Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My HIV Scare

I haven't posted for a while. I am sorry. In the midst of the usual work-study-school cycle that I have endured for the past 2 years, I have also been dealing with something else.

So, this will be a break from the usual political or health-themed articles I have been writing. Basically, I am scared, and I haven't told many people even in real life.

But this is my relatively anonymous blog, where only a few people really know who I am. In my own way, this is my therapy.

Without being too specific, within the past 2 weeks I accidentally stuck myself with a used needle while doing my nursing duties.

The needle had caused the patient to bleed. I am not sure if or how much blood was on it.
The needle was relatively large and hollow-bored.
While fumbling with the so-called "safety" mechanism on the needle, the syringe slipped from my hand and while trying to catch it, my thumb penetrated the used needle. I should have just let it drop to the floor, I suppose.
Within seconds I was also bleeding from inside my glove.

The source was an HIV-positive person.

I suppose everyone at some point in their lives has a moment like this. An accident. A diagnosis. The death of someone close. One single moment that you soon realize will determine the course of the rest of your life.

I can only describe the way I felt when it happened as a wave of nausea accompanied by visions of everything that led up to this moment, everything I had worked for, and everything that one little mistake might mean for the rest of my life.

Realistically, the chances of health-care professionals' seroconversion when exposed to HIV are around 0.3%, per the CDC. I know the odds are in my favor. But the chances are never zero. And just knowing that I was definitely exposed in a real way to something is not good for my hypochondriac soul.

Within a couple seconds I was hovered over the sink, washing my thumb with hot water and soap (also squeezing it like a snakebite, as if that would actually help), while calmly letting the patient know what had happened.

I am also in the midst of completing a rather hellish course of PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis), which for me is 4 different HIV medications...which can have both annoying and serious side effects themselves. The purpose of the PEP therapy, based on what is known about the pathogenesis of the HIV virus, is to prevent systemic infection by introducing anti-retrovirals within the 24-72 hour period it takes for the virus to infect regional lymph nodes at the site of innoculation. Basically, the medications I am taking, we hope, would prevent any replication of any theoretial virus or virus-containing cells that may have entered my body. Of course, studies in humans for this are rather limited for obvious reasons (ie-thousands of health-care workers who were exposed would have to enroll in an efficacy trial), but the limited animal and human studies that have been analyzed have shown an 81% reduction in HIV seroconversion following a 4-week course of PEP.

I'm trying to keep a good outlook on things.

I will be re-tested in a couple weeks. I may or may not ever write another post about this again.

Just thought I would share my story.



Anonymous said...


Thank you so much for sharing. I am so sorry this happened, but very glad to know that your risk is really low. Just one more reason to thank a nurse you know. Your job is so much more than the sexy uniform or overweight crabby lady that works in the ER. There are very real dangers to what you do in order to help others. I am sure the patient you were helping when this happened feels terrible, but also appreciates you...that is how i would feel anyway.

Fannie said...

So sorry to hear that this happened to you Jane. I know that nurses expose themselves to many risks on an everyday basis, and are often underappreciated it for it. So thank you.

Grace said...

Oh, My Sweet Jane!

I am so sorry this happened. I love you and am thinking of you.

Jane Know said...

Thank you everyone.

I guess I just needed to get this out more than anything. And to let people know that a lot is kinda going on right now, which is why I haven't been writing as much.

But for the record, I don't think of my job as a sacrifice or as being super-benevolent. I am fully aware of the risks that working in the medical field pose, and have been since before I got into the field. Really, I feel lucky to have a good job right now in this economy and luckier to probably be getting a better one soon.

The patient probably does feel terrible about what happened. But I did my best to ensure that (s)he did not feel like it was his/her fault or did anything wrong. Mistakes happen, and with some luck on my side everything will be fine.


John Hosty-Grinnell said...

My thoughts are with you too Jane; be well!

Jane Know said...

Thank you, JHG.

rem said...

[Insert words of support where everything I try to come up with sounds really stupid]

John Hosty-Grinnell said...

Time to update us Jane... as a friend I want to make sure you're OK, but I also understand a need for privacy. I hope you have good news.

Seda said...

Good luck, Jane. My thoughts and prayers go to you. Be well.

We care. I care.

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Anonymous said...

hello jane,

thanks for telling your story. I came across this blog in order to find some comfort. I too was in your shoe just yesterday.

I was working a night shift when I accidentally pricked myself when I was about to close the needle after injecting a blood thinner into an HIV positive patient. I went through the protocol last night and now I'm sitting at home, worried. I'm trying to distract myself from thinking about it but its difficult to just ignore it. Every time I take my PEP pills its another reminder of how terrible I feel. I feel frustrated. Scared. Extremely scared!!!

I've spoke to a couple docs about this and it temporarily re-assures me that transmission is low risk, however, i'm having difficulty functioning in a sane manner. I feel like screaming and shouting at the world.

Besides a small amount of people at work who know this, no one else who i'm close to know. I don't know how to break it to them. I'm still relatively young and I feel that I can't express this to my parents as I dont want to worry them, or anybody at all.

Anyways, I see you haven't updated this in almost a year but when you get around to reading this and if you have sometime please contact me. My email is I don't have anyone to talk to about this.

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