My Sixteenth Street Story | John 3

Hope, support and care after being diagnosed with HIV

[Name is changed for privacy purposes]

MariCarmen Saavedra-Retzlaff, HIV Linkage to Care Specialist, Sixteenth Street

“I met Rachel (HIV Nurse Case Manager, Sixteenth Street) and MariCarmen (HIV Linkage to Care Specialist, Sixteenth Street) at the hospital. They came to see me about a month after I was told I had HIV. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here right now.

After six months of having terrible headaches, my body couldn’t handle it anymore and went into a coma. I found myself in the hospital not knowing what happened or where I was. When I woke, I was told I had emergency brain surgery and I would need a second surgery. I was also told I had HIV.

The news was given to me in a cold way. There was little compassion and it left me depressed, traumatized and scared. I was afraid of having physical signs – I thought it was better to die. I spent a month in the hospital that way.

Then MariCarmen and Rachel came to visit me. They sat with me and explained everything that was happening to me and my body with HIV. They helped me understand what it was and what we can do it about it. MariCarmen and Rachel told me about the doctors and support there is for me at Sixteenth Street and how new medications allow us to live long, normal lives now. They gave me hope.

I have been at the clinic since then, August 2nd. I never would have made it to this clinic without their visit, I was too ashamed. But now I have a doctor, Dr. Hernandez, a therapist, Melissa and the continued help and support of Rachel and MariCarmen. Every time I see Dr. Hernandez, I see Rachel or MariCarmen afterwards. They call me to see if I’m ok and ask how I’m feeling. And I call them when I am afraid or need help. Rachel also orders my medication for me, so all I have to do is pick it up from her.

When I first started seeing them I was still depressed, afraid and ashamed. I spent all my time at home. I was terrified people would know what I had and say something to me. I wouldn’t see family or friends. When they came, I turned them away.

Rachel, MariCarmen, Melissa and Dr. Hernandez helped me break that. Melissa especially helped me with my depression, and Rachel encouraged me to get out, see friends and return to my routine. Rachel told me I was still me and can live how I like to live. And I eventually did – now I am working again and seeing my friends. I feel more in control. I have more confidence. I take my medication every day and I never miss. I have the routine down. I feel good – I even have a new goal to lose weight!

My advice to people that find out they have HIV is simple. Ask for help and don’t miss your medications. Find people that can help you with all the things you need to do and all the things you are feeling. Without help and support, it is almost impossible not to be lost. The most difficult part is getting the news and not understanding what is happening or all the help that exists. It is traumatizing. But there is help and you can make it work. It is our duty to take advantage of that help and do what we were meant to do – live and work this earth.”

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