DEAR ABBY: My husband of 35 years died recently of AIDS. He was a salesman, well-liked, and traveled a lot. Evidently he did more than travel. I was unaware he had AIDS until the lesions appeared. He refused treatment and died a short time later.
I have been tested and the results show that I am HIV-positive. We have two grown children (33 and 30) who are devastated over this. I am in counseling trying to understand how I could have missed the signs.
My primary problem now is, What do I tell his college friends who come to see me? Should I tell the truth -- that he had a secret life, that I am HIV-positive, that I am terrified? What do I say to our friends as to the cause of his death? Right now, they think it was a virulent form of pneumonia. Also, his out-of-town clients who may have been involved in his activities could be at risk.
How I would love to ask him if the experience was worth the pain he has caused. I wanted to divorce him immediately, but he became sick so fast and I could not just throw him out, although I wanted to.
My children want me to keep the AIDS a secret because of what it will do to their future here in town. But will someone at the hospital let it slip? Will the doctors make a comment?
Sometimes I feel I'm losing my mind. I have contemplated suicide.
My counselor says it will take a while to work out my anger. I doubt that will ever be done. John knew he had AIDS long before it became apparent, yet he said nothing and did nothing. How vicious and selfish!
I am in massive turmoil. My faith in my religion is gone and I literally have no one to talk to. So you get to catch the flak, Abby.
My doctor says the largest contingent of new AIDS cases in the United States is women in their 50s or older, whose husbands infect them. They seem to think that it will never happen to them. Please tell your readers that they too can become a statistic and that they should be tested just to be on the safe side. -- BASKET CASE (NO CITY PLEASE)
DEAR LADY: My heart goes out to you. Thank you for an important letter, which highlights more than one serious issue. The first is confidentiality: You may assume that those in the health-care community will not divulge your family's private medical information.
The decision to make public your husband's cause of death is a very personal one to be made by you and your family. Whatever you decide, I urge you to enter an HIV/AIDS support group. There you can safely vent your feelings with people who understand what you are experiencing because they have dealt with those feelings themselves. There are many excellent AIDS support groups, and the local AIDS organization in your community can put you in touch with one of them.
I discussed your situation with Mervyn Silverman, M.D., past president of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR). He said that although your diagnosis is a serious one, with the new drugs that have been approved -- and others that are on the way -- there is real hope for people with HIV/AIDS, something that just a few years ago did not exist for people who tested positive for HIV. That is why it is so important for people to be tested.
He also told me that your physician may have overstated the statistics, but there IS a growing number of women and men over 50 who are being diagnosed with HIV. Therefore, people should not be lulled into a false sense of security thinking that AIDS could never happen to them. Regardless of your age, race or economic status, it makes good sense to protect yourself during sexual contacts.