'Telling my family I was HIV+ was hardest thing I ever had to do'
Stabroek News
June 18, 2002

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Today Stabroek News begins a series of articles on the lives of persons who are affected by HIV and AIDS. The epidemic is a serious problem here and Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy recently made the disclosure that some 5.5% of the country's population in the 15 to 49 age group is infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The persons being featured will be interviewed regularly for updates on how they are coping, the state of their health, whether they are subject to discrimination and how their family and friends are responding to their condition etc.

When Adam (not his real name) decided he was ready for the University of Guyana (UG) he thought he would take an HIV test as he had engaged in risky sex and wanted to be certain there would be no impediments to an academic life.

The test came back positive and that was when reality set in and the struggles that other HIV+ persons face hit home: death, family, a job, discrimination etc.

While, it has been difficult for Adam, he has been able to cope with his condition with the help of a loving and supportive family and also some understanding friends.

The young man is employed with a large firm and he felt that it was his duty to inform his employers about his condition and now he is fearful that he might lose his job. Why? Because his employers told him that they would have to discuss the issue and make a decision.

Knowledgeable persons on the subject of the rights of HIV+ persons say that Adam was under no obligation to inform his employers about his condition since it would in no way hinder his performance at work. They said that had he received appropriate counselling he would have known he was not obligated to inform anyone of his condition.

Adam said because of the support he has received he is no longer in denial of his condition and he is "now adjusting" to what he described as a somewhat different way of life. Neatly dressed in his shirt and tie, the small-built young man appeared relaxed and contented and at peace with himself as he spoke about the issue.

He said that at present he is just trying to live a healthy life and refrain from doing things that would jeopardise his health. "I try to get pro-active in terms of my health and well being. But what I am mostly concerned about right now, is that I know that I cannot... really transfer HIV just like that but a lot of people really don't know that maybe because of the lack of information," he said.

Because he has only been infected with the virus for a few years, Adam said he can identify with the fears of those persons and on many occasion he is sceptical of doing certain things because of the fears he knows persons have.

"Like right now... for example, we have our lunch room and usually at first I would normally go and take tea, now I am saying should I or should I not? I know to myself that it wouldn't affect persons but the thing is... I mean... people don't understand, and it is just as if I am trying to... it is a wrangling in my mind on how to deal with the fears that I know are there," Adam said.

The young man said he would wish people to know about his condition and understand that they are in no way at risk, but then again he is not sure that they would not discriminate against him and because of that he keeps his condition to himself. "It is a real mixed feeling because I don't see myself as a risk where they are concerned," he said.

On the other hand, he knows that some people will understand his predicament. He recalls that one day he was chatting with a colleague of his and he asked him if he knew about HIV and questioned him further about how he would feel if he knew one of his colleagues was affected. "He said, 'well I mean you can't get it like that.' And I was really relieved and I wanted to say that I have it, but I felt it was not the right time."

Adam recalls that when he found out he was infected he developed a great fear of using knives because he was afraid that he would cut himself and expose his family to the virus. He said he willed himself to get over that fear but acknowledged that he is still super sensitive on a number of things because he does not want to put anyone at risk. How did how find out he was infected?

Adam said because he knew he had unprotected sex on numerous occasions and becoming aware that the disease exists he decided to have himself tested to be on the safe side. "Because I wanted to go to UG to study, I said to myself if I am going to do a lot of studies let me just go clean. Clean in the sense of the fact that this things was at the back of mind and I wanted to get rid of it for once and for all," Adam said.

So he decided to go to the doctor. Before going he prayed and on arriving he did the test without receiving counselling since the place offered none.

When he returned for the result the person who tested him called him into an office and right away he knew something was wrong.

He was asked how much he knew about the virus and he said he knew that once one had unprotected sex they could become infected. It was then he was told he had it.

"I just like... you know... I just started seeing dark right away and I felt as if I was fainting, and I had to go and lay down for a couple of minutes," he said.

He said he thought at the time the best thing for him to do was to kill himself. He was later advised that he should have counselling and that helped him tremendously.

Initially Adam did not inform his family about his condition and while at home he would act as if everything was normal. This pressure took its toll. After a time he started to become mentally unstable as he was consumed by the thought that he was going to die. After he was counselled and learnt more he finally accepted that it was not a death sentence and that he could actually continue to live a normal life.

One of the hardest things he had to do after he found out he was infected was to tell his parents.

Adam said that about six months after he found out he had the virus, he had a misunderstanding with his mother. In a momentary fit of anger he blurted out "you don't have to quarrel anymore, it is just a matter of time and you won't have me to row with."

In tears at this point, Adam said that his mother immediately realised that something was wrong and after a few minutes of questioning he told her of his condition.

Before continuing his interview with this reporter, Adam paused for a few minutes as he was overwhelmed by emotion. He continued after a while saying it was the hardest thing he'd ever had to do in his life.

Being the last child in his family, Adam knew how much it hurt his mother when he disclosed his condition.

He said while he has adjusted and is moving on with his life, the fact that he is infected is always at the back of his mind.

"I am now focusing on me. I mean, HIV has its own identity and I have my own identity and I will not allow HIV to stop me from existing as a person," Adam declared adding, "HIV has to do its thing and I have to do my thing and my thing is living healthy."

He said after he told his mother she cried for a long time and he had to comfort her and convince her that he still had a life.

Adam said that she wanted him to keep his condition a secret between her and him and not to tell his other siblings but he again convinced her that the other members of the family had a right to know.

While no one took the revelation well his family has since adjusted and their treatment of him in no way changed. Along with a few friends he has told, they have provided tremendous support, the young man said.

Adam said he is aware that he has no one to blame for his condition but himself. He added that he had subscribed to the myth that so many persons have, which is, once you are a `good' person you cannot contract the virus. While he is now wiser he knows that he can't reverse the fact that he is infected. However, he wants others to learn from his experience and protect themselves.