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Scared to death
Jul 9, 1997

Dear Mr. Shernoff, About four weeks ago, I have had an encounter which I regret happened. I went to a massage parlor and I got a hand job from a massage girl. Ever since that incident, I have gotten tired, change in vision, a cough and maybe a respiratory infection, slower thinking and concentration. I have read many information regarding ways of contracting AIDS and I do not fit into any of these categories. I have been abstinent for four years. I have called the CDC AIDS hotline and Nevada AIDS hotline and they said I am not at risk and should not take any HIV test. Since that incident(about a month ago), I have taken two HIV tests and they both came up negative. I have sought counseling and they think I am nuts. I am terrified and scared to death that I cannot concentrate at work, withdraw from friends, and am not doing anything I have enjoyed in the past. I cannot wait three or six months to take another test. I feel like my vision is getting worst. I don't know if I am imagining things or not. I don't know what I will do if I have contracted HIV? I have thought about killing myself if that happens. Can you offer me some advice to help me through this personal crisis? Your input is greatly appreciated. Scared to death.

Response from Mr. Shernoff

Dear Scared:

Obviously you know that the level of your response is out of proportion to the actual risk of your having exposed yourself to HIV, but that is not any comfort to you as you are obviously suffering. I am distressed that the counselors you consulted expressed to you that "you were nuts." That response is completely inappropriate coming from any professional counselor, and only helped raise your anxiety higher. You certainly need some expert mental health counseling or psychotherapy from an individual who will be able to empathize with what you are going through. I would urge you to seek out counseling from an individual who is familiar with the condition known as "AIDS anxiety." One thing you can do to allay your fears in the meantime is to have a complete physical examination form a physician who is knowledgeable about HIV disease. He or she can do a series of blood tests that will show you that if indeed you are HIV negative your immune system is not compromised. Please do seek out psychotherapy as the kind of extreme response you are describing is most likely only a symptom of something else going on for you that is much deeper than a fear of being infected with HIV.

Good luck.



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