The scars of ‘manhood’
For Vusimuzi Sibanyoni, the quest to “prove his manhood” to friends at 14 years old has left him with scars he will carry for life after he struggled to cope with his HIV-positive diagnosis.
“I wanted to prove to my friends that I could have sex with any girl I wanted,” says Sibanyoni, who was diagnosed HIV-positive two years later at the age of 16. “When I was diagnosed I wasn’t angry with anyone because I knew my behaviour wasn’t right.”
Although he thought he had accepted his status, Sibanyoni says that in hindsight he was far from it.
“Actually, I was quietly crying for support and understanding,” says the 18-year-old from Driefontein in Ermelo, Mpumalanga.
“Last year, I started socialising with bad friends who loved parties and alcohol,” he tells OurHealth. “I began drinking to forget my status (but) I didn’t know that by drinking alcohol I was compromising my immune system.”
Then in January, things began to change when one morning he could not get out of bed.
“I shouted for my mother to try and help me stand up, but I still couldn’t, because my feet wouldn’t move,” he remembers. “I thought I had become paralysed from the waist down.”
“Five hours went by in which I was unable to move my feet,” he adds. “My mother was crying and praying because she thought it might be ngiloyiwe – that I had been bewitched.”
The truth is that Sibanyoni was beginning to see symptoms of HIV. He had not wanted to tell his mother about his status because he was worried her weak heart would not be able to take the shock.
On the same day he noticed an itchy, burning rash on his chest. The rash was so painful he could not sleep that night and headed for the clinic the next day. There, nurses told him the rash was shingles.
Caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, shingles affects the nerve cells and is characterised by a painful rash. It is most often seen in people with a compromised immune system, like those living with HIV or the elderly.
He was given a course of treatment at the clinic. That night, he was also taken to a traditional healer.
“I was surprised when she said I shouldn’t stop taking the treatment I received from the clinic, but she gave me medicine to apply to the rash and some to drink,” says Sibanyoni, who recently started antiretroviral treatment.
For Sibanyoni, the ordeal was a wake-up call, he says.
“The shingles left me with some scars to remember that I must change my life before is too late,” he tells OurHealth.