This afternoon I was tap-tap-taping away on the computer in the HIV office, entering data and listening to James Taylor on my ipod–when she walked in.
My little buddy’s mom. The first time I met her, she was admitted to our ward about two weeks after I got here. She is HIV positive, had TB and was very very sick. Additionally, she is a widow and had her little son staying here with her since he had no one else he could stay with. I got to be very close friends with this little boy, and was feeling personally invested in whatever would happen to him following his mother’s imminent death. Then one day I came in, and they were gone. Discharged very suddenly. It was very difficult for me, emotionally.
But now she’s back! I almost shouted in my excitement when I saw her being examined by Dr. Sugumma, but instead I waved. She gave me a tired smile back, and nodded. I ran into the hallway to see if my little buddy was waiting outside, but she came alone.
She is terribly weak. I didn’t think she could get much leaner than the last time I saw her, but today she is gaunt, wasting- her skin hanging over her angular bones. Cachexia, Dr. Sugumma calls it. Her worn face has aged decades in the past few weeks. Two of the nurses gently helped her into the ward and put her into bed. I didn’t want to ambush her, and she fell asleep immediately. I was burning inside to know what happened to him. Where is he? Is he safe? But I had to wait.
While she was sleeping, I was pacing around the office like an animal. There was no way I could sit in front of the computer screen with all my pent up anxiety. Rubina saw my distress and suggested “go home gina. Wash your face and eat one of your pomegranates.” As always, Rubina is terribly sensible and peeling a pomegranate is one of my favorite ways to kill time.
I walked home, and started peeling my pom when my eye caught a recent package sent by my mom. She sends me lots of care packages full of little treats and toys for the children. This most recent package contained several prints of the photos that I email home to her. Her idea was that I could hang up the HIV children’s pictures in their home. I immediately started tearing through the photos. Amid all the smiling, dancing, cheeseball pictures of the orphans, there were two photos of him, my little buddy. One flying his kite on pongal, and the other of him standing next to his mother grinning over Rangoli paints.
After some time I walked back to the ward. Not only was she awake, but she was waiting for me. I sat beside her bed and she laboriously explained what happened using her broken English, my broken Telugu, and alot of gestures.
She had finally relented and got him tested. He is HIV positive, which is really the confirmation of what we had feared. She had held off for so long because she hoped that after she died, someone from her family would take him in. Unfortunately, as she continued to get sicker, and everyone refused her, she realized that she had to do something. He’s been admitted to an HIV orphanage with a good reputation in northern Andhra. There he will be safe, and receive good medical care, schooling and food. Her eyes welled up with tears while she told me that she knew she was being selfish trying to keep him by her side through the end of her life. She knew that as his mother, she had to do what was best for him. So she prepared a place for him to go, and said goodbye.
I produced the photos of her son, and immediately we both began to cry. I promised her that I would send the photo of the two of them to him, and gave her the photo of him flying his kite.
She eventually fell back asleep, clutching his picture to her heart.