Even when it comes to HIV and tattoos the messages are pretty mixed. Can people with HIV get tattoos? Is there a risk to a tattoo artist in inking someone who's HIV positive? Does a tattoo heal differently on someone with HIV?
The doctor I visited told me not to tattoo. Why? Because I am HIV positive. Because it will transmit to others through needles. Because the healing will be slow, there will be infection, there will be pus or blisters. Yes. Even in 2021, there are some doctors who are not up-to-date and will discourage about something which is almost ZERO RISK, especially when following hygiene and safety measures.
I did go to another doctor to have second opinion, an infectious disease specialist who gave me a go ahead and this got me to bust the myth that people living with HIV cannot have tattoo.
Here are some pointers to keep in mind:
- Be transparent with the tattoo artist. He may or may not refuse but it ialways pays to be honest. Some studios may have policies against blood-borne illness/disease; hence never be disheartened. Accept it and look for another.
- If you don't want to disclose your status, that is also fine – but make sure that equipment are sterilized, fresh disposable gloves and needles used, and new ink for each client. Ask. You won't know until you have asked, right? And if they don't, then walk away – this is good not only for your own safety but for others as well.
- Single-use instruments that penetrate the skin should be used ONCE, then disposed of. Reusable instruments that penetrate the skin should be thoroughly cleaned and STERILISED between clients.
- From the research I did, one's viral load and CD4 could be important factors. If your immune system is weak and your body's ability to fight off infection is low then the greater the risk and the slower the healing. If your CD4 is >500 and VL <40 (undetectable) then you should be good to go.
I got my tattoo done on my left arm. It took two hours but I love the end result.
The RED RIBBON you see depicts the HIV ribbon.
BUTTERFLY: Butterfly means resurrection, change, hope, life. It is a powerful representation of transformation in life (imagine it being an ugly cocoon to being a beautiful butterfly with wings)
When I was first diagnosed with HIV, I felt so lost, so alone. The trauma plus the grief of being a woman living with HIV and the stigma plus the ostracism from the society had made me cocoon myself up, in my shell. For five long years!! Until I decided this is not the way to live - this is not me, a daughter of an Indian air force officer, to live life like this - hence I started to transition, slowly emerging in my glory, growing wings!! And feeling beautiful again!! To be loved and accepted. To be respected.
LOTUS: It is a symbol of purity and hope. Lotus is also the symbol of enlightenment.
In Buddhism, Buddha and Lotus tattoos are considered to be disrespectful - to which I truly apologise - but here, whenever I look at my arm, I get the new burst of energy which always reminds me how far I have come. The world is a hard place to live in. (THE SCARS on my arm say a lot about the kind of world I live in - these scars are my story.) There are all kinds of people in this world. Some good, some bad. Similarly just like the root of the lotus grown in murky waters, it is one of the most beautiful flowers above water. My life too has been like that. With all that had happened in my life, I was so full of evil, hatred, resentment, anger. But then, through dark times and difficulties, there were good, kind, compassionate people who helped me rise through all and bloom into a beautiful flower - just like lotus - to blossom, it grew through mud and dirty pond water.