I was not sick or showing obvious signs of illness. However, I had lost some weight and more recently suffered with an episode of shingles. I put this down to my diet and living and working in Mexico for several years. On my return to the UK in July 2014, I was concerned with lumps in my neck so I decided to go to the doctor. They confirmed that the swellings were my lymph glands. I was quickly referred to the dental hospital’s head and neck clinic as the most likely issue could be cancer (Lymphoma).
The tests began with the consultant preparing me for the likelihood of cancer, which horrified me. The tests returned clear of the markers for cancer, so an HIV test was suggested after further awkward discussions. A week of worry later, I returned to the clinic and they said everything was clear, then hesitated and informed me that unfortunately, the HIV test was inconclusive as there was not enough blood in the sample! Another test and another week of waiting followed. When I returned to the clinic with a friend I received the diagnosis of HIV+. My initial response was ‘thank god’ it wasn’t cancer then I thought where is the offer of counselling? There wasn’t any, partly due to the fact I was in the dental hospital. I also learned that there aren’t the resources to offer automatic counselling for HIV patients anymore. I felt like my teaching career was over and found the thought of the future very tainted. I had a million questions and no one to ask.
The HIV clinic then took over and I felt the head and neck clinic were relieved to pass on my case. The HIV clinic was stressful but the nurses were very kind and professional. The next big issue of medication then had to be dealt with whilst still being in a daze and having no permanent address or job. Some of the medical questions and worries were addressed at this stage which helped me quite a lot. The side effects and anxiety around medication impacted on my life significantly at this stage. Would I always be exhausted by 7pm from this medication?
I am very lucky to have family and friends to support me. The HIV clinic staff had little time to address my emotional wellbeing and mental health but told me about Brigstowe. Brigstowe were invaluable at this time, especially with the practical things like finding somewhere to live, getting medical letters and guiding me through the minefields of benefits and legislation around HIV. I have been able to get more involved with Brigstowe and this has helped me and continues to help me manage my diagnosis and positive status.