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This Positive Life: An Interview With Joyce Turner Keller

October 12, 2010

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At what point did you start getting care?

Immediately. As soon as they gave me an appointment to go to EIC, I went to EIC.

And this is in?

Louisiana. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And I had a freshman, young girl, just out of college who was a social worker. And I think I almost gave her a breakdown. Her was name was Kelly Richner. I'll tell her name anyway. She knows I tell this story often. She's sitting across the table from me and she's trying to be very professional, very strong. And she's empathetic. She says to me, she took all the pertinent information, she says, "Well, how did you become positive?" I said, "I was raped." At that point, she didn't handle it well because she was expecting me to respond differently. And I kept telling her it's OK. But I didn't realize how traumatic it was for her. For her to sit there supposedly to help me and I'm one of her first cases and she's got to deal with the fact that I've been raped. And I'm like, "I can handle it."

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So how many years before you were diagnosed had you been raped?

It was over five years.

What happened? You were at home? You were on a date?

Actually, I was going jogging on a Saturday -- Sunday -- It was a Saturday morning in the summer. I was preparing for prayer service. A group of people were coming in from Baton Rouge for a prayer service. We were heading to Gulfport, Mississippi, to do baptizing. There were people coming in from Baton Rouge that I had been ministering to. We were going in to do what we call "trouble the waters."

I decided to go jogging just before the people started to arrive because everybody was coming to my house and then we were going to do like a carpool all the way down to Mississippi from Picayune. That particular morning, I was running, I saw a car coming. The police light on it and everything. And I stopped running, then I saw the car. Because I'm at the stop sign, the car stops and asks what was I doing out at that time of morning. I said, "I'm running like I do every morning." "You're running alone?" I said, "Yeah, I'm safe because you're out here," thinking it's the police, I'm OK. And one of the things he says, "Well, maybe not." And I got this -- this fear came over me. Instead of running my regular, I double backed between the hospital and health clinic to go back home because I'm scared now, only to find that when I get back to my home, there's a tree and a bush right just before I go up on my steps. There was a swing on my porch and two rocking chairs. All I could tell you was that I don't know if I opened the door or he opened it. I attempted to put the key in. All I could tell you is I found myself in the fight for my life. As he raped me, one of the things that he told me was that I had taken a white woman's job. This man knew where I'd come from. He knew where I went to school. He knew that I had a brand new grandbaby. So as a result of that, I didn't know where to turn.

And I'm being raped and assaulted in my own home. The fight started in my living and ended in my dining room. In the fight, he ended up choking me and I passed out. I remember that. I do remember waking up. And when I woke up, I had no underwear. And one of the things that he did tell me, he said, "Well, if you report it. I won't deny I had sex. I will deny that it was rape." I'm a black woman from Baton Rouge that very few people knew. Who are they going to believe? A black woman from Baton Rouge or a white man from Picayune, Mississippi? So I chose to stay silent publicly. But ultimately, I did come out. Immediately, I told that I was raped. I told my prayer partners. But I didn't tell them until after the prayer services. Later that evening, I disclosed to some of my girlfriends that I had been raped. I did see a doctor.

And you had never seen this person before?

No, I did not know him. And to be honest with you, even if I saw him today, I wouldn't even recognize him.

You'd been to the doctor's office. At some point, you went to the doctor's office. Did they ever say, "Maybe you should get tested for HIV?"

No, that was part of the trauma that followed the attack. When I spoke with the doctor and he asked me who did it, and I explained to him what had transpired. He said, "Well do you know who it is?" I said, "No." He said, "Well the best thing to do is just get over it and not talk about it." He told me I didn't have an STD. He never mentioned HIV, never told me to follow up, nothing. I'd just become a flight attendant prior to that. And I was pretty active in my own health. I really wasn't practicing unprotected sex or anything of that nature because I had chosen another path for myself at that time.

Let me back up a little bit. So you had never received any counseling?

No counseling. Nothing.

You had kind of just told your friends and you tried to move on.

Right.

I just want to go back to when you started going to the doctor. You went to see the doctor. What was your CD4 count at that point?

Forty three.

"There's got to be a better solution. If I've got to distance myself from the people that I love, my support system, I need them to need me. I need a reason to keep on going. To say that I have to give that up, something's wrong with this picture."

So you had AIDS.

Yes, AIDS diagnosis.

Did you even understand when they told you?

I just knew that I was going to have to take better care of me. I was told -- and this is the disheartening thing -- I hate plastic plates and paper plates and paper cups. I detest that. I don't even like them in my home. But to be told, you need to get you some paper cups and paper plates, whatever. Let your grandchildren go back. Let your daughter take care of her children. And in my mind, this is 2001, and I'm thinking, "There's got to be a better solution. If I've got to distance myself from the people that I love, my support system, I need them to need me. I need a reason to keep on going. To say that I have to give that up, something's wrong with this picture."

Also, that's not correct information.

It wasn't. But that's the information I received. And I was upset about that. And I'll never forget. I was having trouble. I had diarrhea. I remember sitting in the dietitian's office and there were just these huge boxes, shelves of Ensure. I asked for some of that and she said, "Oh, you don't need that." And it turns out I was one of the people she should have been giving it to. You know, it was just misinformation, things you don't know. Then I realized then, "This is going to be an uphill battle. I'm going to have to fight, but I'm not going to fight alone."

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