Gcina Williams* from Khayelitsha speaks about contracting HIV, dealing with being shamed and getting over the anger of being young and HIV-positive.
I really don’t know how I got strength that day
My uncle had been sick for a long time, but I assumed it was TB, which is what we were all told. On the day that I contracted HIV we had to rush him to hospital, because he was coughing up a lot of blood. Helping him at home was just me and my aunt, his wife. I had tried to call an ambulance, but they were taking forever to come, and he was getting worse. We decided we were going to take him to the hospital ourselves, my aunt and I. It was around 8:30 pm.
All I can remember of that car crash is a truck coming at us and knocking our car over. My uncle went through the car window and had a cut on the left cheek. My aunt was not bleeding, but she couldn’t move. I was trying to help them both, but started with my uncle whose condition was worse. My foot was badly cut and there was blood all over, I couldn’t really walk, but I had to make do until the ambulance came. I really don’t know how I found the strength to carry on that day.
That was how I got infected. I really don’t know how long our blood was mixing while he lay in my arms. It must have been a long time because it took two-and-a-half hours for the ambulance to arrive. We were rushed to hospital. My aunt was fine, though she was still unconscious. Unfortunately, my uncle died at the hospital.
I found out my uncle was HIV-positive at his funeral
I didn’t know that through my actions I would get the virus – I had only been trying to help a loved one. No one had bothered to tell me he was HIV-positive. I only heard this at his funeral. While preaching the priest mentioned that my uncle had been struggling with the disease.
I didn’t care then because I didn’t think I had it. I started suspecting something was wrong a year later when I would get sick on and off. When I developed shingles on my breasts I went to a doctor who, after doing tests, confirmed it. That’s how I found out. I was 18, doing grade 11. I was not even dating at the time, I’d never had sex.
I remember that when I got my results, all I could do was laugh. Not because it was funny, but I was shocked. Lots of thoughts ran through my mind. How did I get it? How? I couldn’t go back, I was scared of what everyone would say and that other kids would gossip about me if they found out. All I could think was: “I’m going to die now.” I’d lost so much weight that people started making fun of me. “There is this thing in the township that when you’re sick and thin, people somehow start assuming you are HIV-positive. In my case, they were right.
I won’t lie, knowing I was HIV-positive killed my self-esteem; at some point, I thought of ending my life. That would have been easier than dealing with this pressure. People assume you have the virus because you sleep around and therefore you deserve it. That’s cruel, how can I deserve something like this? I was only helping my uncle; is that so bad?
I resented my uncle: he took something away from me
I have accepted and made peace. It has been ten years, I need to live, I have got so much to offer the world. At some point, I hated him, for everything that happened. I couldn’t understand why it had to be me.
Maybe I was meant to live this way, but I couldn’t help but hate him for taking something away from me. He took my confidence and he ripped my spirit apart, and now for the rest of my life I have to take pills. I have to always be on the lookout when I want to live like other kids my age. I wish I did not have to tell people who come into my life I have this virus. The only person I disclosed to was my cousin. We are the same age and she happens to be my friend as well. I felt comfortable talking to her and she was very supportive.
It’s important to accept yourself
You need to embrace yourself with this disease, despite people’s remarks. I remember being terribly sick and my mother wanting me to be with her in the Eastern Cape. We were in a taxi and these girls at the back seat made funny remarks. “City girls and sugar daddies. Use a condom,” they said as they laughed. I pretended not to hear, but was crying on the inside. I was worried about my mother’s feelings too, but we both pretended we didn’t hear.
I don’t date much and I have certainly not had many boyfriends. It’s hard to find someone as young and understanding about issues like these. It’s important to disclose every time, so people decide for themselves if they want to be in your life. Men close up once you tell them you are HIV-positive; I don’t like going through that hurt and sadness. I have accepted it and have healed.
As told to Lucille Dyosi
* Not her real name
*The Treatment Action Campaign’s Doctor Rebecca Tandokera says such HIV infections are possible, though not as strong. “Lawyers work on cases like these a lot now, where a person has contracted the HIV virus during a car accident. We are trying to find the legislation for such scenarios.”
Rebecca says in an emergency situation where there is blood always wear gloves. It’s of course not always realistic, especially if you don’t know if someone has the virus. “If you don’t know then it is a chance you will have take. For save measurements rather wait for professional help.”
Holding image by ttfnrob via Flickr