"Can my children be tested too?"
I managed to stammer out these words. The doctor had just given me the results of my HIV test; I was HIV-positive (translator's note: there is no seropositive, HIV-positive is a non-males condition for males and females). My mind popped, mental pictures of the cachectic bodies I saw in my homeland, Uganda, appeared and disappeared in my head, the images of death that spilled into my spirit were very vivid!
I stared at him, holding my children firmly. Grateful for, at least, I was a mother, and my concern from this moment was with their health!
Of course, they should be HIV positive! I could not imagine that it was possible to have healthy children after a positive diagnosis. I could hear the doctor speaking, 'There is no way to test your children now because they are not yet five years old.' (Translator's note: Not all countries have the necessary care with newborns as in Brazil, and in some places, children are tested for HIV only after they are five years old if they live so long)
I did not shed a tear; in a state of shock, I left the hospital and went back home like a zombie, to give the news to my husband.
He was my only source of support back then. The stigma was very high in my community and since I did not have any physical symptoms, I did not tell anyone other than the medical team about my serology; this has become the great secret of my life.
All this happened in the Mayday Hospital. I did not get any pre-test counseling and had to wait two weeks to see a counselor even after the diagnosis! No clinical HIV specialist, and I used to see a consultant at the breast treatment clinic. Appointments from doctors and caregivers took a long wait as there were no specific times allocated and a ten-minute session with the consultant if you were lucky.
Good thing, because all he did was let me know about my CD4 count.
Then they send me to do more blood tests; In the laboratory the dreaded symbol with a large red sign and in the middle the following words: 'highly infectious'. I remember of sneak through the hospital corridors with my folded form until you get to the blood examination department, where you can see the nurses' discomfort, fear, in their body language; or was I projecting my own fear and discomfort to others?
I vividly remember that in every query my CD4 was diminishing and with that my life. I did not understand how it worked, but the steady drop was an indication that I was facing impending death.
Near break-point, I was saved by the national AIDS Helpline service that directed me to the ACE Project (Note from the translator: I looked for reference to the mentioned project and, unfortunately, I did not succeed in my attempts). It's been a while since the organization closed, but the wonderful people I met there were my salvation. This was my first opportunity to meet other people like me, also HIV positive.
Most were gay, one person in particular inspired me to continue, and I was HIV positive for 14 years ago.
Even though my GP had given me brochures about Positively UK, I did not have the guts to contact them; Also, at the moment, they were located on Sebastian Street which seemed so far and far from Croydon, especially for those with two small children. Little did I know that there was no tour assistance at the time!
My life changed drastically the day I finally faced the situation positively in the UK.
I hardly believe it's been almost 15 years since my diagnosis! Much has changed, more complacency, increased diagnoses, treatment options, but the stigma remains.
I believe that behind every cloud is a silver lining. Today I can say that my diagnosis was a blessing in disguise, because it gave me the opportunity to understand the value of life and to seek my true self.
He could not agree more with Rhonda Britten on leaving the fear: 'Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents that would otherwise remain dormant.' The fight continues, but now I know there is much more to me than HIV
Translated and adapted to Brazilian Portuguese by Claudio Souza