The question that is on most people’s mind is the life expectancy of someone with HIV. In a layman’s mind, I guess it depends on many factors and perhaps it is difficult to determine. There are cases where good HIV treatments are available and to take medicines as prescribed, they tend to do very well.
It is surprising to know that deaths among people with HIV are caused by injuries and heart attacks, rather then by AIDS.
I must admit that while driving to Rumah Ozanam Batu Arang in Rawang was exciting because I had the opportunity to interview Priss.
I overshot the junction to Batu Arang and headed to a hilly and winding road leading to Kuala Selangor. I was surprised to see a small colony of primates numbering about twenty in populace along the road and a motorist stopped to feed them. The surrounding is salubrious until we came to an expanse of land denuded of trees for an orchard.
Banana plants dotted the lower plateau among other variety of fruits was the unmistakable plethora of such hybrid. Judging from such new planting, it qualifies to be the largest orchard in the country. However, the beauty of nature was dented by an elderly man with his grandson were clearing their bladders in the open by the roadside.
They could not help it could they? I stopped to ask a guard at the entrance of the orchard for direction and I had to turn around to where I had missed.
Such unprecedented trip made to interview Priss (not her real name) was a challenge because I am not an expert in the subject on HIV cases. I was adamant not to allow this opportunity to pass me by because she has a story to tell too. With limited knowledge on HIV, I browsed through as many websites as possible to satisfy myself about the root causes of the infection.
From the direction shown I managed to be punctual and reached our destination before the stipulated time. The Home Administrator was not in and we were welcomed warmly by her assistant.
The home is spic and span. I started the headcount but was interrupted when I saw a Myammar girl about five years performing her duty. She wiped the small table beside me and she was not shy to answer my questions. I handed her a piece of Hacks and she gripped in her armpit and continued with her duty. I would describe her as an obedient, disciplined and independent girl. The most captivating sight was her innocent face laced with traces of happiness.
I set up my equipment and I heard voices and got up to the door. I was surprised to see a fair-skinned white girl walking in. She is French. Lucie Chaussois is her name.
I introduced myself and I got to know that she is the Home Administrator who had just returned after sending a resident for medical attention in Sungei Buloh Hospital. She is a registered nurse by profession and a twenty-five-year-old social volunteer. I was humbled by her presence because such work deals with sacrifices and determinations and most of all, her humility for the unfortunates where many of us could not be bothered.
Doing social work with HIV people requires innate sense of compassion. Riding for a fall is possible in such nature of work and such special breed of people should deserve the highest recognition yet they are practically unknown to the “outside” world except God.
Many of them serve as unpaid volunteers and they share the same type of food and boarding with HIV patients. They are the angels who offer their loving arms for comfort and to listen to their pain and suffering where the family members of the patients are fighting against shame for themselves and for him or her. Such selfless volunteers can do a great deal to ease the isolation and suffering that come with the stigma and shame of this illness.
Looking at Lucie, I could feel that she had opened me up to a new dimension of compassion in which our world is badly lacking in. All I can think of her is her angelic work that has brought the much needed love to those who are under her care. I salute you Lucie for you have brought tears in my eyes because I could not even walk a mile in your shoes.
We sat down and it struck me that I should grab the opportune moment to have a casual talk with her while waiting for Priss. The immediate attention needed is the extension for more rooms because the present three to accommodate the women and children are congested. Lucie has to provide whatever assistance she could to them. A young schizophrenic girl was infected by her attacker when she roamed about without parental supervision. There is no doubt in my mind that a volunteer like her will have her mettle tested in such health care setting.
Priss sauntered from her room to where we were sitting. I introduced myself and the first sight of Priss was the impression she had portrayed to me – courage. Lucie excused herself leaving me with Priss.
Her gambit for the interview was her opinion about the lack of continuous education on HIV. The seasonal promulgation to such knowledge through the mass media is still wanting. Priss is very concerned that children are not taught to ask about HIV but left to find out for themselves.
I concurred that parents should educate themselves first and like teaching sex education to adolescents, parents are the perfect source to educate their children about such reality in life. The most important is the information disseminate as the fundamental steps to understand and reduce the risks about the spread of the HIV viruses.
