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Woman Called Out For Not Being Sympathetic Enough After Sister’s Recent HIV Diagnosis

Woman being comforted with a hug
ClarkandCompany/Getty Images

Content Warning: HIV, medical diagnosis, treatment, medical stigma

Nothing about life is guaranteed, unfortunately, even our health and the potential medical diagnoses we might receive.

The worst part is that some of these diagnoses are totally life-changing, cringed the “Am I the A**hole?” (AITA) subReddit, and people who haven’t experienced it can be really apathetic.

Redditor Hot-Measurement-8218’s sister had just come to them for comfort after she received a tough diagnosis, only to be met with logical responses about medical insurance and copays.

When their sister and parents criticized them for how they failed to comfort her, the Original Poster (OP) wondered if they had taken the wrong approach.

They asked the sub:

“AITA for how I responded to my sister’s HIV diagnosis?”

The OP tried to comfort their sister after receiving a tough diagnosis but failed.

“The long and very short of it is that my sister recently got diagnosed with HIV.”

“As far as I’m aware, this is from a hookup that she no longer has access to and was from a consensual encounter.”

“She came to me on Sunday and cried about the results.”

“While I responded with sympathy, my reaction wasn’t severe. I asked if she still had valid insurance, and she said yes, so I said she’d be fine and that the worst of it is over then.”

“She called me heartless and said I had no idea how ruined her life is.”

“I kind of shrugged at her and said she just needed to adhere to treatment, and she’d be fine.”

“Again, this set her off, and she called me an evil b***h because I didn’t see how awful her life was about to be.”

The family did not respond well to the OP’s interaction with their sister.

“I admit, I may have been crass and said, ‘I don’t see how a mildly steep copay is going to kill you?'”

“She was very angry with me and left me alone to think about our interaction.”

“My mom and dad are upset that I wasn’t as sympathetic with her because she truly does feel as though her life is over and at the end of the day, it’s still a big deal.”

The OP felt conflicted.

“I don’t blame my sister AT ALL, for her diagnosis. No one should expect to get a disease from a single encounter and I don’t think it’s earned or justified by any means.”

“I LOVE my sister. She is my only sibling, and I helped raise her, and while this situation isn’t perfect or ideal, I still love her very much.”

“And my response was based in logic, it didn’t come from a place of hatred or resentment. I just thought logic would help, but maybe that isn’t what she needed right now.”

“AITA for how I responded?”

Fellow Redditors weighed in:

  • NTA: Not the A**hole
  • YTA: You’re the a**hole
  • ESH: Everybody Sucks Here
  • NAH: No A**holes Here

Some argued that the sister’s life would have a lot more complications than the OP realized.

“Even though HIV is thankfully much, much better controlled with antiretrovirals, it’s still a lifelong stigmatizing condition with a huge amount of social difficulties attached to having it.”

“She’s now going to have a h**l of a lot of trouble with getting a partner, with conceiving naturally (even though with correct treatment the risk should be minimal), with breastfeeding her kids if she ever has them… Not to mention that the treatment itself can sometimes have side effects.”

“It’s hardly something to be so flippant about.”

“YTA.” – UnequalPenguin

“There may be medications and procedures in place, sure, but it’s still a life changer that isn’t akin to ‘pop some pills and go about your business’ like Prep ads make it seem.”

“Many people don’t want consistent medical attention and worry about access and stigma depending on where they live or travel to when getting their meds.”

“H**l, in the US it was only very recently were gay men allowed to donate blood while sexually active: we’ve progressed, but we have a ways to go.” – MargoKittyLit

“There is also an assumption that treatment will always be available which I really hope but isn’t necessarily true. And even if it’s available, it might not always be affordable.”

“My health insurance used to have three tiers of prescription drugs. I was on one in the highest tier for 35 dollars per month.”

“A new year started and the insurance company had created a fourth tier where the copay was 30 percent of the retail price, so it would’ve been almost 600 dollars per month, and I had to stop taking it.” – twirlerina024

“I’ve worked in HIV for the last ten years, and while there have been milestones in the field, it’s still a forever chronic condition that will have a great impact on her life. Forever.”

“Access to meds, ongoing stigma, etc., are still real-life struggles for a lot of people. This is a serious diagnosis that needs full family, friends, and medical support and monitoring.” – likeyouknowwhatever_

“I remember watching an Oprah episode maybe 15 years ago (maybe longer). The guest was a woman who was suing her ex-husband for giving her HIV (he lied about being monogamous, refused to wear a condom, several other factors…).”

“But I remember the episode because Oprah was like, ‘Oh, HIV is something people can live with; just look at Magic Johnson.'”

