HIV and the Impact of Animal Companions
Last updated: November 2022
My diagnosis hit me like a ton of bricks. I was not very educated on HIV, which caused that initial panic. I woke up in a hospital room without knowing how I ended up there or even why I was there.
Later I would learn that I had HIV, actually AIDs, because my CD4 count was only 35. Since it was never treated, I acquired PCP pneumonia. This pneumonia almost killed me while I slept.
My hospital stay lasted a month. During this time, I was not educated by any sort of professional about my HIV. The hospital infectious disease doctor told me to make an appointment with him after the New Year holiday.
My sister is the one who did the research. She is also the one who pointed out that HIV is not the death diagnosis that it used to be in the 1980s.
My dogs and my panic attacks
When I originally returned home, I was surrounded by my husband and his family. But eventually, my husband had to return to work, and his mom was only so much company. I was still extremely weak from my month-long hospital trip. My true source of companionship came from my dogs.
My two dogs became an even bigger part of my world than they were before my hospitalization.
Much to my surprise, when I started having night terrors, my dogs would wake me up. They would lick my face and paw at me until they managed to wake me up. Then they would lay there while I hugged and pet them to calm down. They became my grounding force when I would wake up in panic mode.
I cannot explain how isolated I felt after receiving my diagnosis. It surprised us that I had been with my husband for about 6 years at the time of my diagnosis, and he was negative. The diagnosis really shook me, and I did not have anybody who understood what I was going through.
I do not think I have ever felt so alone. This caused me to withdraw in every way possible. My dogs were the only thing that brought me any level of peace. It did not matter to them if I needed to sit on my kitchen floor and cry. They would walk up to me, lick my face, and let me hug them.
The impact of pets after diagnosis
While I was recovering, my dogs motivated me to move around more. They wanted to play with their toys, sunbathe, and go on walks. Ultimately, my dogs pulled me out of my self-isolation. Since I do not have kids, they filled that void for me.
While I have lost my Boxer to old age, my Shar Pei mix still keeps me going. When my depression flares, he is the reason I continue to fight through it and not succumb to the darkness. I know that nobody else would love and care for him the way that I do. He loves to go on car rides and play with my sister's dog. My dog keeps me going, and that is enough for now.
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