Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Snapshot of AIDS

One of the nicest people I know plays percussion in our worship band at Overlake. She’s also one of the most amazing people I know. Everything that follows is her story, in her own words. It’s a bit more powerful than most of my blog-posts, but it is absolutely worth the read. -Mike

It’s not a secret that HIV is a dangerous disease, but when you hear about it, it’s through people who are mainly advocates. But you also pray to God, that it never infects anyone you know. I was one of those people who thought, it clearly would never happen to me…I was wrong, because now it’s what I have to deal with on a regular basis. At first I was in denial about it, I didn’t it want it to be a reality. So I chose never to discuss it and until this day I’ve only told five people.

After being at the AIDS forum at Overlake a couple weeks ago. I immediately knew that God wanted me to share my story. My first reaction was, why Lord? Why would you want all those people to know something that sensitive about me? Deep down I knew it was His will, but I still was hesitant. After lots of praying, crying & clinging to His words, I knew that God would never give a situation I couldn’t handle. HIV has been like a raw wound that I didn’t want to open. It’s so real, it just brings back bad memories, I had chosen to bury & nightmares that I don’t want to re-live. I have seen it affect my family and friends. It wasn’t until four years ago that I found out that they were all diagnosed with same disease, AIDS. So for the years before that, I wasn’t given an accurate explanation as to what seemed to kill some of the closest people in my life due to culture. In Uganda, when you have HIV, it’s such a disgrace and the most shameful thing you could ever bring to people who know you. You get shunned, disrespected and everyone considers you as a dead person walking. You’re feelings, actions even presence don’t matter anymore and I know exactly how that feels like.

My world came to a screeching halt when I received a phone call from my mom. She said, she needed to tell me, some not to so good news before I found out from anyone else. When she told me that she would have preferred telling me in person, then I knew it was serious. And those two hours were most excruciating pain I’ve ever endured. I found out that my mom and my youngest sister were infected with the HIV. She told me, she found out before my dad passed away and that my dad had had it as well. Here I thought he had passed away from complications due to pneumonia. Which was technically true, he had had a stroke a couple of months before. They both found out, through routine tests that were done before he got discharged from the hospital. After they came back home, the mood was different. My mom cried a lot, I thought she was worried about him and I clearly remember trying to comfort her and tell her that he was going to be fine. I missed talking to my dad, due to his speech being slurred, but every time we came in the room, his face brightened and he used his good arm to stroke us. Then one night, he got pneumonia & by the next afternoon we had lost him. After that, everything turned upside down, the only thing that calmed me was that he was with God. My mom assured my sister & I that God always takes care of all widows & orphans and not to worry at all. To be honest, I was relieved that Papa wasn’t in pain anymore, but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t angry because he went too soon. I didn’t think it was fair, that I would never have him carry me on his shoulders, take me for walks in the neighborhood, while we chased each other’s shadows. I would never make breakfast with him. I would never have him pick me up from school to go & have ice-cream which happened twice a week without my mother’s knowledge. But of all the above, the most thing I was going to miss, was when he came back from work, he always called out excitedly, “Abaishikyi bagye.” Which meant,” My girls, where are my girls?” We would all literally scrabble from different corners of the house screaming, “Papa yigya” which meant, “Papa’s home!” And we just fought for all his attention. Overall I was going to miss being a typical Daddy’s girl!

