By Rae Lewis-Thornton
December 27, 2011
This piece originally appeared in Rae's blog, Diva Living With AIDS.
Terror came across my face as I looked down and saw the warm blood oozing from the insertion area of my picc line. I have never seen a picc line really bleed other than the first day it is placed in my arm and never that much blood.
I jumped from the bed, holding my arm to catch the blood, but as I grabbed the phone, blood made its way to the floor, drop, drop, followed my every move. I heard my nurse's voice come over the phone, "Kee Kee, this is Rae Lewis-Thornton. Blood is coming out of my picc line. He didn't pause, "Go to the ER right now!" And that was the end of the conversation.
I grabbed the cloth napkin from the counter and wrapped my arm as I made my way back to the bedroom to change clothes. Blood was seeping through the bright yellow napkin and I tried to keep calm as best as I could, but I was scared.
I grabbed my coat and made my way to the ER. I could feel the warm blooding running down my arm into the lining of my mink coat. "This is crazy I mumbled," to myself. I pulled my arm out of the one side of the coat and instantly I was a hot freaking mess walking down the street. One arm in my mink coat, the other side hanging with a bright yellow napkin saturated in blood tied around my arm with blood running down my arm.
This wasn't the kind of scene you saw often in my neighborhood and I wanted no reason to not be picked up by a taxi, so I swung the other end of my coat back over my bloody arm.
I explained to the taxi cab driver I needed to get to the hospital ASAP. He took the outer Lake Shore drive to avoid Christmas shoppers and in a matter of four minutes I was walking into ER. I went to the counter and I knew I needed to be calm. I swung my coat from around my shoulder so that the nurse could see. "My picc line is bleeding like crazy," I said. As my blood began to drip on the floor, I added, "I also have HIV."
Blood was dripping on the counter as the nurse looked up and looked back down to the key board rather calm and unbothered by my freaking mess. I spotted a big pad behind him and I asked the security guard could I have it. He said, "The nurse has to give it to you." Huh? "WHAT THE HELL!" I thought. "I'm bleeding all over the place and you cannot give me a pad?"
Until that moment I had been so calm. I said to him,"I have HIV and I really don't want my blood all over the place." And at that moment I resented having to give this information in the lobby of the hospital ER to the security guard no less. I resented the security guard and the freaking nurse who thought my bloody ass arm was no big deal. But mostly, I resented HIV. How dare it embarrass me, right now at this time and place.
I reached to the side of me and grabbed a ton of Kleenex and pressed them against my bleeding arm and after I did that the nurse, handed me the pad to press against my arm.
When I was sent to the next station to sign the hospital papers my hands were so bloody I didn't even want to take her pen. Yes, I know you CANNOT transmit HIV in that way, but I tend to be protective of my blood and the people who come into contact with it for any reason. So I squirted some hand sanitizer in my hand and wiped the blood off before grabbing her pen.
After that they rushed me right along. Of course I repeated it two more times before I was taken to the back. Once to the EKG nurse as she connected be to the machine. My chest was hurting like hell, so they wanted to make sure my heart was OK. As she connected me and blood dripped into the pad, I explained to her, "I have HIV, so be careful of my blood."
I hated every moment of it. EVERY single moment of it! Having to say I have HIV in the half open area. Crazy right?! Right! Here I am, one of the must public people on the planet with my HIV status still caught up in the shame of it all. My mind racing, when I should be focused on my health; Why the hell is blood coming out of my arm like someone cut me open? Instead thinking, "What do these people think of me?"
There is no other illness on this planet in modern times that carries this kind of shame and stigma. The weight of it all is more than a notion; more than anyone should have to deal with.
Yet I know I have to fight though the shame, if only for the benefit of my health. I cannot lie, give half truths or misleading information because my health is on the front line. They need to know everything. This is especially true when you have an undiagnosed health issue. So I press forward. Do what I must for my sake.
Finally, the triage nurse calmed my nerves; she taped my arm and it both slowed the bleeding and contained the blood. Once in the back, another type of fear comes over me, one for my life.
In an instant the shame that I felt seemed silly, compared to a possible blot clot. The first round of tests said that I had a blood clot, and they ordered me a bed. I went straight to Twitter and asked for prayers. Crazy, I could tell over 5,000 people exactly what the doctors were saying, but I was nervous about telling a few about my HIV status. Maybe it's that my Twitter followers already know and there are no judgements. OR maybe, I was talking about blood clots and not HIV/AIDS per se, or maybe both.
Whatever the case, I did and people started praying and encouraging me to hang in there. I understand at my core that prayer and kind words can go a long way. Seven hours later and with additional tests they sent me home. No blood clot after all. They never were able to explain why I started bleeding. The speculation was that there could have been some trauma to the area when the line was originally placed. Maybe a blood vessel was somehow damaged.
That seems crazy to me, since I started bleeding two days after the line was placed. Any who, I left the hospital beat up, but at least I was going home and it seemed that I was out of danger. In the end I know each time I say that I have HIV, it helps to break the shackles and challenges the shame that has tainted the ability for an infected person to get proper health care and to live with dignity.
Rae Lewis-Thornton Speaks
Rae Lewis-Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist who rose to national acclaim when she told her story of living with AIDS in a cover story for Essence Magazine. She has lived with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19. Rae travels the country speaking and challenging stereotypes and myths about HIV/AIDS. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Church History. Rae has been featured on Nightline, Dateline NBC, BET and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in countless magazines and newspapers, including Emerge, Glamour, O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Jet, Ebony, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She earned the coveted Emmy Award for a first-person series on living With AIDS for Chicago's CBS News.
Rae is an active user of social media -- read "Long-Term HIV Survivor Discovers the Power of Twitter," an article on TheBody.com about Rae's social media activities.
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