Everyone has secrets. But some of you may even have a secret. It is that singular shard of your character that you feel you need to keep buried and hidden from all others.
Mine was HIV.
I was diagnosed with HIV 25 years ago. The only person I told was my husband. He knew the pain and distress it caused me when I first confided in him. But we were happy. We lived in a small country town in NSW. It is a beautiful place. Imagine a tiny hamlet half hugged by a melancholy stream nestled in a green valley beneath a cerulean sky vault. I have lived here for almost my entire adult life. For all the pleasures of its natural solitude, I also had to experience the sting of my community’s insular temperament.
Earlier this year I went to my local pathology clinic for a routine blood test. I sat there in the small waiting room, with old trashy magazines, coughing, and a couple of fidgeting children. I suddenly heard my name mentioned. I looked up. The receptionist was talking loudly with the nurse at the front of the cramped waiting room pointing to a file. Then she declared with a loud voice
“Debbie’s here to have her HIV viral load tests done”.
I was mortified. The whole room had heard, and within days the whole town.
My home became a place I feared to be in. I worried about what my friends, my family and the neighbours were thinking and saying about me. Suddenly going for a walk or performing a simple errand became an agonising task of shame. I was so furious with the receptionist for having divulged the greatest secret I had to a waiting room full of people. I complained. I wrote letters. I was angry. But I was also ignored. It was at this point I told my doctor what had happened and he referred me to HALC. They helped me to make a complaint about the pathology clinic. I received a letter of apology and a promise from the management that they would ensure that their staff underwent training so that an incident like this would not happen to anyone else. I also received reimbursement for the counselling I had undergone.
It felt wonderful knowing there are people out there who cared about how I was feeling and wanted to assist me in making my voice heard so that this type of disclosure did not happen to anyone else.
[all names and information that might identify any individual have been changed for confidentiality purposes]