Tears streamed down her face as she spoke and reflected on the long journey she has had since she found out she was HIV positive and even as she bats for others in similar circumstances Pam (not her real name) admits that many times she sinks into a state of depression and thinks about taking her life.
“Sometimes I does feel like I don’t want go on and to tell you the truth, like three times I nearly drink poison… but I still here. “Sometimes when I look at other people who have HIV and how hard it is for them I does feel sorry. I does try to help,” the 55-year-old mother of two told the Sunday Stabroek in a recent interview.
She has been living with HIV for over ten years, but it has not been an easy journey and according to her it is one she does not wish on anyone. For fear of discrimination, Pam has not disclosed her status to her close relatives; she believes they would shun her.
“I know my family. They are like that so I not telling them. If they find out somehow then, but I not telling them. I don’t live with them or nothing but I not telling them,” she said as she cried.
Because she believes her own blood relatives would shun her, she declined to reveal her identity explaining that it is not her well-being she is concerned about but her children’s, to whom she has revealed her status.
In recent years, she has been doing a lot of voluntary work in the HIV community and believes more should be done, especially for women who are often left with young children to care for.
Pam recalled that she had shared a relationship with a man for a number of years, but more often than not he was in the interior where he worked.
“But he use to take care of me and me children [none of the children are his] and send money, but then after a time he start getting sick steady and he would tell me is malaria and typhoid. And then one time he didn’t come out the bush for a whole year and I know something was wrong,” Pam said.
Looking back, she suspected that her partner was HIV positive but never admitted to herself and when he finally called and said he was coming home she decided to move out of the house. But he called her cellular phone and her children eventually gave him directions to their new residence. “As soon as I see him I knew it. He get fine [lost weight] and I could see but I tell he have to go to the doctor and he didn’t want go public he want go private…,” she said. Pam accompanied him to the hospital and even after all these years she is still visibly agitated as she recounts that day.
“He went in alone and I see them nurse looking at me and one a them ask if I was he wife,” she said, tightly linking her fingers together.
After they left the hospital, she said, he knelt on the road way and said, “Babes I have everything, but I still love you.”
She needed no more words since those confirmed her suspicions and while she wanted to run away, she stayed with him and took him to his relatives’ home where he was staying at the time.
“You know by the time we get there like they done get the news and everything fuh he was in a lil shack in the yard. I stay with he for the night in the lil shack but is like we couldn’t sleep and we couldn’t talk neither,” Pam said. The next day she left and shortly after the man disappeared.
“It is like he didn’t want live anymore. I didn’t have a phone number for he and the next thing I hear is he in de hospital. I went and see and the next day he dead,” she said, but no tears came.
A test later confirmed that she was positive, and Pam said at that point (and it still remains a fact) she only had her children, young as they were at that time, to support her.
“As I said, I couldn’t tell me family… That is how me family stay and so I just had to keep quiet and live for me children.” Pam said while it is good to see support, HIV positive persons still have to think carefully before they reveal their status because of the level of stigma and discrimination that is very evident in Guyana.
In her case, the discrimination came from medical practitioners and other employees of the clinic where she went for her treatment.
“Because of the remarks, … one time I had to just move and go to another clinic,” she said adding that she got into a “cuss out” with a doctor.
She shared that she had been off her treatment for almost four months to facilitate a training she was undergoing. Pam said she was unware that once you start the treatment there is no room to miss even a day.
“So when I tell he how I didn’t take it for four months if you hear how this man went on, he throw down he note pad and say, ‘Four f*&%ing months! You want to f*&%ing dead?’ and is suh he went on and I just get mad and start crying and buse he back and he just lef the room,” Pam said. While she does not blame that incident, shortly afterwards she went on a downward spiral.
“I was drinking and smoking. I didn’t do drugs and I didn’t get intimate, but like every opportunity I get I use to drink and smoke. I use to do me work, but when is break, I drinking and smoking,” the woman recalled.
It was around this point that she thought about taking her life and her children’s and there was one instance when her older child talked her out of it and encouraged prayer instead.
Eventually, because of the drinking and smoking she was placed on the second-line treatment, which she said was very difficult. Instead of taking one tablet a day she now has to take eight, along with multivitamins.
“I want everyone to know that you can’t drink and smoke when you taking the medication, you have to also eat right and exercise and so on,” she encouraged.
Pam is a retiree and while she is the recipient of a modest pension she has also undergone training and hopes to soon find employment in her new skilled area.
“I want to keep working and so I am doing a lot of training and I want to work again because I don’t want to have to depend on my children,” she said.
“My children have been with me all the way and they never tell anyone, at least not as far as I know, not their partners,” Pam said, and smiled for the first time during the interview. She encouraged women who are positive not to give up but instead focus on trying to live healthy.
“I know it does be hard because I been there and still going through it. Some days you don’t have much to eat and you have to eat good when you taking the medication.
“But more women will do better if people would stop discriminating. We are not bad people it could be anybody and most times people with HIV only need some love and support and they could make it,” Pam said.
Pam is member of the Guyana Community of Positive Women and Girls (GCWAG) and she hopes to use her “passion” to help other women.
Head of the GCWAG Marlyn Cameron, who is also the country coordinator for the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW), of which the local arm is a part said that they are planning 16 days of activism commencing November 25 and ending December 10. It will commence with a walk, in collaboration with the National AIDS Programme Secretariat and will include a roundtable discussion, distribution of condoms and flyers, church service and capacity building training.
The local arm of GCWAG, according to Cameron, was formed in 2015 through the leadership of Crystal Albert. As of July of this year, GCWAG, which is also an arm of the Network of Guyanese Living with HIV/AIDS (GT+), had over 90 members.
The Sunday Stabroek will feature the journey of an HIV-positive woman on a regular basis for the remainder of the year as GCWAG continues its work to assist positive women and girls.
Persons interested in learning more about GCWAG can call 691-7297 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.