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Your Domestic Workers is HIV+ ...Now What?

31 August 2012, 10:12

Our Housekeeper came on the scene 17 years ago and has been around almost as long as my entire relationship with my Husband. When we moved into our first house, she came with and lived on the property. My Husband even assisted her with the traumatic break up of her then boyfriend. What had happened was that they had a fight and our lady had locked herself in the room and refused to come out.

Dear Hubbie went out to investigate as to what was going on, and discovered that she did not want to see ‘Victor’ anymore and he stood (6ft and knees shaking) and explained to the most enormous man you have ever seen (her boyfriend at 6ft 7’) that the relationship was over. He literally stood (on tip toes I am sure) and consoled this mammoth of a man until such time as he finally accepted that the love of his life wanted nothing to do with him, and left. We teased her about it for years.

Anyway, we went on to have children and as a normal course of events, our Housekeeper became the 2IC in our household and stand in ‘Mum’ for all the times we were working late. She bottle fed/cooked for them, cleaned our house, helped potty train all three of our kids (much better at it than me) and assisted with keeping their manners in check.

One day back in 2007 and after yet another request from her to take time off to see the doctor for stomach ailments at the Clinic, I told her that I wanted a letter from the doctor explaining what tests had been done on her, cursing all the while about Government Hospitals. My plan was to whisk her off to our doctor to do checks and ensure that they prescribed the correct medication. I came home that evening and there was our lady sitting at the kitchen table waiting for me. When I asked where the letter was, she simply said, 'I have HIV.'

Now please bear in mind that I was born and brought up in Zambia and watched in the 80s as the small towns Barmen, Waiters and Caddies that had been part of my life since I was tiny, started to literally fade away before my eyes. One by one they passed away, leaving only the memories of their wonderful big smiles. I knew all about HIV and Aids and considered myself educated in this regards.

My world literally started to spin and all the lessons and courses that one does in regards to Aids and how one can become infected – they all go out the window, as emotion takes over.

I knew I could not fall apart there and simply stated that we could chat in the morning. No sooner was she out the door and I started to cry, thinking of how I could have now exposed all three of my children unknowingly to HIV. Like I said, all logic and reason is momentarily gone. Your mind flashes to that big gash on your child’s knee that was tended to when you were not home and you become paranoid that ‘maybe’ our lady had a cut on her finger as well. There ‘could’ have been some kind of exposure. I cannot express that initial panic and overwhelming sense of dread that takes over.

I was not ready to talk to her the next day or even the next, but eventually pulled myself together and we sat down to discuss her options. It turned out that she was already on ARVs and thus the reason for monthly visits to the clinic. I also then had to face the fact that she had already been HIV positive for some time. We traced it back to when my husband "broke up" with Victor for her, who at the time had said, "I love her, but she will not sleep with me."

So basically it was too late to have a panic attack, she had been involved in the upbringing of every single one of my children. I could not undo anything and fought the need to rush out and have all of my kids tested. That aha moment put everything into perspective once and for all and logic/reasoning became the order of the day. We purchased surgical latex gloves (boxes of 100) and these are to be worn whenever handling food. To be honest, I went a little bananas and bought gloves for everything. I talked to her about all hygiene practices as well as to "never" touch anyone else's blood, without putting on gloves. I have drummed this into our kids ever since , in fact, my kids friends even know that if they get a nasty scrape or cut, I will tend to it - ONCE I have gloves on.

I even went as far as to explain that if she ever cut her finger whilst cutting her own food, she was to throw it ALL away and come to me and I would give her food. Thereby, in my mind, I was trying to get some kind of consistency going. Don't get me wrong, I am no Saint and my Hubbie (ever the calming one) is the one that has sat for many hours with me, discussing options, actions and helping me get clarity. No level of education can actually prepare you for that moment.

My children are all much older now and I am pleased to say that she is still with us, however, I am not sure if she is actually taking the ARVs as religion/faith got in the way there, but that is a topic for another day.

All I can say is, you need to trust your instinct and if you know that your Domestic loves your children as much as you do, you CAN do it. I will go months without even thinking about it and then a cloud will pass over and I have a "paper bag" (hyperventilating) moment, which with a bit of effort now eases off. You need to have a high level of trust and you learn to work around it and carry on. Personally, I would rather know.

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