Diagnosed far from home

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 seconds.

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.

I 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 my family.

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.

So, five 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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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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