Tag Archives: HIV

Life Hazards, Or, How I Learned to Argue with Doctors

Yesterday at 1:22pm, after coming into the office from lunch I had to deal with someone at my syringe exchange and in the process I received a needle stick injury. I am not going to write about the details of how that happened, certainly not online, but enough people have heard about my injury that there’s little sense in not talking about it at all. I’ve known ever since working for this nonprofit that working in the exchange carried some risks, and I’m proud that after fifteen years in operation, this is the first accident in the program.

However, if I thought there was a readily accessible and understandable protocol for dealing with needle stick injuries that I could work through in the hours after the injury, when it is most critical to get care, I was sorely mistaken. For a town known to have a great number of medical personnel and a nursing program, I had to work through six different care organizations and several staff who were close to incompetent, who had poor patient listening skills, and little cultural competence. Here is what happened after I washed my wound out in my office rest room.

I called the health department, saying I had a needle stick event and needed to talk to the infectious disease nurse, who knows me professionally because of my position at the nonprofit. She told me that I needed to contact Occupational Health at the hospital beause those are the folks who deal with needle sticks that have occurred in the workplace. I pulled up their web page and called the number at 1:30pm, eight minutes after the event, and got a recording saying their normal working hours were 8:30am until noon and 1:00pm until 5:00pm, but I could leave a message and they would call me the next day. I hung up and called again. Same thing. I texted Susanne, knowing she would be in class until 2:20pm.

I drove to the emergency department, got a bracelet, and was ushered back to a bed by 1:50pm. I texted the president of my board who offered to join me. I accepted. The nurse on my case told me her computer said to send me to urgent care because they are associated with the occupational health department. She cut the bracelet off my wrist and I drove half a block to urgent care. My board president met me there. At 2:30pm they brought me back and a nurse took my vitals. She was concerned that my blood pressure was 148 over 90, but I said given the circumstances it wasn’t going to get much better. I tried to relax; but my BP readings were just borderline high, which is atypical for me.

The doctor came in and asked what happened. I told him I run a syringe exchange and that I received a needle stick injury through my rubber glove. He asked me the name of the “source patient,” science-speak for the owner/user of the syringe. I said I didn’t know his name as this is a confidential program. This began a strange discussion in which I outlined: Read More…

The Small Town HIV/AIDS Organization

walla walla wheat fields combinesShe comes in, won’t make eye contact with me. I have to hold my breath so I can make out what her mumbles mean. But before I’ve had time to process the low tones of her language, I know why she’s in my office: She wants to get tested for HIV.

There’s definitely shame in the eyes of the people who come here looking to exchange their used syringes for new ones, but oftentimes they’re so desperate to be done with me that there’s nothing halting about their speech or presentation. The folks worried they’ve got the granddaddy of sexually transmitted diseases well, they have a reason to put off the potential certainty of a diagnosis. Those exchangers are all too anticipatory, and it is a readily accessible difference that I can assess inside of five seconds.

No matter the need of a given individual, I put on my most reassuring face. Get professional, avoid any hint of judgmental snark or attitude. In most engagements, they’ve spent copious amounts of time beating themselves up for their behavior, their mistakes, their bad decisions. I’m not one for piling on. Read More…

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