Mma looked at me her eyes filled with tears. She was so overcome with emotion that she could hardly speak. I had to look down as I felt my own tears gathering behind my eyelids. I must remain professional. I must not get drawn in.
“Doctor, are you sure? Are you sure this is my result? Could there be a mistake?”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. I had seen this scenario many times and it never gets easier.
“I am sorry, Mma. This is the second time we’ve done it and it’s still positive.”
“But how could that be?” she burst out. “How could I be HIV positive? I am married! I don’t sleep around.”
She stopped again as the tears gathered, her shoulders shook as she cried, so broken, so devastated by the information I had just given her.
I had tried to be as gentle as I could. I’d given the usual warning shot and let her know that I had no good news for her. But still, no matter how we prepare patients to receive the news, it’s never easy to hear that you have HIV.
I swallowed back the words I was about to speak. Decided to allow her time to cry. After a while, she raised her head.
“Doctor, please tell me, how could I be HIV positive? I was brought up to be well behaved. I met my husband when I was a virgin. I never so much as showed any man my pants before then. And in twenty-four years of marriage, I have never slept with anyone else, apart from my husband. So how could this be?”
“There are several ways of contracting HIV. We would have to look and see how this might have happened. Sleeping with someone infected with HIV is one way of catching it. But there are other ways.”
“Well, for instance, if you’ve ever had a blood transfusion that was contaminated with HIV…”
“I’ve never had a blood transfusion.”
“Injected drugs before?”
“Okay, so those are out. Another way would be if you were accidentally pricked with a needle that had the virus on it…”
She paused as she gave it some thought.
“No, I haven’t ever had any injections. I had immunisations as a child but that wouldn’t have caused it, I don’t think.”
“Okay,” I replied. “Another way will be if for example…” I paused. It is never easy talking about sensitive issues like infidelity. I cleared my throat and continued: “if for example your partner has slept with someone who has HIV or if he ever received blood contaminated with HIV.”
She looked at me. Her eyes widened as realisation dawned on her. Then she asked in a quiet voice. “Do you think I may have got this from my husband?”
“I have no idea. You know best what may have happened.”
She looked away.
“I never imagined I would be HIV positive. I thought it only happens to people who are careless and have no morals. But not to me – I’ve never done anything wrong…”
She started crying again.
“Perhaps we could meet up in the next few days and talk about what you want to do.”
“Yes.” She shook her head, lost in grief.
Stay tuned as we follow Mma on her journey with HIV.
Do you know that, as current figures stand, an estimated 1 in 32 black women in the United States will be diagnosed with HIV in the course of their lives?
• How are our Black sisters getting HIV?
• What should we be doing to change the statistics?