Of pain and hope – A young university student tells his story
World Aids Day 2006
By Neil Marks
November 26, 2006
SOME 12,000 Guyanese are believed to be living with HIV/AIDS, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health.
Every year, on December 1, the world takes stock of the challenges in fighting the disease and new commitments are made.
In observance of World Aids Day 2006, the Guyana Chronicle begins a series of six articles on the programmes used here to fight the disease.
We begin, though, with a story of a university student, 24, currently employed at a commercial bank, who sees hope after testing positive for HIV/AIDS. His name has been withheld. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death in Guyana in the 15-44 age group.
In 2005, I realised that I might be HIV positive. I had become very ill and lost a lot of weight. I started worrying about HIV.
I was scared of finding out the truth. I thought that I would kill myself if I was positive. I thought that it would be better not to know, and every time I heard 'HIV' I felt scared. I did not want to hear anything.
I thought that if I was HIV positive, it would be the end of my life. I did not trust any of the counselling services, since I heard many stories of confidentiality being breached. I did not have anyone to talk to about this, and my life was hell.
Deepest darkest secrets
In July 2006, I could not keep it to myself, and I confided in my best friend who knows everything about me. He urged me to do the test, but I could not bring myself to do it.
Another friend who I had recently met, seemed to me to be very considerate and confidential and opposed to discrimination. I told him how scared I was and I started to cry.
He told me that if I did not go to do the test, he would stop talking to me and tell this other guy I had a crush on. I believed he was crazy enough to do that. He also said he was going to go with me to do the test.
He and I went to do the test. My best friend also wanted to go with me, but he had to work.
Putting on a brave face
The counsellor told me about the test, and what was involved. I gave the blood. I did not feel I wanted my friend with me for the results. The counsellor asked me about the girl I had. I said nothing. She subsequently said she did not care about my sexual orientation, but I did not feel I wanted to say anything. She interpreted the results for me, and asked me if I had anything to say.
The tears came to my eyes, but I was determined not to cry. I had to leave and go back to work, and I put on a brave face and went out.
That afternoon, I told my friend the results. It was difficult. He found out that the St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital was good to go for the check up. That night I went home and cried until I slept.
Learning everything about HIV/AIDS
After a few days, I made the appointment to see the doctor and counsellor at the Mercy Hospital, Georgetown. I was scared of going to the GUM Clinic which seemed too public. I realised that people would see me going into Mercy, but that my health was important and I did not care what they would think. The HIV advertisements now made sense to me, maybe too late.
I decided to read everything I could find on the Internet and everywhere else. The doctor asked me whether I had sex with men. I thought it was important to tell him the truth, and face any discrimination. There was none. They explained the treatment to me, and took the tests.
I went back after a month to start the ARV treatment. There were many tablets. I make sure that I know what tablets I am taking to keep informed.
Quitting smoking and drinking
I used to put my cell phone on alarm to remember when to take the tablets. There were many – six in the morning, five in the night. After a while I have grown accustomed to the routine. I have a pill box which allows me to fix the tablets in dosages. Most significant, I have stopped smoking and drinking.
I have found that it is easy to have a good time like other people. I tell my friends that I get drunk easily so I would not drink beers now. I eat better now, and I exercise every night. I feel good.
I think Mummy knows
I wish my mother could know, but I know she will be upset. Unlike cancer and TB and diabetes, she probably thinks that HIV is preventable. I try to hide the tablets from them – my mother and my siblings. I also try to leave the TV at any programme talking about HIV/AIDS. I do not think my mother would put me out if she knows; she would probably be upset with me for a little bit.
I do not know when I would tell her or the rest of my family. She has seen me ill and has dropped hints, but I don’t answer her. I think Mummy knows.
Telling other people
I told another friend. He cried with me for half an hour. He used to call me regularly before I told him, but I have not heard much from him since. I think because I stopped drinking and smoking and probably not wanting to go out.
Last year, I had unprotected sex with someone who I have feelings for and who has feelings for me. We thought that we could trust each other. I told him a few weeks ago to go and do a test since I am now HIV positive. It was difficult for me to do. He said he would go. I have to check with him.
Scared of being fired
I saw something at my workplace, where they say something that they will not unknowingly screen people for HIV. I do not want them to know my status, since I am scared of being fired. I do not know if they have any laws to stop that from happening. I keep my business to myself.
Before the test, I sometimes lost focus, and one time my manager asked me if everything was okay. I told her after I had accepted my test results that everything is fine.
I would like to educate others, to tell them what I know
I want to educate other people, to encourage them to do the test if they think they are positive and to start the treatment. People should not think that 'not knowing is best'. Before, at work, whenever they started talking about HIV at work, I used to shut up. Now, I make sure I keep the conversation going and talk about what I know, like how people are more likely to die from diabetes or heart disease complications rather than HIV/AIDS.
I have not thought of joining any organisation. I think it would be nice to meet other people who are HIV positive so as to share what is happening with us.
I am living
Death is the last thing on my mind. I am determined to live well with HIV. I have been inspired by other stories, like that of Magic Johnson [American basketball player who is HIV positive]. I believe I am responsible for myself and have to keep a positive outlook on life.
Whenever I get depressed, I call my best friend. I would like to continue my education, and to get a better job, and to do all the things which I had planned to do. Now, I appreciate life even more.
(** Our thanks to the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination for allowing us to use this story. In tomorrow’s issue, we examine the work of two Hindu organisations in removing myths about how the disease is spread and how they preach abstinence as the best way to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS)