“I found messages on his phone – he was seeing different women behind my back.”
A ngel* was just 18 when she started dating 23-year-old James. He was charming and mature, and knew how to make her feel special. She was so taken by him that she didn’t feel alarmed when he admitted that he visited red-light districts during his frequent business trips. “I was sure all of that would change, since we were getting serious,” she shares.
They had a whirlwind romance and James proposed months later. Even though her friends were concerned that they weren’t a good match, Angel agreed to marry him, without the slightest inkling of the horror and turmoil that would follow.
The first few years were happy. It wasn’t until Angel was pregnant with their second child that everything began to change. James was drinking heavily and starting to take drugs, but it didn’t stop there.
“I found messages on his phone – he was seeing different women behind my back. I cried every day,” she recalls. The changes she’d hoped for after marriage – that he would become a family man and settle down – didn’t happen. “He got worse. It was a nightmare. I wanted to end our marriage and even considered an abortion,” she says. When Angel confronted him and asked for a divorce, James tried to kill himself in front of her by slashing his wrist. “He was bleeding profusely. He ended up needing a five-hour operation in the hospital. After that incident, we were both shaken up, so I decided to give him a second chance.”
Things were better until Angel fell pregnant with their third child. James slipped into his old ways – his mobile phone again revealed his affairs with multiple women.
Angel was devastated. “When I told him I couldn’t take it anymore, he begged for forgiveness and asked me to give him a final chance.”
Against her better judgment and for the sake of their children, she did. The couple stayed together for A few months after Angel started divorce proceedings, she began feeling unwell. “I had been coughing for over a month and felt really sick,” she remembers. She had asthma and a lung infection.
She was warded for about a week, and during that time, her doctor advised her to test for HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). “I told her that was unnecessary as I had only been with one sexual partner – my husband,” says Angel. “But the doctor was very persistent, so I agreed. Straight after the test, I asked to be discharged so that I could go home to my children. I never thought the results would be positive.”
Angel’s doctor summoned her back to the hospital. “The moment my doctor told me I had HIV, I started crying uncontrollably and collapsed,” she says. “When I woke up, I was on a stretcher. I had had another asthma attack, and they had to re-admit me.”
Angel stayed a month in hospital for asthma and serious depression; James was away on a work trip. “I kept blaming myself, and asking myself why I had trusted this man. I wanted to end my life,” she says. She didn’t need treatment for HIV yet, because her immune system was still healthy. When James returned from his trip, the hospital arranged a counselling session with a medical social worker. “James wasn’t shocked when they told him I was HIV positive,” says Angel. “He just said ‘Oh, okay. Not to worry, I’ll never leave you’. I told him I was going ahead with the divorce, and asked him to take an HIV test. I wanted to confirm that I’d contracted the virus from him, so I could use it as evidence in the divorce.”
James’ test results showed he was indeed HIV positive. “He told me, ‘Just forget about the divorce and I’ll take care of you’. I told him he had destroyed my life. I was so mad, I couldn’t bear to look at him. I told him that as soon as I was discharged from the hospital, he had to move out.”
Another counselling session took place with Angel’s children, who were told what was wrong with her. “I couldn’t say a word; all I could do was cry,” says Angel. “So the social worker had to tell them. They were very calm. They hugged me and told me not to worry. I thank God for my children – they are so strong.” Angel’s doctor also gave her a full physical check-up, because women with HIV have a higher chance of contracting HPV (the Human Papilloma Virus, which can cause cervical cancer) and other complications.
“My Pap smear came back positive for abnormal cells and I was told I had early-stage cervical cancer,” says Angel. “It was just too much to bear. But I had to be strong for my children.”
The cancer was treated with oral medication and she also sought out alternative herbal treatment. Four years later, Angel was told that she was clear of the cancer. Angel resumed her job as a secretary even while being treated for cervical cancer. But two years after the HIV diagnosis, she started feeling very weak. Her doctor then did a blood test to gauge her CD4 count – CD4 refers to white blood