Day One With HIV: "The Most Agonizing Wait in My Life"
The day I tested HIV positive was a defining moment in my life. I was aged 36 and at the prime of my life. My wife had passed on two weeks previously due to PCP (Pneumocystis pneumonia) and esophageal candidiasis. Her demise was during childbirth at a private hospital. Unfortunately, the child passed on immediately after delivery. It was a double tragedy.
I was gutted when she died. The day the disclosure was made remains etched in my memory. I still recall the day vividly in my mind. I never thought that she had a life-threatening ailment. Her health had been deteriorating, but HIV infection had been the last thing in my mind. The clinicians had made the disclosure at the hospital. I had been accompanied by my mother-in-law and father-in-law. They were devastated when they found that their daughter was no more. The two clinicians had recommended that I be tested with my daughter and son.
The day of reckoning was on 28 January 2008. We laid my wife to rest on 22 January 2008. I had been grief-stricken and was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I turned to alcohol for solace. I had been unable to deal with the intensity of my feelings. Sooner or later I had come to the grim realization that I had to make the informed choice of testing for HIV. It had slowly struck me that you can run away from HIV infection, but you cannot hide from it.
The dispensary where I had chosen to be tested was located at a serene environment (with lovely trees and a river flowing nearby). It was run by the local Catholic church and the tranquil environment in it would enable me to deal with the intensity of my feelings. I gathered courage that particular day and went for the HIV test. I remember having gone on my knees to plead to my maker (God) to spare me from HIV infection. I had really made a passionate plea to God and was quite sentimental after this.
The dispensary was at the vicinity of our home and I had walked for a short distance. I found the place so calm with only the VCT (voluntary counseling and testing) counselor and nurse in attendance. It was approaching 4 p.m. and hence most clients had already been treated.
I had a lengthy talk with the VCT counselor. He was not a stranger to me. We had frequently met and shared a drink at our local pub. This time around the mood was poignant, though, and I found myself laying everything on the table: the anguish I was having after the demise of my wife, my fear that I too might be infected, fear of the kids having been exposed to HIV, being unable to control my drinking and the bitterness/anger of my wife having passed on without disclosing her HIV serostatus to me.
He was a good listener and did not interrupt me. He then probed me on info so as to ascertain my level of risk (i.e., the number of sexual partners I had, whether I was practicing safer sex, etc.). I emphasized that I had never strayed out of our matrimonial bed and I had always thought I was not at risk. The only way to allay my fear, he had insisted, was to test for HIV.
He took me through the pre-test counseling session and guided me on how to interpret the results. He pricked my finger for some blood and collected it using a capillary tube, then placed it on the rapid test. He suggested that we could take a couple of minutes strolling outside the soothing surroundings. I recall reaching out for my pack of cigarettes and furiously lighting a cigarette as I tried to figure out what lay ahead. The VCT counselor urged me to try and remain calm as we waited.
That 15-minute wait was the most agonizing and anxious experience that I have gone through. In those excruciating 15 minutes, I had analyzed my life (how my career seemed to be falling into place, our two lovely kids, my wife expectant with a third baby and having a good career too). My world seemed to be crumbling right before my eyes. I tried to fathom what was happening, but I couldn't.
Finally, it was time to check the results. I could feel my heart pounding as we entered the counseling room. I saw the VCT counselor glance at the results and I did not like the look on his face. He handed me the results to interpret. A shiver of fear went down my spine. Beads of perspiration were forming on my forehead and I thought that I would collapse. I figured out that I had just tested HIV positive and instinctively knew that this was a turning point in my life. I wanted to get the VCT counselor's confirmation. He just nodded his head before answering in the affirmative. I could tell that he was also shocked. The post-test counseling was OK, but my mind was in a whirlwind. I was restless. How could I test HIV positive at the prime of my life (36 years)? What of my kids, my career, my family, etc.?
After the lengthy session, the VCT counselor reached for his drawer and pulled out a yellow card with the inscription "pineapple card." He was referring to another Catholic health institution so that I could be enrolled for comprehensive care and support. He had talked of blood work (checking for CD4 counts, viral load, etc.) at the health institution, but at the time I could not have cared less.
The journey back home seemed the longest for me. I decided to use the route from the river and take a short cut to our farm. I had a roller coaster of emotions by then. A few metres to my home, I came face to face with the fresh grave of my departed lovely wife and went and picked some soil. A flood of tears went down my cheeks. It was a heartrending experience for me.
