Op-Ed

Finding strength in faith as a PLHIV

Posit Bo started getting sick in December 2014, until he was finally diagnosed to be HIV positive earlier this year. But beyond the anger and the fear, he says he found a better perspective in life. “I was given this opportunity to live my life with purpose,” he says, as he now finds strength in his faith. “People living with HIV are the same as those who are not. We are God’s children and we are loved. Now, who are they to judge?”

This is part of “More than a Number”, which Outrage Magazine launched on March 1, 2013 to give a human face to those infected and affected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the Philippines, what it considers as “an attempt to tell the stories of those whose lives have been touched by HIV and AIDS”. More information about (or – for that matter – to be included in) “More than a Number”, email editor@outragemag.com, or call (+63) 9287854244 and (+63) 9157972229.

“From darkness to light, His grace changes everything.”

On 28 December 2014, some blisters started to grow on my left fingers. At first I thought it was just an effect of my clumsiness; but it apparently wasn’t because it grew larger a few days after I first noticed it.

I sought medical help in a nearby hospital, but they were unable to correctly diagnose my condition. I had to wait a week before I can see my dermatologist. It was a long and painful week. I had to bear the pain as we were celebrating New Year’s Eve. In my 24 years, it was the most not fun New Year’s welcome for me.

Anyway, I was able to surpass a week until I was diagnosed with herpes zoster.  It sounded really weird and new to me. The dermatologist was patiently discussing how it is reactivated – she first asked: “In the recent past, was there any instance that your immune system felt weak?” I was already thinking: “Oh, this must be serious!”, but I answered her with a deafening silence. She continued discussing the diagnosis with my mom. Fortunately, she didn’t mention HIV or AIDS, perhaps because she was also being cautious not to misdiagnose, as having herpes zoster is not tantamount to having HIV or AIDS.

To cut the medical theatrics of this entry, I was given Lyrica Pregabalin (that’s for neuropathic pain) and an antibiotic for possible bacterial infection.

I was in the (name of place withheld) for a period of two weeks, as I had to recover first from the pain and the itching feeling of the blisters. My condition then wasn’t fit for any physical or strenuous activity as it was accompanied by fever. I didn’t fully know what I was going through which triggered my depression. This wasn’t helped by what my doctor said before I left: “You have herpes zoster – herpes z-o-s-t-r – you can check it out in the Internet and try to read about it.”

A doctor wouldn’t want you to do the reading of your condition because it’s their work unless they suspect something serious and they don’t want it to come from them. Or perhaps again she was just to scared of her license being at risk for possible misdiagnosis…

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After two agonizing weeks of pain and no Internet connection, I went back to the metro in mid-January. I was then suffering from a serious infectious diarrhea. A family doctor gave me another antibiotic to cure me from possible bacterial food infection. She also mentioned that my infectious diarrhea was possibly due to a weakened immune system in my digestive tract. It became the hobby of my doctors to diagnose me for a weakened immune system, so I thought these are possibly the signs that I might be turning myself into the “other side of the spectrum”.

Curiosity pushed me to my limits, I read everything and anything connected with diarrhea and herpes zoster. Ironically, everything that I read mentioned the words I never wanted to see. I was discontented. I continued searching to prove that my condition was different from what they were all pointing out. In some point, I diagnosed myself free from any serious viral or bacterial infection. But my infectious diarrhea got worse in a week.

That was the time I sought not medical help but spiritual help from my Creator. It was at that very moment that I have accepted the fateful possibility that I am HIV positive.

I have started to pray not only for my condition but for those who have long been battling against HIV and AIDS. I prayed to Him to give me the courage to face my fears and to end my doubts, and above all to strengthen my faith in Him. It was two more weeks of self imposed retreat and renewal of faith. Those were the most depressing yet spiritual days of my life. I have found the light in the middle of the darkness. He found me. I believe it was Him who guided me from my unit to Klinika Bernardo and have myself tested. It was two long weeks of conversations filled with tears and hope with Him. It was at that time that I have started to regard Him as my refuge and my strength.

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Yes, I have prayed before my diagnosis that it will turn out non-reactive. In fact, I was hoping that the test turn out to be favorable on my part. My prayer was filled with hope and expectations:

“Lord, I humbly bow down my head before you to pray for my family, friends, and myself. Lord, I would like to humbly ask your guidance in re-strengthening my immune system so that I will be able to regain the significant weight I have loss in the previous months. Lord, I’m claiming it in the mighty name of Jesus that I am not infected with that virus that I’m to scared to mention even in my prayer. I know I have not been a good follower but I know that Your love is greater than anything else. I know Lord that You wont give me anything that I cannot surpass but with Your presence and guidance Lord there is nothing I cannot get through nor survive. I’m humbly asking all of these prayers Lord not only for myself but for my family and friends whom I desire to help. This I pray in Jesus name, Amen.”

This was the exact prayer I have repeatedly prayed for two weeks before I pushed myself inside the testing center. While I was waiting for my turn and the result, I was repeatedly saying by faith: You are my refuge and You are my strength.

The result turned out reactive. I didn’t break down, because the test was only a confirmation of me from my doubts. It was a means of eradicating the fear that was getting the most out of me.

After the diagnosis, I asked a couple of minutes from the counselor. I prayed to Him and sought for his help with this prayer:

“Lord, I know I wont be alone in this new chapter. I know this is with me now because in Your Judgment I can get through this stronger and better. Lord, I trust in Your decisions. Make me an instrument to reach through people. I pray for those who are in pain and fear to seek and find the truth in you Lord. I thank you for guiding me and making me do what would be best for me and for my family. Help me through this journey, my Lord. Amen.”

I felt relieved upon knowing my status more than fear. The fear I felt before the test was gone because at that point I certainly knew that I was going through a journey with a concrete plan unlike before that all I did and had in mind was fun.

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Having HIV might have given me a virus, which cannot be cured at the moment, but it also gave me a better perspective in life. I was given this opportunity to live my life with purpose. HIV can never be as bad as I imagined it to be. It is not death, but instead it is hope. It is a new beginning. And for those who have condemned and continuously does, I don’t really care because above us is the Almighty whose love never ceases. He never fails.

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” – Luke 6:37

My friend, if you are reading this entry, I ask you not to hate Him. You were created on His own image and likeness. We were not made to suffer but were made to survive the odds. You are never alone though you may be reading this on your own because inside your heart and above you is a Supreme Being who loves each and everyone of us. He doesn’t see us as sinners, but instead He sees us as his own. Remember, 2,000 years ago, He sent His son for us to be saved from our sins.

HIV may be a product of our irresponsibility or carelessness, never His.  But our diagnosis is His way of saving us from what can possibly hurt us and our family more. It’s just a matter of optimism. Would you rather think that you are forsaken? Who would you run to when everybody would turn their back? Christ is enough, Christ is enough for us!

People living with HIV are the same as those who are not.

We are God’s children and we are loved. Now, who are they to judge?

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