“I cried each time I took the medication, because it was a constant reminder of what had happened to me.”
cells that protect the body from infection; their level indicates how well the immune system is working. A normal count ranges from 6001,200 cells in one cubic millimetre of blood.
In HIV patients, a low CD4 count increases the chance of developing Aids. When Angel’s CD4 count came up at a dangerously low 201, her doctor told her she had to start HIV treatment immediately.
HIV is treated with antiretroviral therapy, a combination of medicines that aim to control the amount of the virus in the body. Angel was hesitant to start her regime, as she had spoken to other HIV patients during monthly support sessions and had heard horror stories about the side effects, which included hallucinations.
“I braced myself. I knew that once I started, I would have to be on it for life,” she says. “I cried each time I took the medication (five tablets a day), because it was a constant reminder of what had happened to me.”
It was rough initially. The first protocol Angel was put on caused her to develop a stone in her gall bladder and kidney. As she was allergic to certain drugs, her doctor had to keep trying different medicines until they were able to find a combination that worked best, without side effects.
It was emotionally difficult as well. “I was so paranoid; I would get angry if my children came near me or tried to kiss me. Even though my doctor had explained that HIV couldn’t be passed through casual contact, I was so disgusted at this ‘dirty’ thing inside me that I didn’t want to ‘contaminate’ my precious children. It was really hard for me. At one point, I spent a whole week in my bedroom just crying.”
As her depression worsened, Angel decided that she needed spiritual help. She asked her parents to look after her children while she went overseas for a few months to visit her religious teacher. With prayer and meditation, she was slowly able to let go of her sadness and disappointment. “I found peace A few years ago, Angel’s friends introduced her to Tom*, who was also divorced. After a few dates, Angel wanted to tell him about her condition, but was nervous about what his reaction would be.
“But Tom was completely calm when I told him. He thanked me for my honesty and said it didn’t change a thing. He assured me that he wanted to be with me. Two months later, he proposed, and we got married a year after. After all the hardship I’ve endured, he is a true blessing in my life.”
Tom has been supportive in every way, not just financially (Angel’s medication costs more than $1,000 a month) but emotionally. “Things are wonderful now. I have a beautiful family – a supportive husband and loving children, and I feel so blessed,” says Angel. Tom’s parents know about her condition and are also very supportive.
To keep Aids at bay, Angel takes daily medication and strives to stay as healthy as she can. “I’m not allowed raw food or any street food to avoid infection. I do indulge sometimes, but for the most part, it’s healthy home-cooked food. My doctor also tells me to avoid stress, as it lowers my immunity and causes my CD4 count to go down.” To prevent Tom from getting infected, the couple takes precautions such as using a condom during sex.
Angel now pays it forward by volunteering with Action For Aids, the support group that helped her after her diagnosis.