He walks in with a sealed envelope. I had asked him to do his HIV test few hours ago. With hands visibly shaking, he roughly drops the test result on my desk. I look into his eyes, teary eyes, looking as if they were improperly glued to his sweaty face by an amateur sculptor. He is obviously afraid. I am uncomfortable too, albeit, slightly.
I sit up, hoping to look professional, twist my baby-face into an inquisitive scowl, and open the test result. He is HIV-positive.
My problem just began too! What would be the first words, the best words, to come out of my lips? How do I start? From where?
I have similar encounters regularly. More often than not, I would go: ”John [or Jane, or whatever the name was], your HIV-result is not good, but it’s not as bad as you might think or as the media says it is. Your results shows you are HIV-positive, but we – you and I – can handle it… . Life for you could be normal, or near-normal, if you keep the following in mind… .”
#1: This is not the end of life for you!
Being HIV-positive is just deadly, it’s not a death-sentence! It’s not a terminal condition, per se. Good, it’s healthy to cry, but don’t give up! Choose to live, and live life alive! Get in touch with your spiritual self. Realize there is a purpose for this. There’s a lesson to learn. Use the situation. Have hope. You are not alone; many others are living with this virus; productive, happy lives. Yes, there’s no scientifically-proven cure; but we have drugs to help you live almost as if you were HIV-negative! It’s not the end of your life, in fact it could be the beginning of a better, more focused living.
#2: Attend your clinic regularly
Make it a habit to start, and continue attending your HIV clinic. It’s very important. Several tests, including blood tests, would be carried out to confirm your status, assess your general health condition, determine when you will start taking HIV drugs, etc. Regular clinic visits and close contact with a health personnel will help us know if your condition is going down; we would be able to catch life-threatening conditions early enough and treat them. Don’t skip your clinic visits even if you feel well at the moment, or even if nothing much was done for you in the previous clinic visits.
#3: Take your drugs seriously
If you have been started on HIV drugs, make sure you comply strictly to instructions on how and when to take them. Don’t take any drug not directly recommended by a health personnel because HIV drugs react negatively to some drugs. Be consistent. If you habitually skip taking your drugs, it might lead to “drug resistance” – and all these helpful HIV drugs would no longer work for you! That is no good at all. If you experience side-effects from taking your drugs, report to your health personnel as soon as possible.
#4: Avoid reckless living
This is not time to get angry and decide to spread the disease around. This is time to heal yourself – and others. Having multiple sex-partners is one of the worst decisions to make if you are HIV-positive! You might get infected with another type of the virus (different from the type you already have), thereby worsening your condition, making it more difficult to treat. And hope fades away. You might also contract a sexually-transmitted infection or develop what we call “opportunistic infections and cancers”. This is one of the greatest fears of doctors. Be careful. It’s as simple as ABC!
#5: Cultivate healthy habits
Yes! It’s almost like a nursery rhyme now! And we shall yet continue talking about it! Eat healthy foods. Lean protein. Whole grains. Fruits. Vegetables. Avoid processed foods and drinks. Avoid what your great-grand mother did not eat! Have adequate daily rest and sleep. Practice regular, daily, graded exercise. Stop smoking. Reduce alcohol consumption. These will support your immune system and boost your body’s ability to fight diseases. The fast progression from HIV infection to full-blown AIDS will, consequently, be prevented.
#6: Join a support group
Become friends with at least one other HIV-positive person. You could meet such person during any of your clinic visits. There are organizations that “connect” people too. Share life together. Support and encourage one another. Some health facilities and religious bodies have support groups, where you meet several people like you. Enroll in such groups. Attend their counseling sessions. People have met their life-partner in such meetings, and life has been good, real good! Your health facilitator will tell you how to prevent children from getting the virus from their mothers. You will be taught how to reveal your status to your family, and how to live. Be sociable Be proactive. Be bold. Reach out to others. Educate people. Find purpose in your condition. Leave a legacy. Put a smile on someone’s face.
And never, never, never give up. Never.