I’m in my mid-30s. I’m a gay, HIV-positive man living in New York City.
I value my privacy and keep my status to a “need to know” basis. I thought it was my choice and at my discretion — but I found out on Sunday August 6, 2017 that it wasn’t my choice to disclose my status anymore.
I live in a large apartment building in midtown east in Manhattan. This particular day, I arrived home to find that my new roommate — of exactly 6 days — was nice enough to grab our mail.
Nobody likes mail when you’re an adult, so I wait to get it a week at a time. It’s usually bills and catalogs for stuff you won’t buy and coupons to Best Buy that always expire – but they accept them anyway. For these reasons, I dread getting the mail. I never thought in a million years I would learn to dread it on the level I do now.
What I found sitting right on top of my pile, was a white envelope with an oversized envelope with the dreaded word that we all try so hard not to see — that we try not to talk about.
It said HIV.
I at first thought maybe this was a mistake, was I seeing this correctly? Did they really print this and put it in an envelope, pay the postage, and send it via mail? Did my roommate open this and I’m just not seeing it how it was mailed? No. It was sealed tight and intact. I took a pic and sent it to my best friend (a doctor) who defends the privacy of his patients on a daily basis. He was astounded.
I sat there for a good 20 minutes in shock and awe. A thousand thoughts ran through my mind. Then the panic set in. Good God. How many people saw it? What does my roommate think? What if it was put in the wrong mailbox before it made its way into mine? Or worse yet, fell on the floor and then it sat out where multiple neighbors and building personnel may have seen it.
I don’t just live in my apartment, I run my business out of it. Now I live every day wondering who has seen it and who knows. Why am I getting odd looks from neighbors? Are they really standing further from me? I’m paranoid that the leasing office has seen it, the doormen, my neighbors. With social media and business review sites, how long is it going to take until everyone knows my personal business? I could be singled out and beaten or killed. In the current political climate one thing is certain. No one is safe.
A few weeks later the same doctor sent me a link to a news release. What happened to me happened to thousands of other people. Some of these people have surely had other problems, much more troubling than I. Aetna issued a blanket statement. Big deal. The damage they have done to people’s lives is irreparable. There are cases similar to this, certainly not of this magnitude, where dollars are substituted for shards of privacy. I’ve reached out to the Legal Action Center in New York and even spoke with the Attorney General. I’m uncertain if it’s mind blowing that you see a blanket release from this big company – nobody stops by your place. They don’t really care. How many laws have been broken?
I may never get over this. I don’t know the extent of the damage, the potential for lost opportunity, and I can never regain the peace of mind. My own personal safety is at stake and I’ve had nightmares ever since. Even the process of litigating the issue has added risk.
Somewhere there is a list.
Aetna knows exactly who got the info in the windowed envelope for all the see.