Background and Diagnosis
Miriam was born in the Free- State and because of some problems she encountered with her family, she decided to move to Johannesburg with her 2 children. One day at her place of employment, Miriam walked pass her employer who at the time was having something to eat. She then said to her “wow you eat so well – I wish I had an appetite like yours”. Her employer then responded “don’t you have an appetite? Are you feeling sick?” Miriam then explained to her that for the past few weeks she had lost a lot of weight and had no appetite. This caused “alarm bells” for her employer and suggested they go and see the GP together.
The following day Miriam and her employer went to the doctor where she underwent a few tests. The doctor then asked if he could do an HIV test and Miriam was more than happy to do it as she was confident the result would come back negative. Unaware of her status, the results came back and before the doctor revealed it, her employer wanted to leave as she felt it was a confidential matter between the patient and the doctor. Miriam didn’t mind her being present and insisted she stayed. It was at this time that the doctor told Miriam she was HIV positive.
Accepting the news
Miriam was in complete shock! So many emotions and thoughts went through her mind at the time. It was like adrenaline overload! The thing that worried her the most as her employer now knew her status was- am I going to lose my job? Fortunately her employer was very supportive and understanding and assured Miriam that she won’t be dismissed as she needed this job to provide for her family. Miriam felt so relieved!
As she made her way home, so many questions continued going through her mind– where did I go wrong? Was I a prostitute to allow this to happen to me? So many questions – no answers. One of the hardest part for her was telling her children. How would they respond to this dreadful news? What about the community she lived in- are people going to discriminate and judge her?
Miriam became constantly tired with her body in aches and pain with no appetite at all. She started losing more weight. There were many occasions where she would wake up in the morning but could not stand as her legs were so painful. These were just some of the symptoms she started experiencing.
Breaking the news
One of the hardest parts for Miriam was letting her family know she was HIV positive and this needed to happen eventually. One day she left her mediation on the table and as one of her granddaughters, who was 2years old at the time walked pass, she asked “Mama – what is this pills for? “.Wanting to see her reaction she responded “I am HIV positive”. The reaction I got was priceless. She ran up to me and hugged me and whispered in my ear “don’t worry mama – we will support you through this.”I Just broke down in tears! What did a 2 year old know about supporting someone who is HIV positive? It didn’t matter at the time – what was important that I had support.
Encounter with hospice
Miriam never knew about hospice until one day she became so stressed not only dealing with her illness but also because of the emotional and physical abuse of the father of her children. He constantly blamed her for what happened and the trauma she put her children through. She then reached the point that she became so ill that an ambulance was called to take her to hospital where she went into a coma for 3 weeks. Unaware that she had been in a coma, she woke up and was very much confused as to why she was there. Nobody could either tell her why she was brought into hospital.
Miriam was then discharged and a few days later received a call from one of the hospice nurses. Her first reaction to this call was “what have I done this time – am I in trouble?” The nurse explained to her that she was referred by the hospital and that she together with a carer will see to all her needs physically, emotionally & spiritually.
After some visitations from hospice, Miriam was later introduced to an adherence club. She remembers the first time being picked up and taken to a community hall. When she arrived she saw so many people there sitting in a group. Her initial reaction was that there was no way she was going to speak to this people. What if they found out she was HIV positive and judged her? What Miriam didn’t know that these people were facing the same problems she was experiencing. This group eventually grew on her as people were sharing their experiences, challenges and at the same time encouraging one another. It was also an opportunity to receive their medication in a discreet way.
“I am no longer alone in this. I have a family that supports me when I need it the most. Being part of the adherence club has taught me a lot. I don’t need to feel ashamed about my status or myself. “She said.
At the beginning of January (2016) this year, sadly Miriam lost one of her daughters as she too was HIV positive. Her daughter of 28 years has 3 beautiful children and Miriam at the age of 53 boasts how proud she is to be a grandmother! Life can only get better!