So I went for my hospital visit a week ago. As usual I was a bit nervous, more than usual because I had just moved out of my house into my brother’s and the new environment, stress and all that was getting to me. I had to call a cab guy previously unknown to me to pick me up by 5.30. I was worried that he would not be on time, etc. But at the same time, I also realised that I was developing the nonchalance I had seen in quite a number of regular patients. You see ordinarily, I like to go to the hospital and be incognito…inconspicuous. I was quite concerned not to be recognised or noticed. (Somehow though I am almost always noticed wherever I go, if you know me you will understand why.) This time however, I knew my outlandish hairstyle and colour, and my ‘cool’ glasses would make me really stick out, but frankly, I didn’t care anymore.
Anyway, the driver came on time and I arrived there armed with some movies on my phone, sandwiches and a drink. I took a seat in an empty row behind the only five other people there. While I busied myself with my distractions, these people- made up of two men and 3 women- began to have a conversation. Apparently one of the men had complained that he couldn’t allow his wife be seen at the centre because it was too embarassing or something and so he was probably queuing up in her stead or something and the others took him up on that. The other man said he could not care less who knew about his illness and judged him based on that. He said everyone where he lives and works know he is HIV+, and that his pators at church also know because they were there when he was always falling ill, praying for him until he finally discovered his status and began treatment. Then another lady – who obviously likes talking about herself because she stood up to address everyone present, listening or not- narrated how she discovered her status when she was pregnant. Her husband tested negative and that combined with the fear of the unknown made her cry all the time. She was eventually counselled by a doctor who made her literally count her blessings : her husband had not sent her away, her husband’s family had not ostracized her all of which were regular occurrences with the discovery of one’s positive status, nor was she was physically ill, etc. She said that made her shrug off the shame and fear. Then the work day began in the hospital, slowly, as is the regular case: people slowly walking in, cleaners arranging the area, healthcare staff greeting each other. Then two people came to make announcements to us. And therein lies my story.
The first person to address us was a doctor at the centre. She wanted everyone to know that from the next week they would no longer tolerate people missing their appointments and coming after their appointed time. She said the doctors had other things to do apart from sitting all day attending to patients. I kind of understood how she would be angry about people who deliberately miss their appointments for things like weddings and ceremonies, but I still think the staff of LUTH HIV treatment centres need to work on their delivery. They can be so rude, it’s annoying. And because of your heightened emotional sensitivity due to your status you put it down to that. Anyway a little while after another person came to speak to us. This man introduced himself as the IT officer for the centre and asked why people did not attend support group meetings,complaining that the number of people there was always very little. That’s where you will meet your peers, he said, people like your type. (By that he obviously meant PLWHA.) He continued saying some people go to the doctors and say that they want to get married but there is no way they can because of their status. He said the IT department had decided to create a match making database where you could list your qualities and those you want in a man/ woman with/without your photograph and they would match you up with a few likely candidates. He emphasised that they wanted serious responses only not people out for a good time. Then he prayed that ‘God will help us overcome this illness one day’ and the crowd said ‘Amen’.
A friend came up to me and said something that I had been thinking; apparently ther’s no hope for HIV cure and progress if we now have to restrict our options to all those infected. And truly it does seem somewhat sad; as if we have been pushed to a section of life’s corner and told ‘alright do your things among yourselves, find love there, hang out with each other, etc’. It is bleak and dreary. But at the same time there’s another side to it.It is a freedom to finally be yourself, to stop hiding. To begin with someone on a regular playing field. I have not allowed myself date anyone or feel anything for anyone since 2009 because I know I carry this secret. When do you tell someone you are HIV+? First date, second date? When you become intimate? No matter when you do it if the person is immature he/she is always going to call you a liar, to feel cheated. And you cannot tell if the person is immature until you tell them. But with someone similarly infected, it’s a breeze. Now that that is out of the way, what kind of music do you like? I do not think I will ever go for the centre’s match making attempts, certainly not when an IT staff who refers to HIV+ people as ‘your kind’ is running it, but I think it may work for some people. People whose standards are not as exacting as mine and who do not think marriage is an impractical experiment like I do.
That said, I need to address the issue of speech and decorum in healthcare facilities. While a lot is being done to stop the scourge of HIV a lot of attention should be paid to the training of the healthcare staff. This is not the first time I have heard someone use the phase ‘you people’ or your kind to refer to people living with HIV. When I had just given birth, at the 6 week check up that nursing mothers attend, I got into a little argument with a nurse because she was telling me not to use a pacifier for my baby. I knew it is a Nigerian thing that has no medical basis so I just ignored her. The older nurse there thought it was an argument about feeding with the bottle and asked me why I wasn’t breastfeeding my baby, I told her it was because of my status. She said she knew because she had been trained in dealing with people like us. And she proceeded to ‘counsel’ me in front of everyone there about how ‘we people’ are always angry and unhappy and so much other rubbish. I didn’t stand up and walk away only because I didnt want to give her the satisfaction of thinking she was right.The funny part about this you people business is that it is a form of denial and self-validation for the health centre staff, many of whom are actually HIV+ also. I can bet my bottom dollar that the IT man is HIV+ but they all come with a sense of superiority to lord it over mostly illiterate people. by being very rude or demeaning/
When they are not being rude they are using all sorts of means to get some money from you. I have refused to call anyone and tell them I am coming to the clinic anymore. They cannot use speedy service to rob me. I have decided that any day that I go tto the clinic I will dedicate the whole day to it. So even if I am delayed for yonks I will be done at the end of the day. The last time I went one lady was asking that I left abruptly the last time, and I explained to her that I was distracted because my mum had an accident. After my elaborate explanation, all she could say was where was her ‘Christmas and New Year something’. I wasnt angry then but when thought about it later I was quite irritated. These people really need to be trained and re trained.. And if salary is the issue, paid.
Anyway, that was my week, How was yours?