I was only thirteen when my mother insisted on dragging me to the hospital with her. I wasn’t sick. I didn’t think she was either. So I asked her, “Why are you taking me to the hospital instead of allowing me to go to school?” She answered, “The doctor says I have to come with someone I trust.” The next question I asked her was, “What is my stepdad doing that you won’t go with him?” She explained that I am the only one she trusts with her life.
At the hospital, the doctor saw me and said, “Your mother said you are her most trusted confidante. Before I tell you what’s going on, how old are you?” I told him I was thirteen and in JHS 1. After that, he told me my mother was HIV positive. As the eldest child of my family, the doctor tasked me to take very good care of her, and also not make her feel unloved.
When we went back home, the love I had for my mother never changed. We didn’t have money so she and my siblings were all I had in this world. And I held them close to my heart like the most prized possessions they were to me. The only thing that bothered me was when my mum got pregnant again. I was very annoyed because she had five girls already. Why did she get pregnant again when she knew our finances were not good?
Sometimes we would go to the farm, eat, and bathe there before we would go home. That’s how bad things were for us. When I asked her why she chose to bring another baby into our situation she said she wanted a son. As if having a sixth child was not enough, my mother refused to go to the hospital for antenatal. She preferred to go to the farm with the pregnancy. Who was I to object to her choices? One thing we all knew her for was her bad temper. She was the kind of mother who would pick fights with us and refuse to talk to us for a whole month.
I went out one day and returned to find that she had the baby at home. I was very shocked. Knowing her condition, I expected her to at least go to the hospital when it was time for delivery. The fact that she didn’t consider the baby’s health made me cry. I tried to reason with her but she told me, “The doctors are lying. I don’t have any virus. I am perfectly healthy, can’t you see? The baby is healthy too.” She was so delusional that I couldn’t help her see reason. I couldn’t share the news of her illness with anyone either. So I kept quiet.
As time passed, she had another baby. This one too was a boy. At this stage, to say I was angry was an understatement. I concluded that she didn’t care about our well-being. Because, if she did she would know that we were struggling. Then she wouldn’t bring forth another child to share in this struggle.
By and by, I completed high school. After which, I moved to Accra to look for work. Once in a while, I visited them and sent them money and gifts. The one thing that remained constant during these visits was my mother’s symptoms. They kept getting worse with time. She was growing lean and always had a bad cough although she was on medication.
At a point, I drew her attention to the fact that her virus had developed to AIDS. For the first time ever, she agreed with me. “The doctors didn’t lie. I am truly sick,” she said. I felt like she accepted the truth of her situation at a point where we couldn’t do much to help her. But still, I didn’t tell anyone. I returned to Accra to continue with my work.
One day I was there when my younger sister called to tell me that she took all our younger siblings to my aunt. I asked why and she said, “Mum is so sick that she has been admitted at the big hospital in Kumasi.” I was concerned but by God’s grace, she recovered. When she recovered she didn’t go for my siblings. She just went back to our home town and continued her life. My sister and I visited her the least chance we got. I knew her problem but my sister didn’t and I didn’t tell her anything.
This went on for two years. Then in June last year, she got sick again. This time, it was more serious than the first one. I had to leave my work and stay by her side at the hospital. We were there for two weeks. During this period, our family members came to visit. They wanted to know what was wrong with her but I directed them to the doctor. For some reason, the doctor didn’t mention anything about her illness to them. Neither did the nurses.
Once again, my mother recovered and we went home. I took care of her for some time and left for Accra. In November last year, she went to visit our relatives in Kumasi without her medication. I did my best to convince her to go back for her drugs but she wouldn’t listen. I was there when my grandma called to tell me that my mum was at a prayer camp so I should send her money.
I called my mum and asked her, “You know that your illness is not spiritual so what are you doing at a prayer camp? Just go back home for your medication and you will be fine.” It was in the third week of December that this woman went back to her place. Even with that, she didn’t go to the hospital for her drugs. She claimed the doctors and nurses would insult her for not showing up when they asked her to. I tried my best to convince her to go anyway, but she didn’t.
In January this year, she called to tell me she was not feeling well. She said she had a boil. I thought it was something small so I asked her to visit the hospital and promised to send her money. I called to check up on her the next day and she said she was fine. I called again the day after, and Mum couldn’t talk well. She was breathing slowly.
I called people I know to take her to the hospital but no one was available. The only person who could make it had gone to the farm at a faraway place. So I asked permission from work and called my younger sister to meet me so we go together. While we were on our way, I felt so out of control. Time was slipping through my fingers and so was my mother. It took everything within me to hold myself together.
By the time we reached our hometown, the man who had gone to the farm returned home and took her to the hospital. Unfortunately, he was still too late. She was dead by the time we got to the hospital. I tried to scream but my voice got stuck in my throat. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t even stand. A nurse, my sister, and my uncle had to hold me down.
When I finally found my voice, I screamed. All my life I have never wailed like that day at the hospital. Although I felt the pain of her loss, I was also crying because she left me nothing but six siblings to take care of. I couldn’t do anything about it so I held my peace for us to bury her.
Now here’s where the problem starts. When I was with my mum, I saw that she gave some of her drugs to my brothers. Last week my aunt called me that one of my brothers is sick. She sent him to the hospital but there was no improvement so they decided to give him local medicine.
I am very worried because I know he has the same disease that killed our mother. I don’t know how to tell my aunt about it. What if I tell her and she sacks my siblings from the house? What if I tell her and she tells her children and they spread the news? We have no one else to run to if something like that happens. My brother too is not getting any better.
Please, what do you suppose I do? I have been keeping this secret for so many years. I am not ready to reveal it to anyone.
Not even my younger sister. How can my brother get the help he needs without my aunt knowing the cause of his illness?