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What to say to colleagues when absent for monthly medication?
Dec 4, 2003

Greetings from Istanbul,

Sorry for my English, since this is the first time I am writing a medical situation in a foreign language. I am a primary HIV+ infection patient since April'03 and on Kaletra+Combivir medication since then. Thanks to the combination therapy, my viral load went below 50 copies in milliliters in just 7 months. Fortunately, I receive my medication free of charge, through the social insurance organization (SIO) hospital, just like every other employed person suffering from any other disease in Turkey. Normally, people with low income, living in rural areas or suburbs prefer the SIO services, instead of people living in urban areas with relatively higher levels of income, since the whole process is so time consuming. I work in an advertising agency and my monthly income is twice the cost of my medication so I have to prefer going to SIO. Each month, I go to the local SIO hospitals HIV clinic (open only on Tuesdays and Thursdays), spend at least half a day to get my prescription written, and spend some more time at the SIO pharmacy, standing in the line, together with other people waiting to get our prescribed drugs. Since from time to time, either one or both of Kaletra or Combivir may be absent in the SIO pharmacy; I may then go and look ways to obtain my medication through private pharmacies, which have contracts with the SIO pharmacy. Big red tape!!!

For the past 7 months, I was absent from work, for about a day, each time I went to the hospital. This is a big problem. Moreover, I have to ask for a visit paper for SIO from our finance department each time I go there, a proof to the hospital that Im currently an employee. Fortunately, the friends in the finance department do not ask for the reason, but sometimes they ask are you getting better? without having a clue about my illness. The real problem is with my colleagues. Turkey is of a collectivist culture, instead of an individualist one, so people like to know the problems of their friends, incase they may be of any help. Giving nothing! as an answer to a colleague when they ask, hey, whats wrong? Where have you been? Is it serious? is not satisfactory for them at all, and it is definitely the indicator of something suspicious going on.

I dont want to tell them anything about my infection, but I feel like I need to find a fake excuse that will stop them thinking about my absence, maybe a chronic but less suspicious illness? Can you tell me how are these confidentiality issues of the workplace handled in the States?

Thanks for the time to read all this...


Response from Ms. Breuer

What an excellent question! I can tell you how we advise people to respond to colleagues' questions in the US, and I hope that somewhere in my response you will find something helpful.

First, congratulations! You are doing so well on your medication. You have to work hard to obtain your medications, and I salute you for your faithfulness to the task of obtaining them.

Here are some answers that people use here: 1. I'm dealing with a personal issue. 2. Thanks for your concern. I'm doing better. 3. I'm uncomfortable talking about private matters at work. 4. There are many topics I will gladly discuss with you. This is not one of them. Thank you for understanding. 5. This is a family matter. I know you understand. 6. I appreciate your concern. What I need most is respect for my privacy. 7. I don't like to talk about stuff I can't pronounce. 8. I have a chronic illness that I'm managing quite well. Thanks. How are you?

I hope you can find something there that you can use. I wish you well, and hope you will continue to do so well with your medications.

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