I still remember the very cold January morning; I was not listening to the
pre-counselling, I thought it did not concern me. I just wanted to get the test
done and over with… Then came the shock! My life changed in a matter of
I had arrived from Zimbabwe on 20th December to attend my
paternal aunt’s wedding the following day. The wedding went very well, it even
snowed! Christmas followed and the celebrations seemed endless. I started
feeling unwell after Christmas, thought it was all the hectic celebrations and
weather and maybe I still had jetlag. I tried a few over-the-counter remedies
for colds and flu but did not get any better. My aunt, a retired nurse, advised
me to go for an HIV test, just in case… It was then that I had gone to the clinic
with a cousin and my friend. I had been working for 16 years for a Southern
Africa regional NGO, as an IT manager. I had an annual bonus of US$2000, to
spend outside the country, so I got a ticket plus spending money, and came for
four weeks – for the wedding and those fabulous January sales! I had visited the
UK on several occasions in the past on holiday and work.
I worried, and
the word DEATH featured in my thoughts all the time. I could see myself as one
of those people in the media adverts of Africans dying of AIDS – just skin and
bones, I was frightened. I had unfinished business back home. I changed my
return ticket several times hoping that I would still be able to go home. My
annual leave was running out, I asked my boss for a month’s extension, citing a
kidney infection that would soon go away. My son, 15, was going back to boarding
school – fortunately my employer paid for my son’s fees as part of my contract
and I had left my parents in charge of my son. But there was also my rent,
property and other bills, car, etc…
I asked the consultant if I could get
enough drugs so I could go back home to resign from my job properly, before
coming back to continue with treatment (I had to make sure I collected my
pension and tied up all loose ends), but was told this was not possible.
had a 65,000 copies/ml viral load and CD4 was below 10, I had to start ART [antiretroviral therapy] immediately. I
read the enclosed medication leaflets and could not believe I was actually on
treatment for HIV! After two weeks on treatment, I started having terrible side-effects and other infections kicked in. They suspected I had TB [tuberculosis], so while I was
waiting for the test results, I was started on TB treatment. Three months later
it turned out that I did not have TB after all, but at the stage I was taking up
to 18 tablets a day. I could not eat and lost a lot of weight. I was admitted to
hospital for two weeks with high fever and was very anaemic. A scan detected
malfunctioning liver and abnormal kidneys – polycystic kidneys are hereditary in
During this time, worry and I became good friends; worry
brought along stress, anxiety, fear and depression to keep me company. I then
came to Positively Women [now called Positively UK] with a cousin to attend the support group. It was a life-changing
experience, and my life took a turn for the better!
My visa was expiring
in June; I had a solicitor and sent in my application for leave to remain on
compassionate grounds. I then applied to join the Positively UK volunteer
training in October; I was depressed most of the time but realised I had to do
something with my life in order to move on. I am still a volunteer and was
nominated Volunteer of the Year by the Third Sector magazine.
years down the line, I wonder when I will ever see my only child; my immigration
is still unresolved, I cannot be gainfully employed and I cannot travel outside
the UK. I have however made great friends through HIV and I get a lot of
inspiration from them. I still have a lot to smile about!
This story was first published on the Positively UK
website. Thanks to Positively UK for giving permission to reproduce it here.
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