If only I had said NO - Easter 1999

(This is a short story written with the intention of drawing attention to the disaster facing our area and representing the work of Blessed Gérard's Care Centre & Hospice).

This story is based on fact,
but because of confidentiality, the names are fictitious.

Busy as bees, many care workers buzz around me and others. One patient they bathe, another they feed and yet another they dress his wounds, but the lady in the bed next to me lies still with her baby by her side.

The baby is six months old but looks two months old. She cries all the time. Her arms and legs are like matchsticks. Thokozile, her mother, is not much better. She weighs only 40 kg. She has hardly any breast milk left. She cries when she looks at her baby, expressionless and not even able to swallow the baby food that is handed to her with the bottle. Thokozile loves her little one and is looking forward to the next few months, which are probably still granted to them. Both mother and child have AIDS. Thokozile asks her husband to sit beside her and comfort her, but he has to keep trying to find work - he knows what he has passed on to his wife and child. He also knows that he himself is HIV positive and sees his fate playing out before his eyes, like in the cinema.

The voice of a nurse interrupts my thoughts, bringing me my tuberculosis medicine. She can see her compassion and I feel it in her voice, because she knows what will become of me. Because, you see, I am also HIV positive and one day I will be just like Thokozile and her little girl.

Suddenly I get palpitations: the buzzer has gone off and the little light glows red above Thokozile's bed. The nurse arrives, a big back and forth and then finally, silent tears.

The tiny lifeless bundle is carried away from Thokozile. The curtains are drawn back. I see Thokozile lying haggard on her bed. Her whole body trembles from the sighs of heartbreaking pain. All strength has left her.

I try to reach her to comfort her in her forlornness - but I myself have no strength. Suddenly and shockingly, it becomes clear to me that I will follow little Dumisile. But unlike her, I know why I am ill. I ask myself, how long do I have to live, a month or two or maybe a year?

If only I had said NO!