Humans Of Courage – Nguyễn Thị Ánh

Both my parents and my in-laws told me to go buy him a coffin already, as there would be nothing else we could do to save him. 

He had been losing weight uncontrollably. In two months, he went from 60 kilos to 38 kilos. Once in every week, he was rushed in emergency. No one could tell what happened to him. Some hospitals diagnosed parasitic infections, others said either digestive problems or liver issues. The more intensive the treatments were, the more exhausted his body became, until he was reduced to just skin and bones.

And then doctors from Cho Ray hospital (a reputable hospital in Ho Chi Minh city) ran tests and,  found that he was HIV positive. 

They told me to not break the news to my husband right away, for fear that he would be so shocked that he could commit suicide. So, for that entire day, I cried alone in the lobby of the hospital. 

I knew dead sure that as his wife, I by then must have already contracted HIV. But I had two kids at home who needed me, (they later were confirmed to be healthy). I made up my mind to accept it and to focus on keeping my husband alive. 

To have enough money, I traveled back home to borrow from relatives and friends, and hock our coffee farm to cover some loans.

You should imagine than at the time his immune system was so damaged, his CD4 count was as low as around a dozen. The number of an average person was at least 600. He also had severe cirrhosis, which if he didn’t treat, the doctor said his ARV treatment would not work. Then the candidiasis started to spread on his tongue, which stopped him from eating, and which in turn made him lose even more weight…. With all of those going on, everyone was certain that he would die. But I refused to accept the death sentence; I even yelled at those who talked about it. I said if my husband could not crawl to the hospital, I would carry him on my back to go get the treatments. If he could not eat, I would spoon-feed him until he could swallow the food. I did not allow him to die. 

Then two weeks on, to everyone’s surprise, my husband began to get up by himself and find food to eat. And he re-gained his weight. Really fast. Like one kilogram a week. Every day I would make him stand on the scale to check it. Within the next three months, he even became somewhat chubby; and his CD4 count reaches 900. Now, my husband is a healthy man who can work 30 straight days per month if he needs to.

Just when we thought the hard part was over, I myself got allergic reactions when I started my ARV treatment. Three days after taking the first dose, my body developed a rash and dizziness. I began vomiting and got swollen limbs. Doctors at the center grappled a lot with my case! But I was so blessed with such dedicated doctors, who fought with me for three months to find the right medicines for my body. 

After all, I still think that my husband and I are lucky. We have been open to everyone in the village about our condition right after we learnt it from the hospital. But not a single person in our neighborhood discriminates or shows signs of discrimination against us. It was the opposite: even more people flocked to our house to hang out and to give words of encouragement. If anyone has a job I can do, they will hire me to work for extra income. Teachers at our kids’ schools have also been understanding and supportive, they would let us pay the fees a bit later when we can, to make sure our sons stay at school. And on special occasions and holidays, the local authorities, local women’s union and youth union will gift us food, spices and ingredients, etc. All of those small acts have helped us keep up our spirit and commit to the treatment while taking care of our children. 

But I know that not everyone is as lucky as us. Many friends I got to know when we receiving the ARV treatments together told me how harsh the stigma they face in their community. One woman told me in her attempts to escape, no matter how many schools she has transferred her kids to, discriminations can always catch up with them.

I listen but I cannot really offer any advice. In our Dak Lak Province, HIV is still perceived to be something so evil and scary. Even though our condition when treated cannot be so infectious and deadly like many others out there. Even though we who have it have learnt to be mindful and know how to protect others. Even though we never do any harm to the community around us. 

If I were granted a wish, I wish that people would stop stigmatizing [HIV], so that people like me can earn some motivation to overcome whatever it brings. Sometimes the encouraging act could be as simple as letting us play volleyball with them and without a care, just like how people in my neighborhood have always done to my husband. 

Green One UN House, 304 Kim Ma, Ba Dinh, Ha Noi, Viet Nam