On December 24th of 1995, I stepped into the private lab that was directly across from my home to collect my HIV test results. I opened the door and I had not taken a seat when the lab technician uttered: "We have a problem." I felt a cold wave move up and down my spine and my heart beat raced. As I sat down she continued, "We have two options, I read out the results to you, in which case I would need to report the results to the health authorities or I can give you the results in a closed envelope and you can open it at home." I asked her to please share it with me and I had no problem with her reporting to anyone. As expected my HIV test was reactive. I did not cry, I did not scream, in fact I did nothing, I was numb, I was already thinking about my funeral!
I crossed the street to my home, closed the doors and went directly to my bedroom. I laid in my bed thinking of the color of flowers I want for my funeral, of how I will tell my family and most importantly about how many more days I had. Two days later I still had not moved from my bed. I was waiting for death to come. It was then that an angel dressed as a friend came to help me and that is how I started going to the clinic.
My first visit to the HIV clinic was a frightening and shocking experience. It was packed with patients: in wheelchairs, thin to the bone, with the hair gone, with multiple visible Kaposi sarcomas, with a lost and hopeless look in their faces; their eyes reflecting their eagerness to die and end it all. That was the first time I cried. I saw my future … how long will it take for me to look that way? I had a long conversation with the Dr. and social worker. I learned that my life expectancy was a maximum of two years. Two years would give me time to achieve things, to do things I had always wished.
Well I decided then to volunteer at a hospice. I cooked, I cleaned and most importantly I cared for the numerous persons who were brought by their relatives and were never visited again. I read to them and made sure that they were clean and comfortable, basically that was all I could do. The years passed and I continued to learn more and continued to see people dying but once in a while I would meet people with HIV that laughed and that made plans for the future.
Two years passed and I did not die but my health was visibly not the best. I lost lots of weight and always felt tired and weak. I had sarcomas on my legs and had gone through a serious pneumonia. Year after year came and went and although I was still alive, I was weaker and fatigued.
In 2010 I did my first viral load and resistance test. Surprise! I was resistant to the ARVs that were available in my country. What could I do now? The easiest choice was to move to another country. I did not want to go anywhere … I had already started the first NGO for people with HIV. I was on the media demanding for better services and sending hundreds of letters to everyone I could to be able to improve services in Belize. It seemed that finally the time was here to say good bye. My CD4 was at 39 and my viral load was more than 1 million copies. But, I did not give up. I wrote letters to governments, to friends, to agencies everywhere in the world. One day I received an answer from an organization in the USA called AID FOR AIDS. I had hope. Through them I started receiving my medication. The same medication I am on till this day! I continue to receive my medication by mail because my country still does not offer what I need. I was forced to become a beggar in my own country; begging for ARVs, begging to stay alive.
Today my CD4 is above 500 and I have an undetectable viral load and that is because I AM DETERMINED TO LIVE!