After that phone call, so many things began to make sense. I found out he got infected through a blood transfusion, he had to get after we were all involved in a car accident. A drunk driver hit us and while we escaped with bumps & scrapes, my dad wasn’t that lucky, the broken windscreen glass had cut his head, neck & one of his wrists. By the time he got to the hospital he was in & out of conscious ness because he had lost a lot of blood. Back in the late 80’s hospitals at home just checked to see if the blood matched your blood group and they never tested it for any other diseases. As soon as he passed away, so many changes happened, traditionally my dad’s side of the family is entitled to take anything. So they wiped out my dad’s accounts, took some and sold some of our property. I guess to them, they thought it was only a matter of time before we died as well. My mom had finally had enough when someone suggested, that she should send Maureen (my sister) and I to the village to live with grandparents until we were old enough to get married & then she would receive half of our dowry (a groom’s payment to the bride’s relatives for their daughter). My mom had finally had enough after that statement, she became like a mother-bear guarding her cubs & she didn’t really care for what tradition & culture called for anymore. She put us up in Catholic boarding school when we about six & five. And made sure the headmistress knew that nobody was supposed to take us unless they had contacted her first. It wasn’t easy for her not to see us every other 3 months. But at least she had a little peace knowing that we had a safe place to stay, 3 meals a day & most importantly having an education. She also made sure that Maureen and I were tested for HIV as a precaution, every other semester for the first year. And by God’s amazing grace, we tested negative every time.

About six years later, my mom started to date again and when she got pregnant, things didn’t work out between her and the guy she was seeing. When she found out she was having twins, she was excited. In a way, she was lonely when we left for school and now she was going to have babies to fuss over, which would occupy her thoughts & free time. I now know she was scared of the possibility that the twins could be infected. Since she was already on medication, she looked fine & healthy and had unwavering hope that God’s will would be fulfilled. Unfortunately the babies were born premature, Robert my brother couldn’t make it and Melanie tested positive for HIV. My mom was so devastated she had just lost a son and she didn’t know if Melanie was even going to make it. I look up to Melanie in so many ways, she’s one strong fighter. She started the medication early which was a little strong for her already frail & weak body. Her baby teeth were so charred & black. We were always in hospitals when she couldn’t breathe on her own. And yet she never complained about taking her medicine everyday, she couldn’t play much but she didn’t sulk about staying indoors all the time. She just looked forward to much better days. She and my mom never let bad situations get to them. And we went through some bad experiences with relatives. I never could figure out why they treated us in a distant manner. They wiped down everything we touched or sat on. We were given special plates, cups even bed sheets & they would discard all these items immediately. It was so obvious that they want not going to be used again. When we questioned our mom about it, she calmly said, “Yes it was interesting, but don’t dwell on it, its snake-like behavior and I have taught you to be gentle like doves and to be like miracles to all you meet & know.”

I have another whole new appreciation for my mom, sisters & friends. I talk to my mom every week and am rejuvenated every time. My sisters are just incredible best friends to me and I continue to praise & glorify God for the time I have with them. I know that when that day comes when the tissue that makes white blood cells can’t produce anymore and their days are numbered, it will be scary and I don’t look forward to it. I worry for them, but then at the same time I know that God would never let me carry that burden, He simply asks that I play a role in handling it, it’s not my task, it’s His.

So join me in playing a role this advent, let’s give hope to others who are in my position, if not even worse. Let’s give them a good reason to wake up in the morning. Let’s educate more people both here & all over the world on how to prevent & control HIV. People in there 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s are all dying, which leaves seniors or grandparents to take care of the multiplying numbers of orphans. Instead of spoiling their grandchildren, they are working to put food on the table. Let’s give the orphans some dreams back. Dreams to go to school, to be ambitious, to get careers and be better examples for their communities, hence creating a better tomorrow.

I want to end with this quote from Fredrick Wood, “The only life that counts is the life that costs.” It reminds me that true discipleship means true sacrifice and yes there is some element of cost as always. But as living sacrifices, we should remember that resources are not insufficient when God is involved. Let’s give thanks to the Almighty, for all he has provided and to show more gratitude especially in this time of Advent.

Thank You for hearing my story.



Anonymous said...

Melissa if you read this, I'm so proud of you for having the courage to share your story.

Thank You for letting us into some of the deepest & darkest parts of your life to help bring light to the parts of the world facing this.

You are an incredible woman and I'm so thankful for YOU and your story. :)

Wendy said...

Wow Melissa. Thank you for sharing your story. I will be praying for you and thinking of your family as well this weekend. Hope to meet you soon,