Sara, aged 53, London

No one thought it would happen to me

"I became ill in February 2014. I suffered from food poisoning while in Burma and ended up in hospital. When I returned to England things did not get better. Eventually I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. The medication did not help and I kept getting worse. 

Finally, I was admitted to hospital in early 2015, nearly a year after I initially fell ill. They asked if they could do an HIV and hepatitis test. I said yes, not giving it a second thought. 

A few days later, five people crowded around my bed to tell me I had HIV. I felt like my world was crashing down around me. It was a terrible shock.

I was told I would be moved to the Infectious Diseases ward. I anxiously waited, but I was never transferred. Throughout this time, lots of different healthcare staff came to see me; they would talk behind a closed curtain. I constantly worried about what other people in the ward could hear.

Shortly afterwards, the hospital sent a letter to my parent’s address. When my parents read the letter, they learned about my HIV status. This did not go down well. I ended up having a nervous breakdown.

If I had been diagnosed sooner, perhaps it could have saved me some struggle, and some pain. But as a white, middle aged, upper middle class, educated woman, no one thinks that I could have HIV. My GP said honestly that she never would have thought to give me an HIV test. But HIV is not selective.

I think that there are misconceptions around people living with HIV in this country. There are so many women living with HIV, but we don’t always hear about them.

I have felt very isolated and alone since my diagnosis and found it very difficult to find any support, especially in my demographic. It has been so much easier to find support for my other conditions: ulcerative colitis and diabetes. I often feel unsure about how HIV relates to my other health conditions.”

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