I re-read some of my posts from the last few days, and they all seem upbeat and positive. The tone so far has been quite different from “Random Things” part 1. I guess that’s just because I’m in a much better place than I was 7 years ago. Still, I feel like I should balance things out with something a bit more serious.
I used to be an HIV Peer Counselor. A few years ago, I joined the Care Management group of The Red Ribbon Project, which was founded by someone in the HIV community who I really admire. I wanted to give back to the community, because I myself had received so much help from people in the same situation as me, and I thought it was only fair to pay it forward.
I started out with simple tasks. I helped out newly diagnosed HIV+ people navigate their way around our treatment hub, RITM, and as I assisted them, I also help answer any questions they had about what it was like to be HIV+, what it was like to go through treatments, and other stuff. If our rapport was good, which it generally was, I’d ask more personal details and try to help them work through their emotions.
I got really good at counseling people, even if I hadn’t actually gone through peer counselling training myself. After some time, I started helping out with the HIV+ patients who were confined in the wards. These were more complicated cases, generally brought about by either late diagnosis or non-adherence to treatments. I got to the point where I was helping patients who had drug-resistant infections, or those with severe allergic reactions to the HIV meds. This I managed to do pre-shift prior to coming in to my actual job.
There were not nearly as many volunteers available as there were newly diagnosed folks or confined patients who needed help. To complicate things, I was getting busier and busier at work, and I often had to come to the hospital to assist 7-10 patients with only 2 hours of sleep. Needless to say, it took a toll on my patience. I was starting to have less and less patience for the people I was helping out, and as a counselor, that’s not a good thing.
I can pinpoint 3 specific cases that I assisted that were the reason I needed a break from counseling. The first was a married guy who got HIV from his boyfriend. He didn’t open up much, and when I asked him if he was planning to tell his wife, he wasn’t – even though it was highly possible he had infected her. I was so pissed off at him. HIV law in the Philippines is quite strict about patient confidentiality, so my anger didn’t really go anywhere.
The last 2 cases were the ones that made me decide that I couldn’t do this anymore. I assisted a 15 year-old and a 17 year-old. They were the youngest patients of TRR’s care management program, and they were assigned to me. Helping minors is super complicated. First of all, you can’t get treatment in the Philippines as a minor without the consent of a legal guardian, so most minors decide not to get treatment at all. Luckily, those 2 decided to get treatment. For the 15 year-old, he brought his grandmother to the hospital. She didn’t know why they were there, and he was kind of avoiding the issue. I had to sit through their doctors consultation while the doctor explained to the grandmother that her grandchild had HIV.
I had managed quite well up until that point, even without actually going through any formal or informal training about how to be a counselor. But I felt so helpless when I was managing that 15 year-old’s case. I was lucky that he decided to come over to the hospital and admit to his grandmother that he had HIV, because if he had decided not to tell her, legally speaking I would not have been able to do anything about it. At the hospital, I could even ask him my usual questions about how he got HIV because he was a minor (32 year-old men cannot be asking 15 year-olds about their sex lives), though in my head I was hoping that he got it from someone his age and not someone who molested or raped him. It felt weird hoping that another minor had HIV rather than the other option.
I couldn’t take it after that. I used my work schedule and my relocation to Taguig as an excuse, but the reality was I was so mentally and emotionally exhausted and drained from helping people out that I just had to stop. I felt guilty for a while, but when I look at what The Project Red Ribbon is doing now, I feel proud that I was part of that group even if it was just for a short time. I do hope to re-join the care management group at some time in the future. Hopefully then I’ll be more equipped to handle the stuff you need to deal with.