My HIV Scare

As a nurse, I know that each and every day I place myself in danger. In danger of contracting diseases through contact, droplets, and air. I know, that everytime I get used to taking HGTs (pricking the fingertip to get blood to check the person’s blood sugar levels) without gloves, that there is a risk of a needlestick. Not that I do it without gloves. I am not stupid enough to physically put myself within danger’s scaly arms. But sometimes it is not an act of conscious/unconscious thought – but an accident, a freak of nature.

On the 10th of April 2010, I was working at Coronation (now known as Raheema Moosa) Hospital, with the sickly newborns to 5 months. It is difficult for me to say this, but most of them are dying of Aids, perhaps due to the mother’s stupidity, but I actually would rather say that it is a lack of education, a lack of knowledge. It scares me that some people still do not know how to wear a condom – if you demonstrate it on say, a cucumber, they think for contraceptive methods you place the condom on the cucumber! And obviously they get pregnant, and contract aids, and deliver an infant affected by aids.

These babies are terribly sick. Most of them, born with aids, are living a very short period of time in suffering. Most of them are suffering from renal failure, cardiovascular failure, pneumonia, liver failure and so forth, secondary to HIV. Its very sad. The one baby there was born very small, and underweight. His body, obviously, was not born to fight diseases. His skin was as tough as leather, and looked like it too. There were wounds in between his skin folds. He would dehydrate overnight. Diarrhoea would spray out of his little bum, as if he were urinating from it. It was an awful snot-green. He would constantly vomit his food every time. Even worse, the drip in his head kept blocking. This poor baby simply was not getting fluids. This led to his dehydratiom, and thus to his leathery skin. Dehydration also leads to a fluid and electrolyte balance. It can be FATAL! Because of the diarrhoea and vomiting – he was not getting nutrients. He was becoming more underweight every month. And every attempt did not work! It was terribly frustrating!! He was still alive when I left after my month’s shift there – but I highly doubt that he survived for very long after. There was just nothing we could do. But what broke my heart – his mother abandoned him. And babies know when they are neglected. And he knew. And he gave up.

I remember during that shift, one of the babies died. Sure – we had to resus the little ones pretty often (very traumatic!) but death is part of one’s cycle through life. And when this baby died, she was so incredibly stiff. She looked so unnatural with her legs straightened out, her arms straight next to her body, her head abnormally rigid because of the bit of material we placed under her chin so that her mouth would close. We could not close her mouth. When her mother found out she started screaming – a haunting gutteral wail from deep inside her bosom. Her baby was lying there dead while the other babies screamed and laughed. Yet no sound passed her daughters lips. There was no sound from her little chest. No heartbeat pounding life into every pore of her little, sickly, ravaged body. We took Mommy to a room on the side, and she vomited from the shock and grief. I had always thought that when they wrote that in books it was just something they perceived that should happen, and I was actually surprised that people do vomit from grief. I am ashamed to say this – but I cannot cope with adult vomit. I left the room quickly, and returned once she was done.
How do you go to a mother who has lost her child and tell her it was okay? When i stroked her hair and hugged her close, she didn’t pull away. She sobbed into my chest, wailing, and mumbling, and lamented the fact that her SECOND child had now died. “Of aids” I thought to myself. Is it just a lack of education? How can people still not KNOW, not take precautions against this deadly disease?
Her previous child died after a day.
She has carried 2 children, and is left with them in her heart.

I was feeding this little 3 week old nunu baby. He was found under a bridge on one of the coldest nights, where the wind shook the last leaves off the tree, and they trees huddled naked against each other for warmth. It was horribly frigid. And his mother abandoned him. There are houses that take abandoned babies in – what is WRONG with these mothers? People struggle with infertility – and others who can have babies neglect them, abuse them and murder them. It doesnt make sense in my head.
So because Baby did not have a mother, I bottlefed him. However, I noticed that the milk flow was not adequate enough – so I took a sterile needle. Somehow the needle pierced through the SIDE of the bottle, straight into my finger. The force of it caused the needle to hit my bone, and bend. Blood gushed out of my wound, and I rushed to the sister. Because I was in shock, i didnt rinse my hand. But so much blood was coming out that at the end of the day, I don’t think it was really neccessary to. I was on ARVs 2 hours after it occurred. I should have been on them within an hour – but I am sure you know how African time works.
I lasted 2 days on the ARVs – they caused me to become so restless, I was buzzing, and could not concentrate, could not think, could not shut my brain down. It never stopped. It was absolutely horrible! I went to a movie with TheBoyfriend, and he even got a bit annoyed with me because I couldnt get comfortable and find a comfortable position. I don’t know what the movie was about.

I think it is important that you understand the difference between HIV and Aids.

What is HIV?
To answer the question what is HIV AIDS, we have to start early in the epidemic. In 1985, scientists discovered the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and with it the question what is aids was answered. HIV is a virus that is transmitted from person to person through the exchange of body fluids such as blood, semen, breast milk and vaginal secretions. Sexual contact is the most common way to spread HIV AIDS, but it can also be transmitted by sharing needles when injecting drugs, or during childbirth and breastfeeding. As HIV AIDS reproduces, it damages the body’s immune system and the body becomes susceptible to illness and infection. There is no known cure for HIV infection.

What is AIDS?
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, is a condition that describes an advanced state of HIV infection. With AIDS, the virus has progressed, causing significant loss of white blood cells (CD4 cells) or any of the cancers or infections that result from immune system damage. Those illnesses and infections are said to be “AIDS-defining” because they mark the onset of AIDS. Like HIV, there is no known cure for AIDS.

I tested negative immediately after my needlestick injury. You are then supposed to go for your 6 week and 3 month HIV blood test, however, a negative result here does not mean that you are negative. This is because the first 3 months after coming into contact with it, the window period occurs – this is when the virus will not be picked up in a test. You’re then supposed to go for your 6 month test – and if you are cleared of that, you dont have aids. I missed my 6th week and 3 month test, so on Wednesday 28 July, i went for my 5 month one (Yes, I know I never follow the rules).

And guess what??

It came out negative!!!!!

Wow! I felt such a relief! My life could have drastically changed and there is no way that I would have been able to take arvs for the rest of my life! When the psychologist was giving me counseling, she asked me how I would react if it were positive. I told her I am not sure – if it is, she would have to wait and see, but I expect it to be negative. Truth is, if it were positive, I would kill myself. But I didnt want to tell her that, because I really didn’t want a whole long shpiel from her. It just seemed like the next logical step, although I dont disagree with you that it is the correct thing.

My chance of contracting HIv through my needlestick was very slim. As soon as the virus hits air, it dies after maximum 4 seconds (I had been sticking the bottle with a needle for more than that amount of time). Secondly, it was through saliva, not blood. You would need about 5litres of blood to come into contact with you to get the disease, and Baby didn’t slobber that much. The needle was also sterile. So really there was nothing much to worry about, but the thought that MAYBE, still lingered at the back of my mind, and I nearly died of anxiety in those 10 minutes it took to reveal the results!

But everything is okay now, and I will be more careful in the future!



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