Sunday 22 September 2019

A decade from AIDS to life and living

A day of thanks
Today marks an anniversary, a celebration of life in thankfulness and gratitude, quite a miracle too, but I cannot be any less grateful.
As the church service ended, we are asked if we have a point of prayer, we could visit a chapel to be prayed for. My prayer point was one of thanks, I told the priest that 10 years ago today I was admitted in hospital with full-blown AIDS and just a week later, I was told I only had 5 weeks to live if my physiology could not tolerate the medicine.
The week before my admission, I had visited my doctor with an unbearably painful weeping sore on the sole of my foot, it had started as what I thought was a fungal infection, probably Athlete’s foot in the summer, but it didn’t seem to go away.
My foolish pride
Meanwhile, I was praying and hoping that I might just get a miracle cure, I had gone to London the week before because one of the faith healing preachers that I had grown up with, in a fraught and challenging Pentecostal, Evangelical and Word-of-faith suffused environment was visiting. I was there expecting Jerry Savelle to lay hands on me and suddenly I will be made whole.
I battled with the wisdom and foolishness of my situation, hinting to my friend at one time that he must think I am mad to endure so much pain and not seek essential medical attention. I was looking for a quick-fix to a situation I paid little heed to until it was impossible to ignore it.
By the time I saw my doctor on the 15th of September 2009, she was in no doubt that the condition I was in was serious. She plied me with painkillers and immediately scheduled a referral to a specialist hospital, the day after.
In the truth of my pain
At the hospital, they booked an appointment for me to attend the internal medicine department at the earliest possible time, that was 4 days away including the intervening weekend.
When I arrived at the hospital, the pain could only be eased with my foot up, whilst I was not yet in delirium, there were times I just cried out of utter anguish. I was in a wheelchair when the professor arrived to have a look at me. He said, under no circumstances could I return home, I looked too ill. In the next sentence, he said, “We have a bed for you upstairs.”
That began the first day of the 18 nights I eventually spent in the hospital. A battery of tests with processes of elimination followed, more importantly, they needed to be sure my condition was not a complication of diabetes, after which blood tests and a biopsy determined exactly what I had.
AIDS-defining cancer
On the sole of the left foot was advanced Kaposi's Sarcoma, a kind of skin cancer redolent of advanced AIDS complications, but also common to West Africans, mine was AIDS-defining. They could treat it with liposomal doxorubicin with the brand name Caelyx, a chemotherapy drug as long as I could tolerate it.
At the same time, I was put on antiretroviral drugs, the morphine painkillers had to be changed because after two days, I could keep nothing down, I had to tolerate the pain more than was necessary, but I was already on the mend.
On the blood test results, my HIV viral load was astronomically high, my CD4 count was at a nadir of 20, whatever was keeping me alive was beyond medical explanation but my consultant believed if I responded well to the concoction of treatments, I will survive this life-threatening situation.
And after this?
We had no discussion of life expectancy after this dire situation, but I had read a study that at my CD4 count before commencing treatment, rarely had people lived up to 10 years. That thought lingered in my subconscious as I realised and understood that I was beginning a new life after cancer.
And so today marks the day that I became an exception to the study, not so much one of my triumphs, yet, the marvel of modern medicine is revealed my body and the state of my health. Beyond it, I have lived an enchanted life, full of thanks and better attention to understanding my health, my options, adherent to advice and where I have had doubts, challenged the accepted premise. It is my body first before it is anyone’s guinea pig.
Giving thanks
I have medicine to thank, Prof Dr Kees Brinkman is exemplary and exceptional, with other consultants, nurses and medical personnel who have contributed their expertise towards my having this day worthy of note, I will soon visit to thank again.
My friends who stood with me through the toughest times of my life, I can neither thank nor repay enough, Kola, Ola, John (deceased), Sola, Kayode, Peter, Steve, Marc, the de Wolf family, the Kiran family, my C3 family in Amsterdam. Then many other people have in my frailty and my limited ability given opportunity, access, and chances to rebuild my career.
Then, I have a man who has put one of the widest smiles on my face, happiness in my life and joy in my heart, Brian. I am fortunate and thankful; I am probably one of the luckiest persons on earth today.

