Not long ago she had a baby who died soon after being born. Now she had just given birth to twins and again one had died. Instead of waiting for the doctor to discharge her, she took the surviving baby and left the hospital, suddenly turning up at home.
‘We know she drinks a lot and these babies – did they even have the same father?’
To try and end the speculation her cousin, who lives with Anna and is HIV-positive, approached her. “Anna, why did you leave the hospital so suddenly? What did the doctor say? Do they know what was wrong, why your babies passed away?” Lydia* tried to be as gentle as possible.
Anna’s eyes narrowed. “Do you think I’m stupid? Do you think I don’t know what all of you have been saying about me – my own family! Well you can tell them they’re wrong. I’m not like you. I’m not sick!” She grabbed her health passport and held it out to Lydia. “There! Read it. Tell them all what it says!”
Hesitantly Lydia took the document containing Anna’s health history. Opening it to the page Anna had shown her she read, “Patient consented to an HIV test. Test result is negative.”
Immediately she smiled and touched her cousin on the arm. “I’m so glad! I would not like you to also have to go through the things I go through. But then what could be the problem?”
“Well it’s not HIV like you all thought! So tell them to leave me alone.” Anna stormed back to the bedroom and closed the door.
The next time Lydia received a home-based care visit from Jogbeth, she hesitantly brought up the subject of Anna. After telling Jogbeth what had happened she said, “If it’s not HIV then what is it? I don’t think she’s well. There must be something that the clinic can give her.”
Jogbeth tried to reassure her. “It doesn’t sound like Anna wants to know. Maybe she is scared. Keep talking to her, tell her what you go through and how you keep a positive attitude. We can pray that she comes to see that you and your family are here to help and support her. I also talk to her if she’s here when I come to visit you – I’ll keep doing that and she might open up to me too.” She paused. “You could talk about this at our next support group meeting. Maybe someone else has been through something similar and has some advice for you.”
Lydia followed this suggestion and Jogbeth always spent some time with Anna when she came to visit Lydia. One day Anna was not home and Jogbeth found Lydia with a troubled look on her face.
“Is there something wrong, Lydia? Where’s Anna?” Jogbeth asked.
Lydia still looked anxious. “I don’t know whether we did the right thing – but at least now we know, we know what’s wrong with Anna.”
“After your last visit, Anna started behaving strangely. Soon it was clear that she was mentally disturbed. We took her to the hospital and she was admitted. Her sister and I talked with one of the nurses. We told her that we suspected Anna is HIV-positive but showed her the health passport that said she tested negative. Do you know what?” Lydia was shaking her head in disbelief.
“The nurse said none of the doctors would write the test result like that in the health passport. None of them! It wasn’t one of the doctors, she must have gotten someone else to write that in there because she knew what we were thinking and she didn’t want to be tested. So Anna’s sister talked to the doctor looking after Anna. He said that because she is mentally disturbed, her sister can take responsibility for her and request tests.” Again Lydia looked worried. “I don’t know if she should have, but her sister told the doctor to test for HIV…and the test result was positive. We were right all along, Anna is also HIV-positive.”
Jogbeth nodded slowly. “It must be a relief to know. But Anna – have you told her yet?”
Lydia shook her head. “She is better but she is still not okay. We have to wait until she isn’t sick any more. I am frightened. I think she will be very angry.”
Anna was very angry when she found out. But she soon realized that it was better to know for sure and shortly after Anna was discharged, Jogbeth was surprised to receive a call from her.
After chatting for a bit, Anna said, “The doctor said I must take care of myself. Did you know I was tested? I have TB and I have HIV. I know you have been helping Lydia and she has improved so much since you started visiting her. Will you also have time to visit me and help me?”
Jogbeth readily agreed and since then visits both cousins, giving them individual time. Lydia continues to be an encouragement and support to Anna. While Anna is coming to terms with living with HIV, she hasn’t yet joined the support group. But when she is ready she will be able to contribute and encourage others living with HIV from her own very personal experiences.