Looking at your well-being
Bridgette Picou

I’m going to directly quote someone, but I’m not going to give them any credit. They don’t deserve it. I remember exactly what they said. It was one of those moments when I was offended and pissed, so it stuck with me. It was a doctor. He said, “You know Ms. Picou, even though you are Black, fat and forty, I’d take your blood pressure any day. It’s always good.” There was a moment of uncomfortable silence while I looked around to see if anyone else heard him, and then I asked him to repeat what he said. Mind you, I didn’t want him to repeat it, I just wanted to see if he would. He did. Sigh.

I wasn’t 40 yet. But close enough for him to be comfortable saying it. That was my first experience with the term “comorbidity,” a disease or medical condition that is simultaneously present with another or others in a patient. He gave me some blah-blah-blah I was only half-listening to about my chances for high blood pressure (inevitable), the risk of diabetes (likely) and cardiovascular risk (also likely). Here we are more than 10 years later, and I am free of high blood pressure, no diabetes and don’t have heart disease. Still “fat” though. Go figure.

Comorbidities weren’t a topic of conversation again until I started nursing school, which was soon after being diagnosed with HIV, so I learned more about them and how they related to HIV about the same time. I don’t want to turn this into a medical lesson or lecture. Let’s just say the potential for comorbidities lie within us all, and HIV has the capacity to exacerbate them. There are some things that certain groups are just more prone to. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Black folks are 60% more likely than non-Hispanic Whites to be diagnosed with diabetes. Black women are nearly 60 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than their White counterparts. In an article on Heart.org, they postulate that people living with HIV are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure and heart disease related to both HIV medication (ART) and the effects of the inflammatory process of the disease itself.

Every time I get a new twinge in my joints, or an unexpected symptom of illness I’ve never had before, I have to think, is it age or the HIV?

Having said that, the idea of living with a plethora of medical problems shows up more often than I like. Every time I get a new twinge in my joints, or an unexpected symptom of illness I’ve never had before, I have to think, is it age or the HIV? Could it be symptoms of long COVID? 

The truth is somewhere in the middle. I am getting older, so my body will have natural changes. I do have HIV and even though well controlled, it’s inflammatory and will have its effects as well. I think in theory everyone with HIV should pay attention to their health and do the best they can for their well-being. Yet I also know in reality that isn’t always possible. Life is going through life. There are going to be bad habits that are hard to kick once started and emotions we won’t always be able to control. You know the lecture. Don’t smoke or drink, eat right and exercise every day. That’s not always feasible. Maintaining your personal balance is what matters. I call it mitigating the morbidities. It doesn’t have to be to extremes. Mine looks like this:

I might have a couple of extra tacos, but I don’t smoke. I might have a drink or two here or there, but I’m going to try to swim or walk for exercise. Depression and anxiety may hit, but there is sunlight and water to smooth out those edges. If going to the gym every day and a strictly regulated diet works for you, do that. Yoga, meditation or just being with friends—do it! The point is managing these things is how you live your best life. Like

I always say: It’s your life, not HIV’s

Be well. You matter.  

Bridgette Picou, LVN, ACLPN, is a licensed vocational and certified AIDS Care Nurse in Palm Springs, California. She works for The Well Project-HIV and Women as their stakeholder liaison. Bridgette is the president-elect of the Greater Palm Springs Chapter of ANAC (the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care), and a sitting member of the board of directors for HIV & Aging Research Project-Palm Springs (HARP-PS). Bridgette’s goal is to remind people that there are lives being lived behind a three- or four-letter acronym.