If I was not telling a story about a virus that has robbed me of most of my young adult life, I would call this The fairy tale life of Pholokgolo Ramothwala. However The Diary feels more appropriate. The monthly column will tell a story of my life with HIV in the past, the present and future. It will share my personal experiences, the challenges of living with HIV and how I deal with them.
Looking back from the day I became aware of my HIV status, life has been interesting. I have grown from a confused 19 year old HIV positive boy to a 30 year old man with two children, a career with a long list of achievements and a dream to live. In those years, I have managed to maintain a healthy lifestyle resulting in a stable CD4 of over 500 till today. Unfortunately at the same time I witnessed deaths of my closest friends to AIDS while others got diagnosed HIV positive in front of me. Some had not given up on life because they have AIDS. Today they are living to tell the story of how positive living and antiretrovirals saved their lives. These ten years have been the most challenging but it feels like it is just the beginning of mountain to climb.
My decision to test for HIV had little to do with me being sick or suspecting that I have HIV. I was curios and fortunately the doctor I went to see agreed that I must be tested. I only did it because I was expecting a negative result. Oh well, I was wrong. The result came back positive and it is still positive. It took me about six months to disclose to the first person. My disclosure was not planned. It just came out and by the time I realised what I was saying it was too late. However, I have no regrets in making the decisions. Actually it was the best thing I could have done. My life suddenly took a different direction. For the first time in months I could think clearly. I could go out and research the disease. This even prepared me to tell my family. In the end, I learned more about HIV and healthy living. I felt the freedom to talk about my status which was quite liberating. Disclosing contributed to why I am able to tell this story today.
As the years went by, my life became more normal and I focused more on my future than the HIV in my blood. I finished my studies and even got a job as a journalist. By 2002 I had fully accepted my condition. In the process I fell in love and got married to a HIV negative woman. I have always known that it will be a challenge to be in a relationship with someone who is HIV negative. But you never really realise the magnitude of the challenge you are faced with until you are in it. Having sex does not only become an enjoyable pleasure, it becomes a responsibility issue. Protecting my partner became the most important thing I had to do and it worked. I kept her HIV negative. The important thing in a discordant relationship is to be self disciplined as a couple. The individual must also remember that it is their own responsibility to protect themselves too.
I have two children, a boy who is now ten years old and a girl who is four years old. The most common question I am asked when I speak to people about living with HIV is how I had my kids because I have HIV. Well there two answers to the question. The simple answer is that, I didn’t know if I was infected with HIV when my son was conceived. However, I might have been infected already and just got lucky not to infect his mother. Or maybe I didn’t have HIV at the time. All I remember is that I had some scary moments after he was born. He looked like he had AIDS symptoms but it turned out to be a harmless infection. Unfortunately the answer to when I got infected will remain unanswered and it is not important for anymore.
But…’¦. when I decided to have my daughter, it was a different story. I knew I had HIV and my partner didn’t. So, science had to play a very big role for us to have a HIV negative child. We got medical advice from two very good and experienced HIV clinicians on how to do it. Two options were artificial insemination or using ARVs to suppress the virus. We choose an option that worked for us without anyone getting infected with HIV. It worked and I am a proud father.
To have a child while living with HIV is a challenge in many ways. I had to really think about bringing a child into this world while I am ‘dying’. Well, it is now ten years and I am still alive. I have stopped waiting for my death. I am looking after my health. Hopefully I will stop drinking alcohol soon. And I am working on creating financial security for them. If my children become orphans to AIDS, they must have the means to survive. I might not die from AIDS, but at the moment it is the only threat to my life I am aware of.
Next Topic ‘ My fears about Living with HIV
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