One final note is to stress the need for regular testing, early diagnosis, getting involved in reviewing options for treatment, the immediate use of therapies and an understanding of the prognosis, the condition, and the prospects you have. Medicine offers the best outcomes for HIV/AIDS situations, and where other remedies intervene, their efficacy must always be tested and verified against medical results under supervision of a consultant. Only let medicine be the ultimate arbiter of any claim of a cure.

Friday 20 September 2019

There is a whole new life after a HIV diagnosis

Facing up to the news
17 years ago, I had taken the day off, it was a Friday too as I went to the sexual health clinic to get a confirmation of what was to become a new chapter in my life.
The week before, after years of having check-ups but somewhat fearful of what the results might be, I had been persuaded to take tests but had a growing disinterest in what might be at the end of it. The indicators had shown there might be antibodies, but they needed to confirm with a further battery of tests.
The usual advice is to visit with a friend, I didn’t, but I had told my pastor that I was having a blood test and whatever the outcome was, that was the outcome as far as the science could say it was.
In the calm of the news
That morning, I was called into the examination room and informed that the tests were conclusive, I was HIV+. I was neither shocked nor overwhelmed, it was news I was ready for as I maintained my demeanour.
Some people might just learn of this, I have lived with this for definitely more than 17 years, it is no time to cry for me, pity me or worse, that time has long passed.
The nurse who gave me the news somewhat became quite upset for me and began to cry, here I was, the recipient of life-changing news comforting the person who had delivered this news to many others long before I was known to them, and he probably had since learnt of the death of some who had succumbed to the complications brought on by HIV and culminating in AIDS and consequently death.
Give me nothing but hope
In the therapy session that followed, we began to discuss options ahead of me, whether it was time to consider treatment, who should take on my primary care and what the further prognosis might be. I was given a pamphlet that talked about what my emotions might be on learning I was HIV+. Anger, despair, disappointment, lowered self-esteem, depression, suicidal thoughts, regret, and fatalism were some of the issues I was supposed to be undergoing.
As I leafed through the pamphlet, I said to the nurse, there is nothing in here that appears to be useful to a person who has just received news like the one I have just been told. What about hope, I asked. Hope is essential for me to know that there was a tomorrow after today, that whatever the future holds I would not suddenly succumb and expire. More importantly, if this was the first day of the rest of my life, then I needed more than the negative emotions I had just read about.
He nodded when I said, this is not going to kill me without a fight. Then I left for my home, called my pastor and told him the news before settling into my thoughts about what my future holds.
The life so amazing
On the pamphlet itself, I wrote, HOPE, BELIEVE, LIVE, I have held onto the pamphlet since then. In the ensuing 17 years, I embarked on a post-graduate programme, travelled to places I only ever dreamt of had progressive advancements in my career that is ongoing for 31 years in October, survived cancer, fallen in love and I live as someone living rather than someone dying.
I have been blessed with friendships, good fortune, health, means and opportunities not just for myself but also to encourage others who faced despair out of which came a future they could never have dreamt possible. HIV did not become a death sentence, it became the impetus to make something of my life, add importance, significance, and relevance.
We are miracles in gratitude
I am full of gratitude for the life I have had the pleasure to live and for whatever time I still have, I hope to continually show that HIV is not the end of life, but the beginning of a new future.
Advances in medicine have given many of more than a new lease of life, the virus when we are under medical supervision and adherent to our medications becomes undetectable that first, our immune systems are not further weakened for opportunistic infections and then we carry literally no risk of passing on the virus.
In some ways, we are miracles of science and resilience, we have become stories of hope against adversity and when our time comes, we can be assured that we have lived fulfilled lives. We are not defined by HIV, we are just everyone else, at one time afflicted and never defeated.

