Hello again, thanks for coming back. I told you we'd have fun (and maybe learn a thing or two). Thought today I'd share a little snapshot of the Prevention professional's daily grind. Most days we love our job, some days are filled with dread that the risky behaviors we encounter are just going to prove to be too much for some poor soul.
Phone rings - can we provide an exhibit table for a local health fair? Sure! That's our job, no matter that it might be outdoors in the lovely Alabama summer sun, under our tent, in a sizzling parking lot where we gladly pass out educational brochures and safer sex supplies! That's what we do, the message is too important to NOT be there for that community. Thanks for inviting us! And by the way, our federal funder requires that we complete several pages of paperwork to document our day; it's just part of prevention, we may complain but we learn from it and it helps us evaluate the programs that make a difference!
Phone rings - can we provide substance abuse education to at-risk youth in a nearby community? Of course, that's where we need to be. School-aged youth are experimenting with drugs and alcohol at an earlier age, often at 10-12 years of age. Most of us have children of our own, we want them to grow and prosper, enjoy their youth and stay drug free; we bring the prevention message with age appropriate language and materials, and hope that we reach their hearts and minds. When a young athlete approaches you after a school assembly and says he's learned a lot today and wants to know how to help his friend who is using drugs...it's all worthwhile.
Several times a week - A young adult, a teenager, a senior citizen, a mother, a grandfather, walks into our agency and our receptionist pages a Prevention staff member, our guest has requested an HIV test. Believe me, it takes amazing courage and strength to drive yourself to a clinic or health department and lay your sexual history and recent drug use on the table for a testing counselor to assess.
I admire all those who seek HIV screening, it takes guts, especially when you KNOW you've made some poor decisions like having unprotected sex; had sex with multiple partners, had sex while high or intoxicated, traded your body for money or drugs or food for the baby, on and on the stories spill out, and often the tears.
Heard during the testing and counseling interview, "Miss Julie, I've never had sex with anyone except my boyfriend", "Miss Julie, I've never injected drugs or used a needle in my life", "Miss Julie, I'm on the Pill, I wasn't worried about HIV, just didn't want to get pregnant", "Miss Julie, I was faithful, but my wife has just confessed to an affair", "Miss Julie, I was drunk and high and I don't know what happened that night". And those are just a few. The number one comment is probably, "I didn't think it could happen to me".
And the Prevention professional's day is filled with lists; crack, weed, crystal meth, oxy, X/Ecstasy, heroin, Spice, Special K, Salvia, Purple Drank, Powder, herb, acid, angel, crank. Whew! There are new ones to add to the list each day, and the names change from neighborhood to neighborhood, town to town, city to city. If you can smoke it, snort it, shoot it, drink it, we hear about it! Our lovely town of Anniston sits right between the cities of Atlanta and Birmingham, with all the enticing bright lights and exciting offerings that big cities may offer. If it's not sold or distributed or passed out at a party in our home town, a quick ride on I-20 and the menu expands, for both sexual and drug using temptations and delights.
And I have to say that the best part of a Prevention day is when you get to tell someone that their test result is Negative, but now we need to talk about how to KEEP you that way. We need to promote safer behaviors, and abstinence does work no matter what age you may be, whether we are talking about sexual activity or drug and alcohol use. Behavior change can happen, attitudes can change, that's our goal.
It is our responsibility as Prevention professionals to provide non-judgmental, compassionate, comprehensive risk reduction information for those who choose to be sexually active, or struggle with drug and alcohol abuse; it's about public health and disease prevention.
It is our mission to provide resources and referrals for those who desire treatment and counseling for their substance abuse behaviors; to provide medical care and support for those who test positive for HIV and still struggle with addiction. So, often our day continues with the creation of a prevention plan for those who want to live healthier, get clean and sober, and protect their health and that of their loved ones.
Some days we laugh after the person calls after picking up some of our free condoms and asks for "round ones" because the ones in his safer sex kit were in a SQUARE package! And we giggle when we ask a grandmother in a church-sponsored prevention class for women to put that condom on an anatomical penis as she turns beet-red. We de-brief at the end of a huge community health fair to discuss what we could have done better, what worked, and what didn't. Should we have had hip-hop music for the teens? Coffee for the adults? Will this group come to hear our Substance Abuse program if we give them a free T-shirt or would they rather have a water bottle? Prevention works (that's the name of my blog in case you've forgotten) but we have to "sell it"! And that is what I'm hoping to do as we continue on this adventure together, till next time. Be safe!
Alabama Dept. of Public Health HIV/AIDS data www.adph.org
17,674 persons with HIV/AIDS in Alabama (it won't happen to me)
64.10% of all AL cases are African Americans (I thought it was a gay white male disease)
4,498 cases are females (I didn't know how to negotiate condom use)
8,936 cases are persons over 35 years of age (you need to talk to those "teenagers")
24.84% of all cases are in heterosexuals ( but I'm not gay, why should I worry?)