Friday, July 10, 2015

From the Archives: Article originally published in A&U Magazine

Rights and Obligations
By Alina Oswald

What is my main problem?
What do I need to do?
Why is it important for me to do this?

These three simple questions (otherwise known as "AskMe3") capture the core of a healthy doctor-patient relationship. Patients have the right to ask (and doctors or nurses have the obligation to answer) these questions at every appointment with a healthcare professional-be that for an HIV test, AIDS follow-up, or a cold. 

Dab the AIDS Bear. Lensbaby Photography by Alina Oswald
Dab the AIDS Bear. Lensbaby Photography by Alina Oswald
 Doctor Sharon Denise Allison-Ottey supports using AskMe3 especially when it comes to chronic diseases like HIV/AIDS, dealing with multiple medications, when the best of us become a bit confused by what we need to do and when we need to call the doctor versus not. She is an MD and health educator who gives talks in (particular African American) women's health and HIV/AIDS.  She is also the Director of Health and Community Outreach Initiatives with COSHAR Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to health and community education.  And part of the study material is available at www.AskMe3.org, a website offering detailed information on "health literacy" defined as "the ability to read, understand and act on health needs." 
Doctor Allison-Ottey also advocates AskMe3 and health literacy in her debut novel through which she enables patients to better communicate with their healthcare professionals and take better control of their health, while zooming in on the reality of living with HIV/AIDS.  Part of the proceeds goes toward Get It Done - HIV/AIDS Initiative in Women, a national campaign trying to raise awareness and encourage people to get tested.  All I Ever Did Was Love A Man is a new fiction genre called medical romance and the first in a series of future books. 
"[And] if it is about the book, I'm Sharon Allison-Ottey," the author points out as we start our phone interview, because she doesn't know many people that want to read a piece of fiction by a doctor.  For her, fiction has to have purpose and to inform, "to have teeth."    
And in that sense, All I Ever Did Was Love A Man resonates with a wide audience around the country.  The messages posted on the author's website speak for themselves.  "I'm getting emails from people reading it and having testing," the author says, but this is only part of what she intends to accomplish with her debut book.  She also hopes her novel will open the door to doctor-patient conversations in a non-medical way and teach about HIV/AIDS without readers actually feeling that they've read a health education book.  
And she accomplishes this by introducing us to real-to-life characters with which we can easily identify: Sabrena, the protagonist, is presented through her multi-level interactions with those who populate her world.  She is first and foremost a mother, a friend, also a sexual being who also happens to have HIV/AIDS.     
"There is no one Sabrena," Allison-Ottey explains, "[but rather] a collage of a lot of women and a lot of their stories."  Sabrena's special friendship with Vance is particularly important for the book.  By portraying the two characters in different HIV/AIDS phases, races, genders and sexual orientations, the relationship helps kicking the stereotypes down, while setting the stage for open-minded conversations about HIV/AIDS. 
Allison-Ottey thinks of her book as a conversation piece that will allow people to share their experiences with HIV/AIDS, because most people at this point know someone who's either HIV positive or has AIDS. 
"We have to really begin to look at this disease just as we look at hypertension, diabetes, any of those things," she concludes, "[Because AIDS] is part of the individual, but it does not define it."     

NOTE: For more information, visit www.allieverdidwasloveaman.com and www.cosharfoundation.org.