A knock on the door saved my life: Woman narrates her fears after HIV diagnosis

Janet (not her real name)  never knew that fate and destiny had conspired to throw her a twisted ephialtes her way, one that only hell could inspire. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

For Janet (not her real name), one sunny day in January 2018, was just like any other. With Form One admissions underway, the rush to beat time was on.

She had the sun in her eyes as days drew closer to her school opening, as she looked forward to being a Form Four candidate and conquering the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams, and be the toss of the day.

 But little did she know that fate and destiny had conspired to throw her a twisted ephialtes her way, one that only hell could inspire.

On this day, she woke up feeling unwell. Her siblings had already reported back to school hence she was home alone.

Her visit to the local health facility saw several tests conducted on the doctor’s recommendation.

But Janet was devastated when she was informed that she was HIV positive and her viral load was very high. Nature can surely hand one her own version of cruel jokes!

“While growing up, I was a very obedient and God-fearing child. I did not miss church because I had so many friends.

Janet says after the doctor broke the news of her status, she spent hours with the counselors hoping that she would one day wake up from the nightmare.

“My mother had traveled and I was all alone. I took myself to this clinic with malaria-like symptoms only to find out I was HIV positive. How was I going to deliver this news to my mother?”, she poses.

Janet says when she left the clinic, she locked herself in the room ready to take her life. But her quest was interrupted by a knock on the door.

“I was fighting so many voices within my head. I had made up my mind to commit suicide but how my legs walked to open the door, I don’t know. All I remember is that the person who had knocked was a friend with whom we have shared many secrets,” she adds.

Although she did not disclose to the said friend what was happening, the idea of committing suicide vanished into thin air as soon as they started cracking jokes.

Her kind friend offered to prepare a meal and spend the night with her after Janet informed her that she was unwell.

The following day, her mother returned, yet Janet could not disclose the torment gnawing her within.

Two days later, Janet was overwhelmed and had to be rushed to the clinic where the doctor broke the news to her mother.

“This news broke my mother’s heart; she did not expect that I would be HIV positive. To cope with the situation, she resorted to heavy drinking until she became an alcoholic,” Janet said.

“The boy with whom we had grown up and had numerous sexual encounters was HIV positive but did not bother to tell me. (Although) he begged for forgiveness after I confronted him, we broke up,” she says.

A clinic where people living with HIV attend their doctor's appointments. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Janet spent the entire first term at home as she struggled to come to terms with what was happening within and around her world.

She finally gathered enough strength, went back to the hospital where the diagnosis had happened, and was given medication to take while in school.

Her mother accompanied her to school and explained to the principal what was going on before she was allowed to class.

Her condition however worsened, forcing her mother to pick a few weeks later. They went to the hospital where it was established that her viral load was worsening.

“I was at my lowest moment. My mother sat me down and we had a deep mother-daughter conversation after which I resolved to rise up and confront life,” she said.

Armed with medication, and a new-found determination, Janet says she went back to school, not just to conquer the KCSE exams, but the virus that was threatening to chaw down her dreams.

One Saturday afternoon, the school’s dorm mistress conducted an impromptu search, and, unfortunately, stumbled upon her medication.

Janet says she was abashed when the mistress called her out in front of other teachers.

“I felt like no one would want to associate with me. The matter reached the Principal's office, who was kind enough to help me get back on my feet,” she narrates.

When exam results were announced, Janet mustered a low grade. While she was gutted, it never came to her as a shocker.

But she was later introduced to the Operation Triple Zero (OTZ) Programme, which runs under the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The programme seeks to empower adolescents and young people living with HIV/AIDS to take charge of their state of health

Here, she would meet fellow youngsters living with the virus and share life experiences while encouraging each other to adhere to clinic appointments to minimise the viral load.

Janet also says she had once visited one of her aunts when she learned that she (the aunt) was also living positively.

“I wanted someone to talk to and thought one of my aunts who is my best friend would give me a listening ear. After we had a conversation and shared what I was going through, I almost ran into shock when she disclosed to me that she was HIV positive and on medication,” she said.

She reveals that although she has a father and other siblings, they do not know that she is HIV positive except for her mother and aunt.

“One night I went for a gig in Westlands and had a crush on someone. I threw my glances and he fell for me. We had a discussion about my status and to my surprise he was also living positively. We agreed on how we would manage our relationship and our family differences before I moved in with him,” she lets it out.

Janet and her husband are now blessed with a son, who is HIV-Negative

 “This is the reason I have chosen to remain silent about my status because I do not want to lose my family and friends,” she discloses.

 “Currently, my husband and I have a 0 viral load meaning the chances of us transmitting the virus to each other are zero. Sometimes, we have unprotected sex, sometimes we protect ourselves but above all, we encourage each other to take medication and follow through with hospital appointments”, Janet says.

As Kenya joins the rest of the world in observing World Mental Health Awareness Month, she says she is grateful that she never ended up as a statistic, of people tussling with depression and other mental issues as a result of their HIV statuses.

 “Living with HIV is like controlling a visitor in your body, it is not the end. What I want the young people to know is that in this life things happen, if you have doubts about your relationships pause….. and if you have to engage in sex, then use protection because just like me, you can have a loyal partner who someday in their life had a low moment,” she said.

“I accepted my fate and moved on. I have no hatred with my ex-boyfriend, we still live in the same locality and see him almost daily but I am happy that he is doing fine,” Janet concludes.

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