My Experiences With HIV – I

Posted on March 10, 2010


This blog post takes me back a few years. Interestingly, it is as fresh in my mind as if it had happened yesterday. If I were to pass the man (the one whom this post talks about) on the street, I’d probably recognize him. The idea is not to praise my memory, rather to emphasize the impact this incident has had on me.

It was the last leg of my course in Medical and Psychiatric Social Work at TISS. We were to take a 1 month block placement at an NGO of our choice in the city of our choice. I’d decided to come to Bangalore and work with Samraksha, an NGO that works in the field of HIV/AIDS in Bangalore.

In the first week, I had to go to the VCTC (Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centre) at Bowring Hospital in Shivajinagar. Theoretically speaking, I knew the process that I was about to witness. 1. Get the patient to take the test. 2. Make conversation as she/he awaits the results. 3. Break the news to the patient. 4. Counsel and edcuate. I told myself that I was prepared.

He was a not-so-old man. May be 45. At the most 50. But he looked older. Haggard. Weathered. A truck driver by profession, his life was an unending journey of trips, up and down, to places that he had never really seen, from one godown to another, day after day, far away from his family. Perhaps reason enough to give in to the temptation of a highway prostitute more often than not. All till he had started falling sick. Losing weight, fever, bad wheezing and a cough that wouldn’t go. He came to the OPD at Bowring Hospital at the insistence of his wife, where after taking a detailed history of his complaints, he was directed to the VCTC.

He took the test without much protest or even asking any questions. He sat there on the stool, zapped out of his brains. He didn’t need us to make any conversation with him. The test result came. It was not good. He had tested “reactive”, which means that the test was positive. The counsellor called him, made him sit on the stool in front of him, and began, “Sir, do you know what this test was for?” The man shook his head. “Sir, have you heard of HIV?” The man shook his head again.

The social worker patiently explained the details of HIV to the man, who sat straight, as if listening in rapt attention. I wondered how he might’ve understood the Kannada version of “immuno-deficiency” or if he did understand it, how he would react to the news. After telling him the details about the illness, the social worker went into the upbeat speech about how with the right drugs he could live healthily for a longish time. He could get the drugs for free, all he would have to do is to take the medication regulary, come for periodic tests and have only protected sex.

The social worker then asked, “Have you understood? Do you have any questions?” There was a look of terror on his face as he asked us, “It’s not cancer, is it!?!” It was precisely at this moment that I knew I’d never work with the HIV issue in my professional life.