Mercifully, this is not the case with me. But how do you react when a staff member, colleague or friend tells you this? First, it’s probably a compliment that she or he has the confidence and trust in you to disclose the fact, but secondly, have you thought through how you’ll handle their shock, anger, fear about the future, concerns about how it might affect their family, their ability to do their job and so on? I certainly hadn’t.
I’m very literate in the topic of HIV and AIDS, having trained AIDS counsellors in communication skills, for international NGOs. I have an AIDS clinic in a KZN township to which I give my time, on the strategic front. But none of this really equips you for the body-blow news that someone with two small children, supposedly in a monogamous relationship, has contracted the virus. They now need to tell the partner about their infidelity - and worse, explain that the partner needs to get tested, because chances are, barring a rare genetic miracle, that the partner too, will be HIV positive.
The late Elizabeth
Kübler-Ross and other specialists in dealing with bad news, say that the mental
phases on receiving such news, are typically: Denial, Anger, Bargaining,
Acceptance and then ‘Rebirth’ or Healing (where it can be cured) or Death, if
not. It was startling for me to watch my friend’s first-day bravado, including
inappropriate smiles and jokes. I remembered how, when the SAA Helderberg went
down near Mauritius
I set out to arrange for counselling for the couple. Making the right contact was a bit of a mission. Where do you start? It demonstrates that the power of advertising or the impact of campaigns has not been as effective as the originators of some of them might think. My first thought was LoveLife with their very in-your-face advertising but my perception was, ‘They’re for the very young set, only.’ Right? Wrong? Dunno. I then thought of Zachie Achmat and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). I called them. Very helpful, but their particular bag is helping people get access to antiretroviral (ARV) medication. They suggested LifeLine, 011 728 1347 who were very empathic and helpful and absolutely willing to counsel, but suggested that HIV/AIDS-specific counselling might be better, given the medical information that would be necessary. They routed me to CARE, 011 728 0218 and also gave me the AIDS toll-free helpline, 0800 012 322. LifeLine invited me to get back to them if I didn’t get help – great service altogether. It was quite odd, making those various calls, saying, ‘Hello, my name is Clive….’.
I organised counselling with CARE – but the counsellor didn’t pitch, even though there was a specific appointment. They couple had to wait an hour and a half to see someone else. Not good, when you’re sitting riddled with anxiety and fearful thoughts. The counsellor concerned had their mobile contact number. Why didn’t she use it?
This is clearly just the beginning of a long and potentially bumpy road. The Medical Aid needs to be brought into the loop, viral load tests done, CD4 count taken and a determination made as to whether the immune system will benefit from just good nutrition, exercise and care. Or whether the protracted avoidance of testing means that ARVs (antiretrovirals) are now required. God’s grace this will be one of those scenarios where the prognosis is at least 20 more years of productive life. That will be helpful for the little children involved.
What has this experience taught me? Make a note of the phone numbers so you don’t get the run-around when you need to organise at short notice, advice or counselling. It felt a bit odd typing them into my Outlook Contacts. I hope I never have to use them for more personal reasons. Are you prepared to help and be supportive of someone who does need them? Think about it. It could just be you asking for the help instead.