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Perspective: Living with AIDS
Anonymous
*************
 
I had just turned ten when Ning Rua came to live with us. We had only been in Cambodia a few months when my parents decided to accept her into our family. I was excited. I had always been close to my two sisters but they were old enough to stay behind in our home country of Australia and look after themselves. I was not old enough to leave my parents side and it was hard for me to adjust to living as an only child. Thus, I was ecstatic when I heard of my parents' interest to foster this little girl. Her name was Ning Rua and my parents were told that her name in English translated into "Little Ruth." I don't really know if that's true but it makes a good story for my parents.

Ning Rua was a special girl. She had these large eyes that captivated people and stole away with their hearts. A cute little smile also sat on her face underneath those eyes and precious little nose. Her skin tone was much darker than ours and her hair was as black as night but on the inside she and I were no different than any other brother or sister. Except for one major difference, her young blood carried one of mankind's most recent large-scale killers - HIV/AIDS.

Since I was young when she joined our family, it didn't really bother me that she carried HIV/AIDS. All I knew was that I was completely safe except for when I was exposed to her blood. We would play together like best of friends but when she fell down and cut herself or had a bloody nose, I knew it was time to call in mum and dad and if they weren't there then I knew that I would need gloves before I could apply any band-aids myself.

A year or two after Ning Rua had entered our family, mum and dad took her to have her blood tested once more for HIV/AIDS in the hope that the result would be negative and this dear little girl who we had grown to love so much could live the long life she deserved. I remember the pain in my mother's voice, though, when she called me on the telephone and told me that Ning Rua was definitely HIV positive. It hurt. It hurt to hear my mother so distraught and emotional. It hurt to know that my new little sister was bound for a battle that she was bound to lose. And as selfish as it sounds, it hurt to hear that soon I would be alone again.

However, as fate would have it, our family would continue to grow and the chances of me ever feeling alone again were slim. Lian, a young teenage girl who had broken her back after falling out of a tree came to live with us about a year after Ning Rua had joined our family. And then about a year after that, Moses also became a part of our ever-increasing household. Yet there was always a connection I felt towards Ning Rua that I felt to with one else.

It was not long after Moses came that Ning Rua's health started to decline and AIDS began to show itself. Sores began showing up all over her body. Scabs began to form as she picked at the sores. We were constantly wearing gloves as we covered her recently picked sores with band-aids. My parents became so desperate to stop her from picking that they would cover her precious young hands with socks at night but she would get so stressed from being covered in horrible wounds that she would pry the socks off her hand and attempt to scratch her sores.

It was horrible. My heart would break for many reasons everytime she picked or scratched. It caused her to bleed which put us in danger of contracting AIDS. It caused a heck of a mess to clean up. But most of all it caused our hearts to break knowing that she was unknowingly throwing her body into further agony by risking the chance of infection.

Ning Rua was getting sicker and sicker. One Sunday, she was the sickest she had ever been and my mum was apprehensive about taking her to church. But Ning Rua had a different agenda. She loved church and she wanted nothing more than to go to church this specific Sunday. The whole service passed with Ning Rua sleeping in mum's arms. After the sermon, we headed to lunch.

We were going to grab some fried chickens from the front of Lucky Market but mum had to buy some medicine from the pharmacy first. I remember it vividly. Mum handed me the practically lifeless and diminished body of Ning Rua. She was slightly more awake now as I looked into her eyes and told her that I loved her. She looked back into my eyes and looked at me with a cheeky grin as she replied, "I love you."

Then it was over. She had drifted into unconsciousness and a few hours later her soul floated to the Heavenly Realms as my father gently sang to her.

As I look back now, all that I can recall are jigsaw pieces of her in my memory. I want to remember who she was completely and how much she meant to me. But time has stolen precious moments from my recollection and they have been lost to eternity. Why? Why must so great a soul have been taken from this world so quickly?

 




A friend of our family spoke of the true beauty of her legacy at her funeral. He said that we all leave our footprints on this world and handprints on the objects of this world. Yet few leave soul prints on the hearts of this world. Ning Rua was one of those few, he concluded, and even though her memory dwindles daily from my mind, the imprint of her soul on my heart is just as strong today as it was the day she died. That print will never fade. Ever.

Now, I am older. My eyes are beginning to see the world, not from the innocent perspective of a ten year old, but from the maturing viewpoint of a seventeen year old. I wonder whether I will still be so open to the thought of letting someone with AIDS into my family. A stigma around people with AIDS has become prevalent all around the world. People shudder when they hear the words "AIDS" or "HIV." Many worry that they will contract AIDS just from contact with a carrier. But I have hugged AIDS. I have kissed the cheek of AIDS. I have covered AIDS' wounds and I am still here today with no drop of the virus in my body.

I want people to know that "yes" there is always the possibility of contracting AIDS but "yes" there is also always the possibility of being run over by a car too. Just as we must take precautions not to be hit by cars, such as looking before we cross the street; we must also take precautions when living with those who carry AIDS. The solution is not to hide people with AIDS away from the rest of society. The solution is to treat them how we would any other human being with the addition of a few precautions such as abstaining from needle-sharing and sexual activity with AIDS patients and also being careful of not coming into close contact with an AIDS patient's blood.

Only a few months ago I was at the doctor for a check-up and I reminded my mother that I had never been tested for HIV/AIDS since Ning Rua's death. My mother saw the logic in my comment and asked the doctor to carry out an HIV/AIDS blood test. Usually, the extraction of the blood is the part of the process that worries me the most but this time I was more concerned with the outcome. Could I have AIDS? Is there really a chance that this test could be positive?  I had lived with Ning Rua for three years and there had been plenty of wounds and I had had my fair share of bandaging her up. Could a drop of her blood somehow have entered into my veins? I wondered.

I was nervous. My mother finally told me the results a few days later. She said, "I talked to Dr. Gloria today and oh, the test came back negative" in a casual way. I made no jubilant remarks or shouts of joy but I was finally at peace on the inside, knowing that I was free of the virus.

The truth is though, that even if had contracted AIDS from Ning Rua, I would not regret that she came to live with and be a part of our family. Why? Because knowing her was the best thing that has ever happened to me and the fact that she had AIDS was of little to no importance.

Remember AIDS is in the blood. Let's try looking beyond the content of people's blood and let's instead try looking at the organ that pumps the blood - the heart.



Reproduction welcomed provided HDN is informed of usage and source is cited as follows: SEA-AIDS eForum 2006: sea-aids@eforums.healthdev.org