I was impressed by Priss’s spoken English. I learnt that she is a graduate and was a government servant until the cruel fate befell on her. I have to respect her wishes that certain details should not be made public.
In the later stage of her career, the hospital became her second home. No doctors wanted to tell her of the naked truth initially. Yet her admiration to all the doctors who were her pillars of strength and hope and whom she still speaks of them with profound respect. It was a heart-wrenching part of her life when she had to face the truth. Her heartfelt moment was for those doctors who had helped her through the dreaded predicament. Her whole world collapsed and anger was burning into her soul.
“My life was clean until I chose the wrong man for husband. How stupid of me…” Her voice was firmed with traces of regrets. No one could blame her could we? She did not ask to be infected but being betrayed by her very own spouse.
Priss could understand those like her being inflicted with such virus and their bitterness. They threw their tantrums on the doctors and began to lose hope.
As I observed Priss, I realised that she has come to a stage where she has learned how to appreciate life and has coped to live in peace within. I knew somewhere through the years of her solitude and rejection, the deprivation of her rights to live her life as she wanted to, could not escape her thought.
Priss put up a brave front when she related to me the time when she had to swallow the cold reality. Her nightmare began when she was married at eighteen in 1981. After five years of happy matrimony, her life took a drastic change. She began to experience bouts of high fever and absenteeism from work had taken its toll. Priss wanted to pursue her education because a degree to her was insufficient to make good for herself from her poor childhood.
Then, the inevitable came when her husband was experiencing serious coughing but the doctor refused to divulge the truth about her husband’s health condition. I could feel the anger in the tone of her voice that as a wife she was deprived of the truth and perhaps it could be the request from her husband. To Priss it was unbelievable that a tough physique of her husband had turned into a mere skeletal self.
Then came 1994, Priss’s father passed away in April from cancer and her husband succumbed to the dreaded disease in September. It was a double blow to her to have lost her father and her husband whom she had loved dearly. The heart wrenching moment was her husband’s refusal to confess even at his last moment how he was infected with HIV viruses. Priss had to conclude that he had extra-marital affairs without protective sex.
Priss’s life is just a prologue to many untold cases of those like her. When a woman is infected, she becomes the host as it is among sex workers. Womanisers who ignore safe sex will definitely bring sufferings and make their love ones the sacrificial lambs.
The paradigm of morality does not come from abstinence but on how we obtain the information to be educated against the infection. Like Priss’s husband, he had paid the price with his life and left untold grieves behind to the one who loves him – Priss.
The immediate fear that seeped into Priss’s life was that she was going to die soon. Her dreams shattered and a bleak future had been laid ahead. She could not accept the truth that she was the victim of such a cruel fate. The bombardments of rejection and reprisal from family members and the community were too much to bear. She found solace with her own tears and had to cry alone. It took her more than a year before being referred to a psychiatrist.
When she was asked about contemplating suicide, Priss’s answer was a courageous NO! He elder brother and sister were supportive but her mother could not accept what had happened to her. Priss’s mother felt ashamed to take her along to the market, and when they had visitors, she was asked to hide in the room. But, for how long she could hide? Priss would rather have her mother announced to the world that she had cancer if she was ashamed HIV.
Priss blamed her husband initially but not now after so many years of suffering and solitude. She had accepted that it is her fate because God will not curse his children. Such profound fortitude to appreciate life has given her the strength to move on with her life.
I must confess that Priss is beautiful with a pointed nose to strike an equilibrium with her other features. It was her sunken cheeks accentuated prominently that had hidden her beauty from untrained eyes. Priss thanked me for my compliment and admitted that she stood out in her younger days and she was often dated by her teachers and unattached lecturers. Her dates were better looking with better jobs but she had to fall for her husband. Her voice of regrets echoed breathlessly as her voice began to grip with emotion.
I felt guilty that I had touched on her emotional wound. The magic touch of her husband that won her heart was his persistence. He brought her flowers and visited her everyday with presents, and most of all he could make her laugh. However, Priss’s short trip down her happy memory lane tailed off by murmuring; “Why I did I choose him?”
It is really sad that we are easily the fallen prey to the judgemental traits that we are blinded to the sufferings of those who are different from us, be it family related or unrelated. As for Priss, she did not blame anyone even her own mother for looking at her differently. The only person she blamed at that time was her husband who had brought her such misery.
