When I think about the last ten years of my life as an HIV positive woman and accessing HIV health care, my first thought is one of gratitude. I am grateful that since my diagnosis, care has been available to me. I’ve been able to see a provider regularly and have always had access to HIV medications. I also feel grateful, because, not only have medications been available to me, but I have been fortunate enough to not have much of a struggle when it comes to adherence. I have dealt with a lot of ups and downs, but have not had such things are homelessness, mental health or substance abuse get in the way of taking my medications as prescribed.
One of the struggles I have had when accessing care is one that I think is often common among women who also are parents and have the great responsibility of caring for their children. Luckily, I have missed very few appointments, but there has been times when I was unable to attend an appointment due to a lack of childcare. There have been times that it would be okay for me to bring my son along to an appointment, but since my son is a child with special needs I have usually opted out. The stress for me and him has often been greater than the need for me to make it to my appointment.
The first year of his life was particularly hard. I didn’t go to the doctor that whole time. I was so focused on taking care of him and going back to work that I put my own health care on the back burner. I was under an enormous amount of stress during that time. By the time I did make it back to the doctor, my health had declined dramatically. I realized at that time, in order for me to take care of my son I also had to take care of myself. Medications and providers were available, so I did what I needed to do in order to get my medication and get my blood work done. I have now been on medication for the last 8 years and I am happy to report that my viral load has been undetectable since then and my t-cell count has increased a great deal.
Ultimately, I do feel incredibly grateful for the care that is available to me. I do, however, have to recognize that even though the care is there barriers still exist. I believe in order for people to get the care they so desperately need that all possible barriers need to be considered. It can be very complicated. I do know, though, that every day that I take my medication I feel grateful that I have access to it and that my life circumstances are such that I am able to be adherent. I know for many people, that is not the case.
By Kelly Hill