“The guest interrupted her and said, ‘Quit using Magic as an example. He has staff, personal chefs, trainers, etc. that help him live with HIV. That is not the case with 99 percent of people who have it.'”

“Oprah was very apologetic, and the OP should be, too. And this is worse than Oprah speaking to a guest; this is the OP speaking to their SISTER.” – One_Ad_704

Others challenged the OP to apologize to their sister and show her the empathy she needed.

“Whilst all of this is true, there is also one other important facet, which is: if someone’s upset about something, they’re upset from their perspective, not yours, so dismissing something completely invalidates their feelings.”

“People lack empathy quite a lot, and sometimes it really shows.” – pyschotherapist

“In another timeline, the OP’s like, ‘Ugh, why are you complaining about getting stabbed? You have insurance.’ YTA then, and YTA now.” – Intelligent_Egg_5763

“YTA… Do you know the definition of sympathy?”

“Sympathy is a feeling of sincere concern for someone who is experiencing something difficult or painful also involving and actively sharing in the person’s emotional experience. Compassion adds to the emotional experience of sympathy and can alleviate the person’s distress.”

“Your responses? No sympathy whatsoever.”

“The OP said, ‘She still had valid insurance, and she said yes, so I said she’d be fine and that the worst of it is over then,’ and also, ‘I don’t see how a mildly steep copay is going to kill you?'”

“Where do you see the sympathy in this?”

“HIV is transmitted through certain body fluids, including blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids, and breast milk. Perinatal transmission of HIV can occur in utero, during labor and delivery, or postnatally through breastfeeding.”

“Controlled studies have shown that mother-to-child transmission can be reduced by the use of antiretroviral therapy, elective cesarean section, and exclusive formula feeding.”

“None of that is simple. And you have shown no sympathy. YTA.” – Confident-Try20

“It sounds like the OP doesn’t even like their sister. This poor woman.”

“The only person I know who has HIV has had to have three liver transplants and is waiting for a heart transplant. He’s 34/35 and has had to have half his teeth removed because the medications he’s on have destroyed them.”

“This woman may live a long and healthy life with little difference, but she also may not. And OP can’t even show her some basic empathy as she grapples with this being her potential future.” – kizkazskyline

“YTA. Are you for real? Your sister was just told she has a deadly disease, and you are saying, ‘It won’t kill you’ to make a copay?”

“What happens if she can’t make a copay? What happens if she is treatment-resistant? You are horrible.”

“My friend died a couple of years ago because someone gave him HIV and was treatment-resistant. You are gross.” – Justheretoread2085

“YTA. You were very cold and unsympathetic. Your sister has just been told that she has an incurable lifelong condition that requires her to have regular checks and take multiple pills every day. She is going to find it really hard to get a new partner or even have kids, and if she stops taking the pills, the disease can kill her.”

“Would it have really hurt you to give her a hug and tell her everything will be okay, and you will all help her out? Do you even like your sister?” – Warm-Bluejay-1738

After receiving feedback, the OP shared an update.

“Two hours and 200 comments later, I already see where things are going.”

“I love my sister to death, and I’d do anything for her. But she needed me to be her rock, and I was a little too solid and literal with her.”

“I called her and explained my side and even linked the post to her. We cried over FaceTime, and I told her I was so very sorry for making her feel like she didn’t have any support.”

“I’ll be accompanying her to her follow-up appointment next week. She needs to know she’s loved and cared for right now, so that’s what I’ll do for her.”

The OP also shared the post with their sister and shared a secondary update.

“My sister has read your comments, and she appreciates the kindness. She is feeling better, we have been helping her figure out her next steps.”

“In this case and in our state, the state health department is going to help her press charges because after contacting the person she was involved with, they were aware of the situation and proceeded anyhow.”

“To the comments that asked about symptoms or how she knew; fatigue, long-lasting flu symptoms, and swollen lymph nodes. But you should always get checked and know your status. Not only to protect yourself but to protect others. And if possible, start PREP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis).”

While everyone could understand that it’s hard to grasp news like this and quickly turn around to be supportive, the subReddit argued that the OP could have handled this situation so much better than they did. Though they felt they were helping by focusing on logistics, it was clear their sister had come to them looking for comfort and a shoulder to cry on, not someone to start talking to them about their insurance options.

Written by McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan has been a part of the George Takei family since 2019 when she wrote some of her favorite early pieces: Sesame Street introducing its first character who lived in foster care and Bruce Willis delivering a not-so-Die-Hard opening pitch at a Phillies game. She's gone on to write nearly 3,000 viral and trending stories for George Takei, Comic Sands, Percolately, and ÜberFacts. With an unstoppable love for the written word, she's also an avid reader, poet, and indie novelist.