One thing life-long Brooklyn resident Felicia Barrow has learned in the nearly two decades since she was diagnosed with HIV is that you just can’t be afraid to turn over a new leaf. And that philosophy has seen her through some pretty tough times over the years. It helped her make sense of the news in 1993 that she had contracted HIV.
She invoked it again seven years later when she learned that she had Hepatitis C. It kept her feeling solid when she was diagnosed with hypertension, and it steadied her when breast cancer rocked her world in 2009.
Felicia’s never been one to concentrate on life’s negatives—she’s open and honest and likes to tell it like it is.
When she meets a stranger, she wants to know them and she wants them to know her–to know all about her. That means disclosing her status and letting people know what she likes and needs. But there are times when her struggles sometimes get the best of her. When that happens, Duke Bailey, a registered nurse with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York’s Long Term Home Health Care Program steps in.
Duke was born on the island of Jamaica and came to the U.S. to pursue a career in the health care field. He too lives in Brooklyn. Aside from helping Felicia manage the arsenal of medications that are needed to combat her multiple chronic illnesses, Duke has a secret weapon that he deploys whenever the stigma of HIV illness threatens to raise its ugly head—he listens.
“I may not be God, and be able to completely heal the sickness,” he says. “But when I’m there to just listen and give her times to speak her mind …., well that’s something Felicia’s never really had before.”
That listening has helped build a strong bond of trust between Felicia and Duke, who visits her every week and is just a phone call away, if there’s anything she needs.
“HIV patients are different,” says Bailey. “There’s still stigma when people find out, and so many patients are reluctant to let others know. We try to help our patients and their families understand that stigma is based in fear, and there are things you can do about that. We treat our people, not the disease.”
VNSNY nurses, social workers, rehabilitation therapists and home health aides receive special training to address the particular needs of patients with complex chronic illnesses like HIV/AIDS diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, COPD, MS and other chronic illnesses.
“I know I’m not sick because I did something bad,” Felicia says. “This is just something that happened to me and I can get real help.”
For many of Duke’s patients, taking medications is like a full time job and each med has to be taken just the way the doctor prescribed it. “My patients know that they put their life in danger when they don’t take that seriously.” They trust that Duke will be there for him, no matter what, and so will the other members of the health care team that supports them as part of the VNSNY Long Term Home Health Care Program.
Felicia has had to deal with recovery from breast cancer and pain in the joints from osteoarthritis and two knee surgeries; not to mention the extreme fatigue brought on by the her treatments. Her home health aide, Jean, “helps keep me sane,” Felicia says.
Jean helps keep the house in order and takes care of meals and laundry—a big help when Felicia was fighting fatigue from the ‘Hep C’ or recovering from her breast cancer chemotherapy.
“It can be very lonely in the house all by yourself, especially when you’ve been used to working and have lived an active life like I have,” she says. “Jean helps me get out to go shopping and visit the park too.”
Another member of Felicia’s personal VNSNY health care team is her social worker, Arnold Messing, who helps her keep up with important paperwork like Medicare and disability forms. He connected her with experts to get her taxes done and knowing how important it was for her to engage with others and give back to her community, he got her connected with a cancer survivor support group that she attends regularly.
These days, Felicia is feeling pretty good. She’s fast at work crocheting a blanket for her grandson’s bed and looking forward to a family vacation later this year. “When I was first diagnosed, I felt the stigma and it was harsh, but with the support of my family and with people like Duke Bailey and the VNSNY team around me, I really am turning over a new leaf every day.”
To learn more about VNSNY’s Long Term Home Health Care Program, please call 1-866-599-1075 or visit www.VNSNY.org.