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Life Changing Words: Women's Responses to Being Diagnosed With HIV Infection

Stevens, Patricia E. PhD, RN, FAAN; Hildebrandt, Eugenie PhD, RN


In this longitudinal study, we investigated the diagnosis experiences of 55 human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV)-infected women. Women's immediate reactions upon hearing that they were infected with HIV were devastation, shock, and indignation. Long-term responses included depression, submersion of the HIV infection diagnosis, escalated drug and alcohol use, shame, and suicidality. It was usually months and sometimes years before women could extricate themselves from these patterns of response. It is critical to make HIV infection diagnosis the first intervention in a protocol of seamless support that sees women through the initial trauma of being diagnosed until longer term primary care and social services can be activated.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Nursing, Milwaukee, Wis.

Corresponding author: Patricia E. Stevens, PhD, RN, FAAN, PO Box 413, UWM College of Nursing, Milwaukee, WI 53201 (e-mail:

This research was supported by grant # NIH RO1 NR04840, National Institute of Nursing Research, and National Institute of Drug Abuse (Principal Investigator, Patricia E. Stevens, PhD, RN, FAAN). The authors acknowledge the collaboration of coinvestigators Aaron G. Buseh, MPH, PhD, Sharon M. Keigher, PhD, Sandra K. Plach, PhD, RN, and Beth Rodgers, PhD, RN, FAAN; Project Coordinator Sarah Morgan, PhD, RN; students associated with the project, especially Bev Zabler, MS, RN; and all the women who so diligently and generously participated in this longitudinal study.

© 2006 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.