As a citizen of this earth, it’s fairly likely at some point I’ll need to see some kind of healthcare professional. we’re brought up to think that these caring professionals are non-judgemental and free of discrimination. But when you’re HIV-positive, it’s amazing how sometimes this ethos can go down the toilet and especially someone newly diagnosed, perhaps be quiet upsetting.
Just this morning, I decided to book a dentist appointment, I’ve not been for two years at least, my bad. It’s not an NHS dentist but a fairly over-expensive one in Birmingham city centre. “You know you have to have the last appointment”, the receptionist says. I groan inside and tell her that I don’t want the 8pm appointment I want the 1pm appointment. “OK, I’ll see what I can do”.
I was reminded of a discussion I had with both the dentist and hygienist last time I sat in their respective chairs. “It’s about hygiene, we have to bleach all of the equipment after we’ve used it on you and since that takes time, we ask you to have the last appointment to stop everyone else waiting, I’m sure you’ll understand”. I eventually got the appointment I was after, but it shouldn’t be that difficult.
Frustrated I say “Does that mean that the equipment is less clean for other patients?”, the hygienist’s face turns a deep chartreuse, clearly I’ve hit a nerve (guffaw), or maybe she just realised that she’d just discriminated against me. After further debate
My first such experience was when I moved to London, at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital. Not knowing what to expect the doctor asked the date of my diagnosis. I couldn’t remember. “Oh really? That’s strange, I would have thought you’d remember the day your life changed forever”. Lets just say she regretted that comment.
Yet another example is the time, shortly after I’d started my medication, I had a polyp (a small growth) in my nostril meaning my breathing when my mouth was closed was restricted. I went to a private surgeon who had a look. He asked about my medical history and so came the confession. “Oh I see” he said, “is the redness up there because of snorting drugs?”. I asked what that had to do with it, as it happened it was because I’d had my septum pierced. He explained that in his experience people who had such issues and that level of redness became positive through drug use and he though that had caused said redness.
“The problem is, operating up there is a very bloody business, and for the level of benefit to you, I don’t think it’s worth risking the theatre team”. Struck dumb, I left the room, had this man just suggested that I’d infect a whole room full of people, just because I wanted a bit of my body fixed? Have they never encountered or operated on a HIV-positive person before?
Surely there are precautions to be taken (there are) during such a situation? A very long complaint letter later, I’d gotten no-where, he didn’t get it, apparently I was being sensitive, should I not be?
The third and most recent unfortunate experience of mine some of which you will already have read about. When admitted to hospital with serious food poisoning, semi-conscious with severe dehydration, I awake in the resusitation room of the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch to hear my presentation being reeled off by the A&E consultant. “He’s HIV Positive” said the paramedic somewhere in amongst a litany of other issues.
The A&E team go quiet and look at each other shocked, reaching for the latex gloves box, I hear a loud sigh and they continue patching me up. Were they annoyed the paramedic didn’t mention it first? Were they afraid they’d catch HIV from me? Are their practices normally not safe enough to protect from HIV infection? What if they hadn’t know, would they have sighed then?
It seems that some and I emphasise, some, healthcare professionals need to have a think about the way they interact with and react to patients who are HIV-positive. We rely on these people to make us feel better, not like sewer rats with bubonic plague. Gone should be the days when positive people get the short end of the stick, because of ignorance.