My name is Paulina. I migrated to the United States from Latin America in the early 1980s and I met my husband during that time. We were married for 11 years. Before my husband was hospitalized, he had been sick for a while. When he got real sick I took him to the doctors and they gave my husband medicine and asked him to come back within three days. Well, we went back in three days and he was not getting any better. The doctor informed us that my husband needed to go to the hospital, and sent him to the LA County General Hospital. I was there all day and at midnight they told me that he would have to stay. I asked the nurses what was wrong with my husband and they wouldn't tell me; they kept saying that they didn't have the authority to give me that information. I was really upset! I needed to know what was going on. My husband was so sick, he couldn't even walk.
Shortly thereafter, I saw the doctors and I ran to them and demanded to know what was wrong with my husband. The doctor looked at me and was quiet for a moment. He finally said, that my husband had AIDS SIDA! I was so shocked! I couldn't even respond or talk! I ran to my husband's bedside crying and I said to him you ingrato! What did you do! I was crying a lot. I later said I forgave him! Right after that moment, the social worker came in to talk to us and she advised me to take the HIV test. My sister arrived at the hospital later that day and she saw me crying and very sad. I told her that Mauricio had AIDS! I just kept crying and she hugged me. She gave me a lot of support and love. She also told me that I should go to the doctors to get checked and that she would accompany me.
In February 1997, I went to La Clinica de Las Americas to get tested. My husband was still in the hospital and very ill. My sister went with me to pick up my HIV results from the clinic. My husband had already died one week before I got my results! When I was told that I was HIV positive, I was listening but my mind was somewhere else! The counselor was very supportive and helpful but it didn't sink in. I wasn't even thinking about myself. All I could think about was the death of my husband. I was in his office for at least 2 hours but it felt like it was ten minutes. I felt numb. He referred me to 5P21. I came out of his office and I told my sister. She just hugged me. She has always been there for me and has me in her best interest.
I was so depressed that I didn't leave my home for 4 months, and I even quit my job! My daughter and her husband were sharing a home with me and I couldn't even tell them that my husband died of SIDA, and that I was HIV positive. I told everyone that he had died of cancer.
The hospital kept calling me for my appointments, and my daughter kept asking me why I was going to the doctors so often. I told her I was going for a mammogram, for my headaches and female problems. I gave her a lot of excuses and reasons, but I couldn't tell her the truth.
As I said, I was very depressed and would hardly go out of the house. My daughter kept telling me "mama, you have to go out!" I also felt like I was drowning in my thoughts. I just kept thinking about my situation, and I felt like I was going to die soon just like my husband.
Around June 1997, I decided that I was going to tell my daughter. I just wasn't feeling good about her not knowing and I thought, what if I die and she doesn't even know what I have! I finally told her. I told her that Mauricio had died of AIDS and that I had HIV. She said that she had already known due to the information that was in the hospital statements. I then told my daughter that if she wanted me to move that I would, so that I woudn't infect her and her husband with the HIV virus. At that time, I didn't have a lot of information about how the virus was passed. She then hugged me and told me that she didn't want me to move and that I wouldn't infect her. She said that my disease is like diabetes and that I should just continue to take care of myself and take my medication.
I have a son who I just told a year ago. For a long time I hid from him when taking my medication. I would just go to the bathroom and shut the door and secretly take my pills. It just got to a point that I couldn't handle hiding it from him anymore. When I told him, he said not to worry, that he loved me, and that someday we all are going to die of something. He said that I should just continue to take care of myself, and then gave me a big hug. I feel so much better now that my family knows. Having the support and love of my children and my sister help me a lot.
I haven't told my family back in my homeland. Both my parents are deceased. I have an older brother and my oldest son is there too. I feel like it's not time to tell them because I don't want them to worry. I have a lot friends that don't know either. I don't feel at this time I need to tell them. Although, when the subject of HIV comes up, I inform them and tell them to take care and protect themselves.
For a while now, I've been going to support groups which I feel have helped me a lot. It feels good to know that there are other people like me. I feel like they have helped me to become more informed and educated about HIV and my health. I can share my thoughts and feelings and they understand. I feel that we help each other a lot. It feels like a family. I also began to talk more about my experience to help other people. I realized that by talking to others I could help them. It helps me, too, because I feel good and I'm not alone. When I see other people living with HIV and AIDS that have been living for a long time and taking care of themselves, I feel it makes me strong and gives me hope for the future.
This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Breaking the Silence... (Rompiendo El Silencio).