A True life story: My Self-discovery through living with HIV contd.

Living with HIV-PLWHA

See the introductory part of my story here

In fact speaking of stigmatization, the closest that I have come to such an experience was during one of my visits to the hospital for my drug refill (Yes, in a hospital). After several visits, I had made a few doctor friends over there. Frankly, my reasons were beyond just platonic friendship because in reality, we were always a crowd of patients on queue, so I’d spend some fun time hanging out with a doctor pal who would naturally help me get my dose after a while. On this faithful day, I was at it again and felt the urge to ease myself. My doctor friend simply asked someone to exhort me to their staff rest room so as to get the key. Upon getting there, a hospital orderly was cleaning the place and she simply went ballistic when she sighted me:No No No, haba! Who are you opening the door for? She is not going to use this toilet o… I’m the one who washes it, then I will now carry something abi?.. Nooo, let her go and use the patient’s toilet, ha! Noo”. I just quietly left without using it, but by my next visit, she was full of apologies so I guess someone reported her and corrected the behavior. Honestly, it was not much of a big deal to me, maybe because of her position as an orderly- but the fact remained that she is a healthcare worker. The truth is, I am an immensely blessed child and I’m deeply grateful to God for the support he has sent my way. Many other people living with HIV have tales of woes especially in the aspect of stigmatization from family members, friends and even at the work place. For instance, I know scores of people who were laid off work after ‘a routine medical check-up’ that included un-authorized HIV Screening tests. Upon testing positive, they got some flimsy excuse as being the reason for the termination of their job only to later discover it was due to the lab result. An Anti-Stigma bill was officially signed into law in Lagos State in 2007 but there are still companies that behave this way. Stigmatization from the society at large is still a big reality because somewhere etched deep in people’s minds are those first impressions we all got about HIV/AIDS and also the fact that most people still unconsciously attribute an HIV infection with being promiscuous. I really think it is about time people realized that such thinking ought to have been extinct by now because there are currently many teenagers (born with HIV) aged between 14 – 16 years who have lost one or both parents to AIDS. And whether we like to think of it or not, there are lots of adults and professionals at different strata of life in our society who are HIV positive even though they are not public about it.

Living with HIV-PLWHA-my true life story

The first ray of light that shone for me after my seven dark years of self-inflicted torture was in 2007 when I meet my boss, the CEO and founder of Positive Action Treatment Access (PATA). Uncle Tony introduced me to her column on one of the national dailies then so I made an appointment to see her at my next visit to Lagos. We meet at PATA’s Ikeja office and she began to share her story. For the first time, I felt like here is a fellow human being in this world who has been through what I’m going through but there was even more. Beside her was one of the cutest kids I have ever seen and then she said: “meet my cute baby boy, and he is HIV Negative!” What? Is that even possible? I remember the tear balls uncontrollably rolling down my eyes because I just realized that I had imprisoned myself these past seven years with my ignorance. PATA was planning an upcoming program then called Women Leadership & Mentorship Training (WLMT) and application was open to women from all Geo-Political Zones so she encouraged me to apply. But there was on clause: PUBLIC DISCLOSURE OF MY HIV STATUS WAS A REQUIREMENT. The idea of the program was to put a human face to the fight against the HIV stigmatization so there would be a press conference. Obviously I said yes, because here was my chance to get my life back but the reality dawned on me later just before I sent in my form to officially consent. So finally seven years later, I decided to break the news to the rest of my family and a few friends so that they don’t hear of it first in the news. It was an extremely emotional moment for me. I recall the transfixed look of confusion mixed with concern on my brother’s face as I calmly told him. An hour later, my sister called me to ask what I said to my brother because he had called her and broke down crying while talking to her on the phone with loads of questions and he was so worried, asking if I’m really fine.

Doing the WLMT program was a life changer as I met many women of strength with their different stories: Mrs Okafor (not real name) came with her lovely set of HIV negative twins, many other women with their HIV negative babies, and then I meet some young ladies in relationships with HIV Negative people who knew their status! It was just too much for me, I just kept crying my eyes out that period. Oh and it got even better, to wrap up the program, a few of us were selected to travel to Uganda to meet other women from all over Africa and that got me pretty excited because it was my first time travelling out of the country! LOL.

After seeing all those beautiful faces that shone of hope and encouragement, somewhere in my mind it just dawned on me that; “you know, I’m not dead yet! So while I still live I could make some impact”.

So this is pretty much me now, I devote my time to telling people about the reality of HIV both for preventive measures and to pick up their lives if already infected. I like to tell people in serious relationships to get tested, know your status and if positive, take the necessary steps to prevent mother to child transmission. My latest CD4 count is 734, while my viral load is undetectable. I like to tell People living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) to take responsibility for their lives, without an HIV infection, who are you as a person? Honestly and without trying to be judgmental, I think anyone who dies of HIV in this present day and age is foolish! People used to buy these drugs for about #140, 000! Now its FREE! Creating more awareness on this reality about HIV and AIDS is now my life passion and it really does feel like a calling for me. HIV and AIDS is real, but even more pertinent in our present day and age is the fact that YOU CAN still live a full and normal life while infected with HIV.

Honestly and without trying to be judgemental  I think anyone who dies of HIV in this present day and age is foolish! People used to buy these drugs for about #140, 000! Now its FREE!

 

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