Sunday, April 11, 2010

The day I was told I had HIV

Well I guess it's about time that I updated my life! I know it's only been a couple of days, but a WHOLE LOT has happened! Looks like I need to back up to about last Tuesday when all of the craziness started... I woke up and felt a bit nauseous but I wasn't going to let that stop me during my last week in Guatemala! So, I continued as planned and got all ready to go to Brenna's mom's hotel to go swimming and read magazines (yes... we were going to have a lazy morning). Well, I kept getting more and more sick until I realized that there was going to be no way I would be walking home. So... Brenna's dear mother let me hang out in the hotel while they went out on the town and I stayed there and ralphed (sorry, but it is part of the story). I figured it was just food poisoning and had Eddy walk me home... and then it got worse! I won't go into details but let's just say that by the afternoon on Wednesday I was so weak I couldn't move. And then I got a phone call...

Magdiel: hello rachael... how are you feeling?
Me: ummmm.... lowsy.
Magdiel: Well, I'm coming over.
Me: ok, just to visit?
Magdiel: Not exactly. I'm bringing the ambulance.
Me: WHAT? No you're not.
Magdiel: Yes I am. We are on our way. See you soon!
Me: oooooboy. see you.

And thus started my adventure through the public healthcare system of Guatemala. They showed up in their ambulance van thing and took my vitals as I walked(ish) out to be taken to the hospital. I think I fell asleep on the way (don't they discourage that?). We went into the emergency room and they of course asked me a bunch of questions and then stuck me on a gurney... which was to become my home for the next 6 hours or so. To make a long story short, they figured out that I was reeeeally dehydrated and had something wrong in my tummy. They had me give a urine sample (in a glass baby food jar... no toilet paper or soap to wash hands with... hehe) and then stuck me with an IV. I'm still not positive what it was they put into me, but I think it was something like saline solution (except that it BURNED like CRAZY for the whole 2 hours it was going into my arm!). They also gave me stuff for the nausea so I would quit throwing everything up. I was pretty in and out for the next few hours. To check my hydration, the doctors would ask me to open my mouth so they could look at my tongue.

Ok, and then it gets worse... MUCH worse. Magdiel had come in to visit me for a bit (she's such a sweetheart for staying with me all day) and then the doctor came in and politely, but firmly asked her to leave. Uh oh. For anyone who has been in a hospital, you know that is a bad sign. And it was.

Doctor: Do you do drugs?
Me: no
Doctor: Have you had sex with multiple partners?
Me: no
Doctor: Have you been pricked by a dirty needle that wasn't yours?
Me: no
Doctor: Have you heard of HIV?
Me: YES. But... wha... umm.. wh.... WHY?
... ...

Doctor: We have your blood test results right here and your white blood cell counts are really really low... indicative of HIV....
Me: ... ... .. (starting to sweat and hyperventilate)
Doctor: Are you sure you haven't been stuck by a needle?
Me: well I thought I was sure! How bad are the counts?! (Being a nursing student, I wanted evidence!)

And they were really bad. If I remember right, one count was around 6 when the normal range was 17-48. Not good. I was terrified.

So, she told me that they were going to give me some antibiotics and send me home with prescriptions and orders to come back and get an HIV test the next day.

It was a loooooong night. It was a very interesting time for me. I went through the last few years in my head and couldn't think of a single incident where I could have really gotten HIV. I did work with HIV children at the beginning of my volunteer experience and I thought that maybe I had accidently and unknowingly touched some blood and it had gotten into a micro-cut on my finger or something. Sometimes freaky things happen. I had to think about alternate futures for myself. A MILLION thoughts went through my head... a few examples:

"Can I even be a nurse anymore?"
"How am I ever going to have a family?"
"I guess I won't have to get old and wrinkly after all"
"I'm going to write a book and call it "Souvenirs I Brought Home from Guatemala"
"Maybe I'll just move to Africa and be a nurse there."
"Maybe I can find a cure!"
"Uggggggg. Que horror."

I surprisingly slept well (thanks to the nausea drugs!) and woke up with a ton of anxiety. Needless to say I wasn't feeling much better than the day before. I had called my parents and they were very supportive (although since coming home I found out that they too had been freaking out) and helped me feel a little better. I called a friend from church and he came and gave me a blessing. Then it was off to the hospital again.

They layed me on a bloody sheet and took more blood (even though they knew it was for HIV, she still didn't wear gloves! Crazy!). They told me I'd have the results by 10:30. Around 3:30 they had the results for me. It was the longest afternoon of my life. It is an interesting place to be in and I did a lot of talking with God. I am so grateful to say that I was able to find peace. I told Him that if that was what He wanted for me and my life I was going to do the best I could with it and help as many others as I could. As hard as it was, I decided that I would just have to be happy with whatever the results were and live the life that He had planned for me.

As you can probably guess, the results came back NEGATIVE. Even though I had thought of good futures with HIV, I am so grateful that I get to hold on to my current HIV-free planned future. I went home full of relief and full of gratitude (but still a little worried about my little white blood cells) and went to sleep. My white blood cell counts are now back up and I am feeling much better. I stayed in bed all the rest of Thursday and most of Friday and then Saturday morning I got on the airplane around 7am.... after the shuttle never came to pick me up and I had to get a taxi and barely got to the airport on time... but that is a whole different story.

I made it home.

HIV free.

Life is beautiful and I have a whole new appreciation for good health. I think this experience will make me a better nurse. More careful, that is for sure, but more compassionate as well. I know what it feels like to be on the other side of really bad news. Hopefully I can use a bit more tact than the doctor (bless her heart) :). Thank you for all your prayers. It's good to be home and with the family!


  1. You really had a wide range of experiences - I am so happy you are home safe!

    Love you forever and ever

    p.s. Well yes... I am the coolest mom aren't I?

  2. wow Rach, that is a crazy story. I am soo glad you are ok and HIV free too :) You are the coolest! luv ya

  3. It is so good to have you home again. But then I never wanted you to go in the first place. Dad's can be a little over protective, can't they. Love you kiddo and I am so glad you are ok!

  4. So happy you are all right. And learned from your experience. Love you!!!


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