Later, I found myself searching for my passport photograph. My kids found my behavior puzzling; I could not speak to them and left my house in a huff. I handed the passport photo to my brother's wife and hit the road. She could also sense that I was in a bad mood and didn't ask questions. I had decided that there was nothing to live for and had decided to end my life. I still had loads of cash by then and I had decided to drink myself silly before deciding on the best way to end it.
I took a bus and went to a town that was 5 kilometres from our place and went to my favorite drinking place. I needed solitude and settled for a table on my own so as to ponder on the best way to end it all. When I was ordering for the third beer, my phone rang. It was my older brother. I guessed his wife had called him on figuring out that I was having some suicidal thoughts, having left my passport photo with him without uttering a word. He was the first person I had disclosed to concerning my late wife's untimely death. I had told him that she had died as a result of AIDS-defining illnesses -- PCP and esophageal candidiasis -- and it was important that I be tested, plus the kids, for HIV.
He urged me to hang in there before deciding on something drastic like ending my life. In a couple of minutes, he had left his workplace and we were seated at the table. I put everything on the table. I disclosed to him that I had just tested HIV positive and my life was coming to an end. It was the most unbearable disclosure that I have ever made to date. He went an extra mile in encouraging me to take it positively. He said that he knew of persons who were living with the chronic condition positively and were taking charge of their lives. He termed being infected with HIV as a life-changing event and not necessarily a life-ending event. (He urged me on the importance of access to medications, as well as care and support.) He also mentioned a lady by the name of Asunta Wagura who had lived with the ailment close to 20 years and was doing great. It took around four hours for him to convince me that there was still so much for me to live for and especially to take care of my small kids. He said that they would be devastated if I would end my life.
I arrived home at around 9 p.m. The beer had taken its toll on me and I went straight to bed. I had decided that somehow I could face another day with God's help. It's now been close to six years since that very day. It has not been a walk in the park living with HIV. It is a day-to-day struggle. However, God has given me his grace and fortitude to soldier on and reach out to other persons living with HIV. I now work in an organization that deals with persons infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. I live a day at a time. I have learnt that it is important to take hold of every moment in our short lives and also live life to the fullest. My brother has been a pillar of support through it all and the rest of the family members too. With or without a chronic ailment, you can never know what lies in store for you ...
From Matong: I live in Kenya (Kiambu county). Am aged 41. After the demise of my wife, I got off the rail for a couple of years. Eventually, I was able to pick up the pieces and move on. I remarried and we now have four kids. My current wife had a daughter from a previous relationship. My wife is also living with HIV. Out of the four kids, two are living with HIV (my second-born child, a boy, and my wife's daughter from a previous relationship -- they are doing fine). They are under care and support in a comprehensive care centre and have access to medication. Two years ago, God blessed us with a bouncing baby girl. This was through a PMTCT program. She was delivered through a Caesarean section. She is HIV negative thanks to treatment.
HIV has impacted on my life in a very profound manner. God has seen us this far. I have learnt to live a day at a time and to take hold of every moment. Due to medication, our quality of lives as a family has been enhanced. Please lobby/advocate for us people living with HIV, especially in developing countries like Kenya, so that we can continue accessing the life-saving medications. We have seen that treatment works!
Our government is dependent on development partners (USAID, Global Fund, PEPFAR, MSF - Belgium/France) for provision of ARVs. The government allocates about 7 percent only in terms of ARV provision. We have been engaging in high-level advocacy so as to lobby development partners on the need for sustainable funding. (A number of donors are now having a shift in focus and are pulling out, especially Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders.) Plans are underway to have activists coming to Washington so as to lobby congress for sustainable financing for ARVs (reauthorization of PEPFAR).
I work as an advocacy officer for a nongovernmental organization that reaches out to women infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Our core delivery areas are advocacy, care and support for PLHIV and orphans and vulnerable children support (nutritional, health and educational). I also coordinate support group sessions for our members and coordinate youth outreach sessions (behavior change communication).
Want to share your own "Day One With HIV" story of finding out your diagnosis? Write out your story (1,000 words or fewer, please!), or film a YouTube video, and email it to email@example.com. In the coming months, we'll be posting readers' "Day One" stories here in our HIV/AIDS Resource Center for the Newly Diagnosed. Read other stories in this series.