March #142 : Diagnosis: Stigma - by Annette Lizzul

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Diagnosis: Stigma


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March 2008

Diagnosis: Stigma

by Annette Lizzul

Having lived with HIV for more than 20 years, I’ve seen my fair share of doctors—whose sensitivity has ranged from good to bad to downright ugly. Back in the ’80s, when doctors (and I) didn’t fully understand the disease, I was timid and even sympathetic whenever a physician went into full-metal-jacket decontamination mode before entering the examining room. I would even feel grateful when a doctor showed me compassion or kindness. I’m stronger now, hardened by time into a pillar of steel. But even steel can be melted. Recently, I was hit by a bolt of discrimination—from a plastic surgeon.

He had been recommended by my infectious-disease (ID) doctor, after an accident left a three-inch gash in my forehead. Let’s just say it involved cooking, wine and a dropped utensil. I didn’t have the time or energy to visit the emergency room. Besides, what’s a small cut when you’ve survived CMV retinitis, encephalopathy and mega HAART side effects? But when I woke the next morning, I realized that I really should seek treatment.

It’s always an emotional ordeal to see a new doctor and fill out their paperwork: Heart disease? No. Smoke? No. Sexually active? Hopeful. Other conditions we should be aware of? Yes. List of medications? I carry an index card naming of my meds and always just attach it to the page.

Handing my paperwork to the receptionist, I awaited her expression. I saw brief shock, then astonishment, then That Look of Fear. I waited in the examining room for more than an hour, convinced they were scheming to get rid of me. I used to endure these situations without saying a word. But now, I always storm up to the reception desk and ask whether I’ll have time to order pizza or Chinese while I wait.

The doctor came in, dressed as if he were entering a quarantine station. I looked him in the eyes—the only things sticking out of his mask—and told him that I wanted him to be aware of my status. Then, trying to keep it light, I said he could get by with universal precautions—the Andromeda Strain gear was unnecessary. I smiled and said that he’d come highly recommended.

What followed was the probably the most stunning experience in my life with HIV. The doctor told me that he was “sick and tired” of my ID doctor’s medical group sending him “those people.” I reminded him that I was one of “those people.” I also reminded him that as a plastic surgeon, he is routinely in contact with all sorts of biological agents, not just HIV. I spewed statistics from the CDC about antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection, MRSA and other dangers.

Taken aback, he stammered that he really did want to treat me. Then he asked me how I contracted HIV, a question I thought inappropriate. He tried some damage control by saying that he understood that I was an innocent victim—a comment that only infuriated me more. He tried to explain that it was his wife who had told him not to take HIV-positive patients. She didn’t want him bringing the virus back to his family. And this from an MD!

He looked at my wound, said it was too late to treat and pressed tape over the cut, almost completely covering my eye. My visit, he said, had indeed convinced him not to accept any more HIV-positive people. For the community’s sake, I was grateful. But the wounds on my forehead and in my heart were leaving deep scars—of the ignorance that surrounds HIV after all this time.

I wrote to the medical board, stopped the doctor’s $200 credit-card charge and had myself a good cry. The board decided it lacked evidence for a penalty. All I wanted was an apology from the doctor. I didn’t get that, but I’m proud that I stood up to the indignity. The doctor left his mark on me, but I plan to go on living for a long time, with fewer permanent scars.

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  comments 45 - 53 (of 53 total)     << < previous

AMIR, , 2008-03-04 15:33:18

Ricky, Cleveland, OH, 2008-03-04 11:15:56
I was sorry to read about your bad experience. I was discriminated against, told my lifestyle was wrong, unnatural, etc. by an M.D. in a county clinic here a long time ago for simply going for std testing. The whole thing bothered me so much I never went back to a doctor for 30 years and revealed anything about being gay, Until the day 30 years later when I had no choice, because I had full blown aids with T cells under 20. So much for the Hippocratic oath.

Gigi, , 2008-03-04 09:12:05
Annette, stay strong and know you are not alone! I was discriminated in the same fashion, by an ID doc when I first got diagnosed..he was afraid of touching me to take my pulse! I told him HIV is not on my skin..He looked at me puzzled and walked out of the room to send in the nurse with double plastic gloves on. I could not believe I was in one of the most reputable hospital in Washington, DC!!!

Fandango, Phoenix, 2008-03-03 21:45:53
That just goes to show there is good and bad in every profession. That guy should review his hippocratic oathwhat a loser!

Satindoll, , 2008-03-03 21:10:18
I commend you for sharing your story. I had a similiar experience when I was in the hospital, newly diagnosed and not a clue about what to do next. I was devastated. The social worker walked into my room handed me (from a distance) a pamphlet on HIV/AIDS and left the room. A doctor questioned me about my status as if I knew I had HIV already. I can only hope that they gain knowlegde in how they affect peoples lives.

Adena, East Texas, 2008-03-03 19:53:17
I too have been discriminated against by Dr's. I went through a nightmare of consultations when I was first attempting to research options for facial lipoatrophy. If plastic surgery is 'elective' in nature, can these types of physicians be sued for discrimination? Seems to me that it is more trouble than it is worth. I'm thankful for the physicians that care for me currently. Changing Dr's is the worst thing about moving. I will drive 100 miles to see my current Dr vs disclosing again.

Kevin, Phoenix, 2008-03-03 16:05:41
Hopefully you also notified your ID doc so they won't send any more patients to this ignorant jerk. Good for you for standing up and not paying him one cent. Standard Precautions (which replaced universal precautions) is the norm, it's called standard precautions because it's THE standard of care. If there's a chance of contact with blood or body fluids, you wear gloves, period. No need to know a patient's status to treat them. Treat all your patients according to the same standard of care.

COLLEEN APICELLA, , 2008-03-02 22:46:57
You would think after all the schooling these doctors have they would have picked up some "common" sense along the way! A-hole!

me, portland, oregon, 2008-02-25 19:06:06
This "doctor" should be sued for discrimination. I went 5 years undiagnosed because I don't fit the stereotype. That in itself was discrimination and I will not stand for any more of it in the medical field. If we are forced to disclose our status while they are not obligated to treat us then I say... why disclose?! They should be taking universal precautions anyway and disclosure only opens us up to discrimination.

comments 45 - 53 (of 53 total)     << < previous

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