April 3, 2007
What meds are you on now?
How has that been working for you?
Very well. I haven't been having any problems with them. Ever since they changed Kaletra from a gel capsule to a tablet, it's even better not having to worry about refrigerating my meds. That's also a plus.
You said you had some problems with your meds and your health had been up and down. What happened?
There was one medication in particular that I remember made me so sick. It was called Viramune [nevirapine]. It broke my face out into something so horribly disgusting. I didn't even want to go out into the street because my face was broken out. My skin was peeling off my face. I don't even know how to describe it. It was so nasty looking, and I was so sick I had to lie in bed. I was vomiting all the time. I was staying with my grandmother at the time, and she and my little sister had to come up and help me keep things down. Every time I drank some Ensure [a complete protein drink] or noodles or anything to help me have some sustenance it would always come back up.
Since then you've switched medications and you feel better?
What's your CD4 count and your viral load?
How far is that from when you were first diagnosed? Do you remember?
My counts differed, but I remember the one that stuck out the most was when I went in and they told me that my CD4 count was 30 and my viral load was 750,0000. They gave me an AIDS diagnosis because my CD4 count was so low -- to the point that they didn't understand -- and my viral load was so extremely high.
That was when you were first diagnosed?
That was a couple of months after. The first time my CD4 count was 52. Then, something drastic happened. They got me on meds and it wasn't working; I dropped all the way down to 30.
Were you hospitalized at that point?
No, I was never hospitalized for anything related to HIV at all.
Now, how was your health care at that point? How did you choose your current doctor?
Well, my current doctor was chosen through a family practitioner. I was going to him at the time, and he referred me to the doctor I'm seeing now …. He's very good at what he does.
Is this the same person you've been seeing since you were first diagnosed?
Yes, it is.
Oh, that's great. Is your doctor African American as well?
No, he's not. He's actually Caucasian.
Do you feel like you have a good working relationship?
I have heard other people have different kinds of relationships with their doctors, but my [relationship with my] doctor is strictly a doctor-patient relationship. He smiles sometimes and we joke, but he really is about business. He knows my counts, makes sure I'm healthy and doing thing[s] to stay healthy. Our relationship is really a patient-doctor relationship.
Do you feel like he treats you as an equal partner in your health care?
He does -- he's always taking my input. Before, when I was taking other medications, he told me, "I want to cut back on this medicine, but not if you don't think that's OK. If you want to cut back you let me know. I don't know how this is going to work because this one might be resistant."
I said, "Well, I'm with you, because you know what's best. I'm not a doctor, so you tell me." So, he takes my input even though I don't understand all the medication options and what they can do for me. He takes my input anyway.
So, you feel like you have a trusting kind of relationship.
Yes, I do.
What do you do to keep healthy? Do you have a health regimen or anything else to keep healthy besides your meds?
Well, my mom is always waking me up at five in the morning to go to the gym. I really hate that, but I'm happy about it because it does keep me active. I take vitamins as well -- I take Centrum. I'm always trying to eat healthy, even though I slip up sometimes. I try to make healthy meals -- salads, or at least snack on celery or carrots during the day.
You spoke earlier about disclosing to your mom, and then having her tell your family. I'm wondering, now, how do you decide when to disclose to somebody?
Now that I'm on this tour it seems a lot easier to disclose. Before, the way I would do it is I would take some time and get to know that person, not for a whole two months or one month, but I'd give them a week or two. If everything's going well, I'd say, "Hey, look, I'm HIV positive." That two-week period gives them enough time to get to know me a little bit and for them to think about, "Well, she just told me she's HIV positive. Do I want to be with her or not?" I think I've taken that time to give them a chance to get to know me a little bit but also for them to take this and know this about me for themselves.
What kind of reactions have you got from disclosing to people? What was the best reaction you ever got?
The best reaction I got was from someone who, after I told them my whole entire story about how I did get HIV, the guy … was actually pissed off. He said, "That guy, he shouldn't have done that to you. I'm just mad because you seem like such a nice individual. Why would someone do that to you?" So that's the best reaction I've ever gotten.
The worst reaction I ever got after telling someone I had HIV was from someone who said, "All you HIV people, you need to be put on an island and blown up!"
Wow! How did you respond to that?
I couldn't respond because after they said that they just hung up on me.
How has your love life changed since you became positive?
Well, for me it hasn't changed too much. I'm usually in long-term relationships. The last relationship I just got out of was four years. I had disclosed to him early on in the relationship, and he was fine with it. I haven't had much dating because I'm usually in long-term relationships. I'll be out there again in the dating scene, and I'm just going to be honest and open.
Do you have any tips for people with HIV who are dating?
I would just say be yourself. Always be open and honest. Don't try to be fake, use a façade or put up a front. Be yourself, and if they can't accept you they're not the one for you.
Excellent. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
Just stay positive. Be aware. Be prepared. Get tested, and know your status.
Thank you so much, Teniecka.
Teniecka can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Want to find out what Teniecka's been up to? Check out Teniecka's March 2011 update interview.