Ingrid Kloet, 61 • Case manager • Rio Rancho, NM • HIV diagnosis: 1989
I was living in the Netherlands, where I was born. I was becoming tired and sick. I went to a doctor who said, “We need to do an HIV test.” Some days later I got a message to call the doctor. An assistant told me that I had HIV, and I was shocked. I had been divorced, I was in a new five-year relationship. I never blamed him. My body was my responsibility, and I didn’t use protection. When I told him, he said, “I can help you through the bad times.” But I never saw him after that. He said, “I need to do some things,” then he disappeared.
The first people I told were my kids, then my sister-in-law. Then I called my ex-husband. I felt horrible. I closed my curtains and was on my own. I didn’t want anybody else around except my children.
During those months in the house, my eldest son came in and asked why I was crying. “I’m dying,” I said. He said, “Mom, you’re still alive. Keep your chin up. You’re always tough and positive.” So I thought he was right. I turned to the HIV Foundation in Amsterdam and met all newly diagnosed people. Gay and straight.
The first time I went to the foundation, I was scared. This was an unknown area for me. But coming into the building, what I experienced was that everyone was friendly—they took care of me because they had seen [other] people coming through that same door, scared. Right away we did a body project, doing some exercises, a warm-up. I felt so good. I remember there was just one other woman there at that time. The rest were men.
I changed my life in a heartbeat. I had been an architect and interior designer. What I had liked best was doing upholstery. And then everything went away. I couldn’t handle it; it was too heavy for me. I changed from that to a volunteer. Now I am a case manager and an AIDS educator.
Then I went to the United States, and it was a different story. You couldn’t fill in paperwork if you had a communicable disease. Going back and forth to the Netherlands, I couldn’t carry HIV medications. A wonderful doctor in Santa Fe, Trevor Hawkins, helped me survive and supplied me with medication. Now I’ve lived in New Mexico for 10 years, and I’m married—to a man who is also positive.
When I was diagnosed I had AIDS. In Europe, if you begin with AIDS, then take medication and your viral load becomes undetectable, you no longer have AIDS, you’re HIV positive. But here in the U.S., once you have AIDS, you always have AIDS. I hear that here—“I have AIDS.” I ask, “How many CD4 cells do you have?” They say, “Oh, 700 or 800,” and I say, “You’re HIV positive!”
It’s very easy for women to contract HIV. I don’t think most women understand they are at risk. Especially older women, having a divorce or a deceased partner, then starting to date again. They are not thinking about HIV risk. And another thing: I often put other people’s health care needs above my own. We have to protect ourselves. If someone else isn’t doing it, you have to do it yourself. Everyone is responsible for their own body. Don’t be afraid and shut your eyes. The percentage of cases of women living with HIV has more than tripled in the past 20 years, and women of color are most affected. My advice to those who have never been tested is very simple: Know your status.