I scheduled the OB/GYN appointment the next day.
We waited in suspense for the first visit to see the baby. Everything went well on the first visit and shock was replaced with happiness after hearing that first heartbeat. A week and a half later, I received a phone call to move up my second appointment. Little did I know, that appointment would change my life forever.
On August 18th, 2017, the doctor sat down on his stool as I sat on the exam table. He put his hand on my knee and told me that I had HIV. I thought he was going to tell me that something was wrong with the baby and honestly, I was more relieved that it was me and not the baby. Nonetheless, I was shocked yet again. Then I was angry, scared, sad, and everything else at once. I said test me again, this can’t be right. I went home, sat on the bathroom floor, and texted my boyfriend. He didn’t say anything back that entire day.
The next day he came to my house to meet with the field technician from the CDC. I took my rapid test. Positive. My boyfriend took his test. Negative. The look in his eyes was one I will never forget. He looked at me as if all the trust he had in me for the last two years was gone. We talked and he decided to help me through the pregnancy. Except, everything had changed and he was very distant. I really felt alone for the most part.
Now, the clock started ticking. I had two OB/GYNs, an infectious disease doctor, and a nurse practitioner working with me to deliver this child safely. I was deathly afraid, to say the least. No doctor or hospital in my area was prepared to deliver a baby from an HIV-positive mother. The closest hospital was 150 miles away. I started ART’s immediately. My pregnancies had all previously been horrible due to hyperemesis gravidarum. This pregnancy was no different. Not only did I feel like I was dying during my entire pregnancy, but I was also truly afraid I was going to die.
One evening at 8 1/2 months pregnant, I began vomiting non-stop and doubling over in pain. I went to the hospital four times that evening and they kept sending me home with anti-emesis medication which I was already taking. We only have two hospitals, but only one was even remotely set up to possibly deliver my baby. That hospital was not helping me at all, so I panicked and went to the other hospital because I feared for the life of my child and my own. No progress on my condition was being made. My OB/GYN came over and released me from his care and told the hospital to send me to the closest facility that could deliver a positive mother.
It was the longest ride of my life. I rode in the ambulance strapped to the hospital gurney and, at one point, I remember hitting a pothole so hard that my body lifted completely into the air and slammed back down onto the gurney. When I reached the hospital, they immediately put me into a room and I changed into my gown. The phlebotomist came in and drew a blood sample for the laboratory. The result came back that I had pancreatitis. I had been at the hospital no longer than 15 minutes and, though I had never experienced it before, I was sure that my water broke as I was talking to the nurse.
The other OB/GYN that I had been working with was called and came over immediately. Within an hour, he had delivered my baby girl. I saw her briefly and the nurses whisked her away.
Shortly afterward, I went to visit the baby in the NICU. I spoke with the pediatrician and by the grace of GOD her first tests were negative for HIV. I cried so hard that night.
Two weeks later, they sent me home empty-handed as the baby remained in the NICU. A month later, my baby came home and I continued her liquid AZTs for another six weeks. At her eighth week visit, I made that 150-mile drive and the next week her report was again negative for HIV antibodies. We will return again in three days from the date of this essay when she is four months old and again when she is eighteen months old.
At seven weeks, her father left. He could not handle the stigma that follows the disease. This is all new to me and now I am alone raising a child while I’m dealing with a mountain.
It seems that you never hear so many TV commercials and conversations about HIV until you have it yourself. You see posts on Facebook and rude condemning comments about HIV. It seems it’s repeatedly a topic. The conversations stand out to you like never before and you wonder to yourself if you have ever been so careless and crass in your own thinking about the disease.
HIV has truly changed my life. I feel as if I need to do everything possible now to secure my children’s future because my own future now seems unsure. I want to live my best life while I am here. I cherish every single moment with my children like it’s the first time I’ve laid eyes on them. Their jokes are funnier, I hug them tighter, and I miss them more when they are away even for a minute. I now spend more time with my parents than I ever have and I do everything with a purpose.
I wish people without HIV knew how sensitive people with it feel. It’s not just any disease. A lot of people don’t feel bad for you at all because of the way that it is mostly contracted. They either view you as a drug user, homosexual if you are a male, or sexually promiscuous. That isn’t always the case at all. I wish they knew that the disease has no face and has no preference. People with HIV deserve no less love than anyone else. I wish they knew how scary it is not to be able to afford your medication and wonder how long you have to live. I wish people knew how you could be having fun, laughing, and all of a sudden the words “I have HIV” randomly cross your mind and remind you of your disease. I wish people without the disease knew how much support those living with it really need. Most of all, I wish they would educate themselves about HIV.