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Student Life

“You are HIV positive”

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 01 December 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:0612478

A medical student describes what happened after hearing these words

AIDS has ceased to be something to be ashamed of; it is simply another medical condition. The condition is medical and the solution is political. It becomes political when the rich part of the world can afford to develop drugs that the poor part cannot have. It becomes political when it devastates entire countries and lays to waste entire cultures.

- Bob Geldof

I am a medical student-an articulate, hard working, and passionate person who wants to serve as a doctor. I am not at the top of the class, but I try to involve myself in everything that medical school has to offer. Friends would describe me as bubbly, extraverted, and a chatterbox. Two months ago, though, I was told, “You are HIV positive.”

Nothing can prepare you for those nauseating words. My sympathetic nervous system kicked in, I became flushed, sweaty, and detached. I felt I was being sedated. Immediately I thought about my career, my relationships, and how my life had been ripped away, all in a 10 minute consultation. You might think that being a medical student would help in some way. We are taught to empathise with patients, and it is imperative that we try to do so. Remember though that we can never fully understand what is going on in a patient's mind when we break bad news. The words “you are HIV positive” are the only ones I remember from that first consultation.

The health adviser allowed me to speak. She established that I did not have any suicidal ideas and that a support structure existed when I went home. My instant reaction was, “Yes, I'll be fine.” After all, I am training to be a doctor. I must be able to cope with this.

No laps for comfort

The …

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