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HIV/AIDS Resource Center for African Americans
Kai Chandler Lois Crenshaw Gary Paul Wright Fortunata Kasege Keith Green Lois Bates Greg Braxton Vanessa Austin Bernard Jackson

Lois Crenshaw

March 24, 2009

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No one had taken him to court?

No.

He knew he was HIV positive, I guess.

Yes -- he had to know. He's gone now. I wouldn't even tell my children exactly what happened when I found out that I had the virus. All my children were grown.

When you say he's gone now, does that mean he died?

Yes.

When did you find that out?

I found out when I went back to visit my sisters in the Bahamas. Everybody was talking about who died, who did this and who did that. When they did that I let them know that this one was the one that had raped me.

How long ago was it after the rape that you found out that he had died?

About three months.

I was hurt because this man had taken something from me that I had been trying to hold on to. I was really hurt. I didn't want to go back and be in that environment.

When you say that he took something away from you, what are you referring to?

Twenty years of not having sex.

You had been abstinent for 20 years?

Yes, I had.

It sounds like this was a pretty traumatic experience.

Yes, it was.

Did you not go back to the Bahamas for a long time after that?

No, I didn't go back for a long time. I told my sisters, my stepmother and my brother to take what they wanted of mine and throw the rest away. They closed up my apartment and the restaurant.

How did you find out you were HIV positive? What was that like? When I asked you, you said you were waiting for the test results.

This person from the Board of Health kept calling, saying that she knew that I was here from the Bahamas and that she was trying to get in touch with me. She said she was a friend of mine. Finally I stopped and called her.

You didn't know who she was?

No, I didn't know.

She was just saying she was a friend on the phone messages to keep it confidential.

Yes. I met her. We had a meeting in the park. She came up and I told her, "I don't know you." She said, "I had to say it like that. I'm from the Board of Health, and you have been diagnosed with the virus, the HIV virus.

I said "No, no, no, you have to take that test again." So I went back to the clinic -- Southside Clinic. The test was taken again, and the doctor confirmed that it was the virus.

What were your feelings when you found out?

"I'm going to die!" I used to drink. I never did street drugs, but I smoked cigarettes. I know that's why my son lived so long. He never drank or did drugs. I wasn't drinking; I had stopped drinking.

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I just started trying to give things away. I called all of my kids together and my grandchildren, and I told them all that I had the virus.

How many people were at this meeting?

I had all eight of my children.

Your son came from Chicago?

Yes.

How many grandchildren did you have at the time?

At that time I think I had 24.

How many do you have now?

[laughs] Thirty-nine, and I have 12 great-grandchildren!

Wow. Is it hard to have a meeting?

Not really. When I say a "family meeting," we know automatically something is wrong somewhere.

I asked one of my granddaughters, "Do you know why Grammy's in bed when you come?"

She said, "Oh yes."

I said, "Well, what do you think?"

She said, "You have HIV, and I know."

Lois Crenshaw 

Lois Crenshaw

I said, "How do you know? What am I supposed to do?"

She said, "You're supposed to eat properly, take your medication, and keep things clean."

I said, "How do you know about all of this?" She said they found out in school. She was only 12 at the time.

They're getting educated [laughs].

Yes. Some schools are not educating children about HIV. I was going out and doing speaking engagements.

How soon did you start becoming active? You said you thought you were going to die, and you were packing up stuff and giving stuff away.

Right.

When did it dawn on you that you were probably not going to die?

I found a doctor, Dr. Ron Schut.

How did you find him?

They told me at the Southside Clinic that there were infectious disease doctors there. This was after I got my head together.

How long did it take you to get your head together?

Maybe a month or so.

What did you do during this month to get your head together?

My children, my children. They saw that I was giving up. I've always been the backbone of the family. They were telling me that they had heard that you could live with HIV, and I should go and see what the doctor had to say.

That's when I met my doctor and my case manager, Terri Wilder. [Click here to read Terri's blog.] I got therapy because I had to have a therapist.

Meaning for mental health issues because you were so depressed about it?

Yes.

It was a very good clinic then, if they acknowledged these issues.

Yes, it really was. It saved my life. That Board of Health nurse -- that's where it first began.

She really went out of her way.

Yes, she did. I feel that she did.

She kept on calling.

Yes. I really believe she's the one that saved my life.

When you met the doctor for the first time, did the two of you get along? Were you happy with him?

Yes.

What made you feel that he was good?

He sat down and explained things to me. I get a little upset when things are happening and nobody will talk to me and tell me what's going on. He took time out and explained to me. Every step that I took, he was there to answer my questions and to tell me where I was in this fight.

At this point you had health insurance from the police department?

Oh no -- I had quit.

You didn't get any benefits or a pension or anything?

No. I quit. I just couldn't take it anymore.

Were you on Medicare or Medicaid or something?

A couple of my grandchildren had come to me because my daughter was in trouble, and they were in foster care. Some social worker told me that I could get my grandchildren and become a foster mom. That's what we did. Their case manager took me down to the Social Security office and I applied for social security.

Since they were minors you got the social security?

My social security.

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