Teniecka Drake: Balancing HIV Advocacy, a Husband and Three Young Children
March 7, 2011
What was your role in the military?
I didn't have an MOS [military occupational specialty], but I was supposed to be working in supplies. I got ill within 10 days of my basic training. So when I did get out, it was on medical discharge. I never actually got to shoot my M-16, which is what I wanted to do. But it's OK; I shot it in my mind, which makes up for the real thing.
Have you generally been happy with your care at the VA?
Yes, I have. I did have a private doctor I was seeing for a long time. He was the first doctor I saw, and he had been seeing me since 2001. But during that time I got really annoyed at him; he wasn't giving me any affirmations or making me feel good about myself. He would always have something negative to say. And I got fed up.
I had been with him for seven years. My husband -- at the time, my fiancé -- watched me blow up at the doctor. I was like, "Every single time I've come in here you are always negative. You're always talking about my being so overweight; I'm so this or that. But you don't never, ever say, 'Oh, it's good that you're undetectable.' You're always asking me am I taking my medication. If my viral load has spiked, than you should be the doctor, the professional, and find out what the reason is. And don't be asking me if it's because I'm [not] taking my meds. If the meds aren't working, then let's try a different regimen now. Shouldn't we?"
I got so fed up with the negativity that I kept getting every time I stepped into that doctor's office and went to speak with him; I just got irate. And then I got pregnant at the same time. He was like, "Oh."
My husband was excited. He was like, "We're going to have a little girl." And the doctor was like, "Oh, that's good." My husband looked at me, like, "Oh, is that bad that you're pregnant? I mean, should you have a baby, then?"
I was like, "Look here, Doc. We're going to have to cut ties. I'm done with you. You have made my husband feel like crap. He's excited to have a baby, and you're making him feel like crap. And I'm getting annoyed with you anyhow." So I got rid of him and went to the VA.
I remember some people were saying that if you do not like your doctors, you don't have to stay with them just because you've been with them so long. You can find another provider.
I have my own infectious disease doctor I see up there at the VA, Dr. Marinka Kartalija. She is great. She is awesome. She actually cares, not just about me and my medication, and my HIV and all that; she also cares about my family. She cares about my husband. "Has he found a job yet? How's the job situation? How's your housing situation? How are your babies doing? How are you feeling?" Not just, "Oh, well, your virus is doing good. Are you sure you're taking your meds?" She actually, actually cares. We have a good relationship. I remember when she came for us one day in the waiting room. She was like, "I'm ready to see my favorite patient." And she said it in front of a room that was full of other people -- and I'm pretty sure some people had her!
Every time we would come in -- one baby, two babies, three babies -- the whole doctors' room is just filled with my family. And their office rooms aren't that big, but here we are, all up in her office. And she's examining me and everything.
Do you have anything you want to add before we bring this interview to a close? Is there anything you want the readers at TheBody.com to know about you, or anything that you didn't get to talk about?
Well, if there's anyone out there that still feels a little lost, and you've been diagnosed with HIV, don't forget that you can contact me. I am available. So don't feel lost. It's not the end. Just be positive, and just keep trying to do the best that you can do and live your life. Because it's not over yet.
Teniecka, thank you so much. It was wonderful getting a chance to talk to you.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Olivia Ford is the community manager for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.