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May 2011

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Success Story

She was supposed to be my one success story. The person I would look forward to hearing from: how are you, how’s life, how are your kids?

I keep telling myself, I took the right steps. I tried my best.

With my urging, I took her to get tested for HIV. She made me take a vow-that I would never tell her family about her positive status; all this while her sisters waited outside the clinic doors. I understood her fear-of being ostracized during this time when she needed them most.

The next step, the clinicians said, was to get a CD4 blood test. I knew she needed ART (Anti-Retroviral Treatment) as soon as possible. We could not wait four weeks for the CD4 results. We took her to a hospital, farther from the closest one, at her request because she had lost two children in the maternity ward of the closest one. There, I urged the doctors to put her on ART; I knew the doctors had the training to diagnose her with full blown AIDS, clinical stage 4, thus enabling the start of treatment without the CD4 results. But the doctors refused; instead they pushed the CD4 blood test to be ready in one week.

It was there that I was that annoying volunteer trying to convey my assertion of the urgency. One doctor told me, there is nothing urgent, except maybe if she was pregnant-what is 2 or 3 days?

Initially that comment had filled me with such anger and pain I thought this was the moment it would all come out in a blur of rage. Surprisingly though, a moment later that same comment would ease my nerves. It is with that comment that I learned my first steps in letting go. The doctor had understood his limitations in this environment, and finally, so did I.

We took her from that hospital and back to the closer one, so that her family and children could visit her more regularly.

That was Monday. On Wednesday, I traveled to the farther hospital to fetch the CD4 results and came back empty handed. The doctor at the farther hospital assured me that he would personally phone the results over to the closer hospital when the results arrived. It seemed the doctor took a liking to my overbearing demeanor.

I sat with her on Wednesday, feeling more and more optimistic about her recovery. She seemed coherent and alive. I told her of the events of the day and I told her she would get better soon. With an IV in her right arm, she weakly said good bye to me. It never occurred to me that that would be the last time I would see her.

At 5am the next morning I received the news that she had passed away.

And I know it will haunt me forever. Did I do everything I could to help her.

Like I said, she was supposed to be my one success story. It is a selfish wish, to want a person to live simply because one loves them. But that is what I wished for, my one success story.

Instead, she leaves behind two children, a 14 year old boy and a 2 year old girl.
And sadly, this is the face of AIDS in Swaziland.