Medicine: Trial and Error

By Thuli Hlatshwayo  (This article first appeared in the PACSA Newsletter and is used with gratitude)

When I was in Hospital and very sick, I bargained with God to let me live so that I can tell this tale. I didn’t know I had a chance, but prayer brought me through and I will always be grateful to God for that. It is amazing what faith can do for one person. My family, friends and colleagues kept praying for me to get better, but most of all, I prayed for myself to find out what exactly was wrong with me. You are reading this because God agreed to give me a second chance in life.
I had thought because I was on Anti Retro Viral treatment (ARV) for almost six years I was at least safe and stable. I was shocked when I developed Tuberculosis (TB) in January 2006. It was hard for me to accept another sickness on top of the one I had. Suddenly, I was supposed to take 15 tablets instead of just 6 a day. It took me some time to adjust to this new regime, but I told myself that it was only for 6 months. Although I believed I could do this, I was still very scared and depressed.
Here I was, so sick and still believing that I was capable of motivating another positive person, but how could I? I was in need of motivation myself. I was hurting and I needed someone to be strong for me. I needed someone who could explain to my daughter what was happening to me and tell her that everything will be fine. She needed to hear her mothers laugh again, but it was not going to happen any time soon.
Before I started the TB treatment, the doctors told me that since my ARV regime contained Viramune I would have minor side effect if these two were mixed. They told me, I was doing fine on the ARV regime that they did not want to disturb things. I was told I would have minor side effects from this mix, just minor side effects. My concerns were put to rest.
So I waited for the side effects. For two months nothing happened. I thought maybe I would never have side effects, but I couldn’t be more wrong. Five months down the line I started having severe headaches and black outs and no one could tell me what was going on. I had forgotten about the side effects. I was in and out of hospitals that I thought this was it. My time had come and I was going to die. There was only one problem… I was not ready to go. I had never felt so powerless in my whole life.
The need for me to be with my family grew and I wanted to go home. I wanted to see my mother and tell her how much it hurt, and that I did not know how to make it better.
When I got home it got worse and I still didn’t know how to make it better. My mother was by my side and she prayed in every corner of the house. I wanted to believe that God was suffering with us that he was there and helping us through this. When I visited the family doctor, he hospitalised me to do more tests. By this time I had swollen feet and I could not eat. After a while the diagnosis came back, I had drug induced Hepatitis. What it all meant was that the liver enzymes were struggling to cope with all the drugs I was taking.
Then I remembered the minor side effects story, but these were not minor at all. It was after seven weeks of excruciating pain that the diagnosis was made. For seven weeks I felt I had died and gone to hell with a headache that blinded me, swollen feet and inflamed internal organs. These were the same drugs that were supposed to help me cope with the HIV and TB. How could it be that I was so sick and that the same drugs were now harmful to me?
The reason behind why the doctors decided to keep me on the same ARV regime was that South Africa has only a limited number of regimes that a person can be moved to. The doctors thought I would be strong enough to handle both. I thought so too; I guess I was not strong enough. Now I know from experience that Viramune and TB treatment are big NO NO.
I thought that the worst was over when the diagnosis was made. The only glitch was that I was finishing 6 months on TB treatment in three weeks to come. The doctor asked me if I could hang in there for the next three weeks. My answer was yes and those were the longest three weeks of my life. Even after I had stopped the TB treatment I had to allow the process to reverse itself and be patient and patient I intended to be.
I feel much better now, but I know that things will never been the same for me. I panic so much especially at night then I think of all the beauty and the love that God has surrounded me with. The people around me who have loved and supported me through this trying time and I know that no matter how long it takes to recover fully, THIS TOO SHALL PASS.
This is my tale. The HIV/AIDS arena is still trial and error for all of us doctors and patients alike. I hope this will educate you on what works and what doesn’t. After this ordeal I believe with God’s help it can only get better because I am too scared to expect the worst.
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