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This Positive Life: An Interview With Rachelle McNair

October 25, 2010

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Inspiring stories of people living with HIV.

Welcome to This Positive Life! We have with us Rachelle McNair. In 2009, this mother of five was helping her youngest son settle into college when she came down with H1N1 influenza. She was rushed to the hospital, where she was also diagnosed with HIV. Her CD4 count was zero. While the doctors basically sent her home to die, Rachelle recovered with the help of medicine, support and her faith. A year later, this newly married church leader and recovering addict talks with us about cheating death, why ignorance around HIV is killing us and why she started her own group to build women's self-esteem.

Can you start by describing how you first found out you were HIV positive?

I found out in 2009, in the month of August. I was on the way to take my son to get him settled in college in Tallahassee -- I meant Jacksonville, correction -- and I got a fever. I started getting real sick and didn't know what was going on with me. My daughter -- once we got there, I couldn't go inside the dorm to even get him situated, or anything, so she rushed me back to Orlando, in which I live. And my husband took me to the hospital and found out; first of all, I was diagnosed with the swine flu.

From that point, they asked me did I want to take an HIV test. And I was afraid to take it at first, and I'd been putting it in the back of my head for years. My soon-to-be-husband, at that time, he was, like, "Take it. I'm not going to leave you. I'm here with you." And I took the test, and it came out positive.

You said you had always had it in the back of your mind. Why?

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Because I had a promiscuous lifestyle. I'm a recovering addict. And I wasn't proud of a lot of things that I've done in my past. I had changed my lifestyle and everything, so I just wasn't thinking about it. I just thought I was safe now. Yeah.

So when you got the results, what did you think?

I felt . . . I thought . . . In my mind, I always had a fear of this disease, because my father passed away with it. And I always said I wouldn't want to know if I get it; I want to just die.

When I found out that I did have it, it was like a relief of something that I'd been fearing for so long, so the worst was behind me.

What did your fiancé say?

Basically, he was loving about the whole situation. His response shocked me, because I was like, this -- and we hadn't been together a long time, and for him to find out that this woman he's about to marry is now diagnosed with HIV -- and in my mind I was saying, "He's going to leave me. I don't care what he says. I know he's going to walk away and leave me."

But he proved me wrong. He truly proved that he really does love me and we're getting through this together.

So you're recently diagnosed. I mean, it's just been a year.

Just a year.

How have you been doing?

"In the beginning, it was a roller-coaster ride. It went from fear to having to educate myself. Because I had a zero immune system, I stayed in intensive care for 16 days. They gave me up to die."

Well, I must say; it has . . . in the beginning, it was a roller-coaster ride. It went from fear to having to educate myself. Because I had a zero immune system, I stayed in intensive care for 16 days. They gave me up to die. Listening at family members come to visit me, saying, ". . . pulling out a black dress," and "How are we going to get the body back to Fort Lauderdale?" And all of those fears. I guess my faith's what really got me through it. Because I am a Christian and I started believing more in the power of a Higher Power, and determining that this is not a death sentence.

From listening at the providers, the care providers that I had, they explained about the different medications, and if they can get them in my system, and if my body adjusted to them, that I can live a healthy lifestyle. And I did whatever it takes, to pay attention and do whatever they told me to do, because I wanted to get better, and not bitter.

How long do you think that you had been positive, and just didn't know?

From my test results, and viral loads, and CD4 count, it had been in my system for at least 10 years. Ten years.

And you had never been offered an HIV test before?

I had, but it was the fear, the fear. And that's why I guess, out of this whole thing, after me being so ignorant -- when I got better, I founded an organization called Women of Worth. I do workshops, and I go and bring the churches and the communities together in the awareness of HIV and substance abuse.

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