Her in-laws knew the condition of her husband but they claimed that he had recovered from his drugs addiction, perhaps without realising that their son was already infected with HIV virus. Priss has the respect for her in-laws because she does not have any unkind words for them. Unfortunately, their ties were severed after so many years because the pain is best left forgotten. But for Priss, her pain, sorrow and the hurt are only hers to bear. Her happy times before the tragedy were left embedded in the faded traces of her memory that could only bring smiles at her hours of loneliness.
Priss’s most agonising moment was the severe stomach pain which later diagnosed to be cancer of the urethras. She had two operations and any further attempt, Priss might end up a vegetable. Priss’s search for divine help had led her to Jesus and she surrendered herself to his mercy. The only thing she could do was to hang on and lived each day to her best through prayers and her trust in Him.
“My life was clean until I choose the wrong man for husband. How stupid of me!” A paroxysm escaped from her mouth and I was taken aback. “Yes, I was stupid! No one to talk to and I made whatever decision by myself.”
I have no reservation made about sex education. It is to keep children and teens safe from unwanted pregnancy and venereal diseases and importantly from the increasing spread of HIV and Aids. Some parents may have difficulties to explain to their children about sex but sad to say they prefer to talk about the birds and the bees. The common fallacy among parents is that they tend to believe that sex education will encourage their children to engage in promiscuous sex.
As parents, we should take sex-education as the avenue to provide the essential information to create awareness before they enter into a relationship, rather than to live with paranoid fear. Leaving the children to find out for themselves what sex is about is the fatal choice because they could end up at the porn sites.
The Asian culture and the conservative approach in upbringing their children has to take a bold change since many parents are well-educated now and are able to differentiate between the essential and the trivial. `
Apart from sex education, Priss opined that love and respect should not be discounted. That is why loneliness is always painful because the love that brings the smiles is missing. The most comforting assurance a mother could give to her children is the feeling that they are never alone. The separation between a mother and her child no matter in what circumstances is always with tears at that moment of grief.
The abyss in one’s life without love and the emptiness from the hunger for love is the inescapable situation of isolation and abandonment. To quote Mother Theresa’s profound statement from what she had experienced with the unfortunates: The most terrible poverty is loneliness. And the feeling of being unloved, is a painful reality that many of us have yet to experience or to come in term with.
Empathy is the missing vocabulary in the language of respect. Without respect, love is meaningless and without love, respect does not exist. Such catch 22 situation provides the latitude for pondering and how capable we are to react without the jaundiced view will definitely give a new meaning to respect itself.
Priss could not help herself and broke down each time fighting hard against the cruel memories that shrouded her sanity. Honestly, I did not know what to do at that point of time. My vision blurred when I saw Priss kept wiping their cheeks dry. Clearing my throat, I went ahead with my questions trying to make everyone feel comfortable but the emotion was thick in the air.
Her labourer father having six children to feed and her mother from her own bad childhood could be written in episodes. Somehow, Priss’s brothers and sisters had managed to earn their degrees and had made good in life. Priss was on the way to join the crowd, but the cruel fate emerged to slice a piece of her life away.
On our way back to the city, my thoughts were still with Priss. Her life was tainted but her faith lives on. Have I being a good father to my three children and a good husband to my wife? Such question kept rolling in my mind. Perhaps not good enough I thought, but then the love shown and being supportive to what I do, portrayed otherwise. Yes! I have been a good father and a husband because I have not brought home the misery of any diseases for them to share with.
Sometimes, it is better to be unable to feel anymore, because the sorrows people have are too much to bear with.
Sometimes, it is better to have no more tears to cry, because the miseries people have are unending.
Sometimes, it is better to look the other way, because the pains people have are excruciating to the core.
Sometimes, it takes compassion to be able to feel, to cry and to look at the people around us, because we may just be the same.
The most frightening thing that we have to live our life is the life’s lesson itself. We must love the journey of life and to live well through trials and errors. When you laugh, the world laughs with you. And when you cry, you have to cry alone.
How true it is, and all mothers know best. The hands that rock the cradle could be the same hands that topple the cradle. But then, to bite the hands that feed you will make no difference too.
May God be with you Priss, and to all Priss alike, live each day at a time and live your life to the fullest. God bless.