Hanneke and I went on home visits on Thursday…it was an eventful day to say the least. We first visited two ex-patients to check and see how they were managing their ARV’s and life after the Respite Unit. The first patient was a sweet young woman named Nelisiwe. She was telling us how great she was doing and that ARV’s gave her a new life. Our second visit was to see Wiseman, a 28 year old that was a patient last year in the unit. He also was doing very well on ARV’s but is struggling to find employment.
Wiseman lives in a house with his Go Go, Maria (also an ex-patient) and various other cousins and relatives. Maria is an amazing woman whom I’ve come to adore. She has been very active in referring patients to us and helping us track patients down in the valley. She’s an elderly woman but still works at the local nursery and cares for her community immensely. In fact, on Thursday, Maria was taking us to see a sick young woman. In the car, I asked her how many children she had. Maria told me that she had 8 children, but 7 of them have died. She now takes care of 5 of her 6 grandchildren on her own. I am completely in awe of this woman.
When we arrived at the driveway of the woman, Maria pointed up the cliff to the house on top (of course…that’s my luck). We grabbed the medical kit and trudged up the bumpy terrain. We reached the top and walked in to find a young woman laying on a sheet on the concrete floor alone. She could barely move or make eye contact. We asked her if she had ever been tested for HIV and she responded no. Hanneke and the care-worker with us asked her if she’d like us to test her. I could barely comprehend what I was doing at this moment. This girl, 25 years old, was being counselled so she would understand that the rest of her life would change if she was positive; that she’d have to take medicine for the rest of her life so she’d survive. She agreed to be tested. Hanneke needed my help for the testing, so we both put on gloves and got the supplies ready. I have never been so nervous for someone in my life.
For HIV testing, you must use two separate tests and they BOTH must be positive to confirm diagnosis. I have been here long enough to know that this girl was positive, but we still had to test her as protocol. One test resulted as clearly positive, the other was not clear enough to confirm. It didn’t matter, we had to admit this woman. Hanneke and the care-worker carried her down the cliff while I carried the supplies and prepared the car. The young girl had told us that she had a 2 month old baby that stays with his Go Go. She was so scared to be without him, so we went to pick him up and bring him with us.
Nothing in South Africa is easy. This was no different. We had to drive a long distance to find the road that the Go Go lived on. The car could not make it and the woman began vomiting, so we decided to leave her with the care-worker and we’d walk to fetch the baby. After a long walk, we came to a house tucked way back in the grass. We went in to find the baby laying naked in feces and an elderly woman that certainly COULD NOT take care of a baby. There were no clothes, no diapers, nothing. We cleaned him up with some towels and wrapped him in a blanket. Once we got back to the car and showed the baby to his Mommy, she smiled for the first time since we’d met her. I am unsure how long it had been since she’d seen him, but by the distance, her condition and the look on her face when she saw him I’m guessing it had been a while.
We got them both safely to the unit and immediately bathed and changed the baby. The test was re-done yesterday and Mom was positive. She is also being treated for TB. The baby is very sick and will be tested for both HIV and TB on Monday. The good news is that Mom and the baby have a nice, clean bed and they will no longer be ignored. They’re going to get wonderful care.
Here are some pictures of our adventures to get them on Thursday and some of Andile (the baby) once he was settled in at the Respite Unit.