the healing muse

Volume 8, 2008

Not Ready To Die

Andrea Shaw

—A reflection from my time with patients in Moshi, Tanzania

My body is boiling,
            I don’t want to go to the hospital.

My legs are too weak to stand,
            I brought my husband there and he never came home.

My head is throbbing,
            I have not been well for months.

My heart is pounding,
            I sit on the edge of a crowded mattress.

My vision is fuzzy and the room is unsteady,
            The smell of sweat and stale urine thickens around me.

My mouth is dry and tastes of chalk,
            “Have you ever checked your sero-status?” the nurse asks.

My breathing quickens,
            “No. I don’t want to know.”

My body feels like a great weight,
            I have six children at home.

A lump knots up in my throat,
            I cannot speak another word.

I’m dripping with sweat,
            The community will abandon them.

I just need to rest now,
            I’m not ready to die.

In a country whose colonial past is still fresh in the minds of local people,
            Skepticism and distrust shadow her thoughts.

In a country where over 50% of the population live on less than a dollar a day,
            She is all too aware of the debt she will have after seeing a doctor.

In a country where eight of every hundred people are HIV positive,
            She, like everyone, has known someone affected by AIDS.

In a country where antiretrovirals have only been widely available for a few years,
            She has likely witnessed debilitating suffering from untreated disease.

In a country where 30% of hospitalized patients are HIV positive,
            Her fear of hospitalization is justified.

In a country where only six of every ten women can read,
            Her baseline health literacy is likely minimal.

In the context of a disease associated with deeply rooted stigma,
            The judgments she anticipates are real.

In a situation where so many variables are beyond the individual’s control,
            Her paralyzing fear is inevitable.

Teach me about my health,
            And I will offer you my questions.

Provide me with answers,
            And some of my fear may dissolve.

Share this with my partner,
            And we may support one another.

Share this with my family,
            And they may show compassion.

Educate my community,
            And they may offer understanding.

Share this with the world,
            And they will do their best to reach out and help.

Return to Table of Contents, Volume 8, 2008.

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