Friday 6 September 2019

Zimbabwe: The Grand Despot of Africa departs

Nothing to weep for
For a long time, I referred to Robert Mugabe whose demise has been announced by his family as the Grand Despot of Africa, entrenched as Zimbabwe’s first post-independence leader, he never transformed from a liberation struggle fighter into a statesman. [BBC]
When he was kicked out of office by a coup in 2017, he had already overstayed his welcome, impoverished Zimbabwe, overseen pogroms against the Ndebele in Matabeleland before he set on white Zimbabweans, seizing lands which probably with better political skill and status could have improved the lot of the majority even as the farmers suffered some material loss.
The state of Zimbabwe is in today is the legacy of Robert Mugabe, gerontocrats still hold sway clueless about what needs to be done to turn the ship of state around.
A failed leadership
There is very little to celebrate about Robert Mugabe beyond leading Southern Rhodesia to the new Zimbabwe, the many who fell along the way as his insatiable quest of ultimate power with the vehicle of ZANU-PF kept Zimbabwe from rising from colonialism to great prosperity, just because one man and his cohort of henchmen had an entitlement to rule and any challenge to his throne was met with unmitigated violence.
Three decades into his rule, Robert Mugabe would still raise his fist like a guerrilla leader and rail against colonial powers that had long since left things in his care, his claims to the right of Zimbabweans to govern themselves arrogated solely to himself as he presided over a corrupt enterprise that led to his wife, Grace Mugabe being labelled The First Shopper of Africa as his fellow countrymen were left on the breadline.
Smith and Mugabe both bad
When I wrote a piece at the passing of Ian Smith, the last president of colonial-era Southern Rhodesia in 2007, I inferred that the only difference between Ian Smith and Robert Mugabe was their race, every other act, policy, idea and implementation was literally the same, they were evil men.
It is literally impossible to mourn Robert Mugabe who died at 95, I could easily have replaced their names in that piece, and it would have read the same.
In 2000, Ian Smith said, “We have never had such chaos and corruption in our country, what Zimbabweans are looking for is a bit of ordinary honesty and straightforwardness.” Sadly, not much has changed in 2019.
Another parable of the talents
He went on to say, “We had the highest standard of health and education and housing for our black people than any other country on the African continent; that was what Rhodesians did. I wonder if we shouldn't be given credit for doing that.” This is not to celebrate white oppression, but it was a foundation that could have been built upon to put Zimbabwe in the class of one of the most prosperous countries in Africa with its citizenry not having conditions in their country used against them when they seek to travel abroad.
Robert Mugabe was given a country of great potential and talent, and he took it like the servant who was given one talent in the parable Jesus told in the Bible and buried it in the ground of his atrocious abuse of power. History must not him judge better for the realities of his misdeeds.
As false eulogies sound all over Africa, we must never forget, “Zimbabwe will remember Mugabe for his unrepentant racist attitude and the killing of thousands of innocent people.” This was said of Ian Smith, it applies to Robert Mugabe too. The evil these men did cannot afford me the basic good of saying – Rest in peace.
Let the accounting begin.

Tuesday 3 September 2019

Doing what I do for love

In my thoughts
Even as some wondered others did ponder as to what it was that brought a smile, a glow and a joy to my face. The unintended consequence of travel, a break away from the norm almost decided on a whim when I considered the possibility of regret if I did not act.
As the last year closed, there was so much going on, meetings, travel for work, consultations in hospitals and not a few until I made the decision I would stick with those who have a history in my care and well-being rather than sitting with a doctor who put me off, at first sight, his bedside manner as gruff as his look, my mind was made up.
In my mind
After the procedure, I could not fly for at least a fortnight, meanwhile, I had persuaded my nurses that I should switch back to the medication I had been on since May 2010, after submitting a 47-page diary of side effects and discomforts that were anything but adding to my quality of life.
Then, I was in Germany for business when I thought about the idea of visiting South Africa for Christmas through the New Year. I had been contemplating this for months, then I booked my tickets and flew out on Christmas Eve to Johannesburg.
In my deeds
I last had a summery Christmas in India at the Taj Mahal in 2011. Out at the clubs was where it happened, a sighting I won’t have dared ventured approached me with a greeting and the rest is becoming something of a whirlwind romance.
The song says everything and soon we’ll be together again.
In my world only you make me do, for love what I would not do. [Bobby Caldwell - What You Won't Do For Love Lyrics]