Today is World Aids Day. This is a disease that's near and dear to my heart. It's the first disease that I ever saw a friend my age die from and the statistics are mind numbing.
When I was about 22 years old, I had a friend name Tasha who had the disease. She never told us that she was suffering from AIDS. Until the moment she died, she never uttered the words.
Tasha was a good friend that I worked with. We hung out and spoke almost everyday. She'd suffered two strokes within about two months. I couldn't understand how a 22 year old had a stroke, let alone two. When she had the first one, she just called and said that she wasn't feeling well and would call me back when she felt better. She said that she didn't need me to bring her anything, she had medicine and would be ok. She didn't have the typical signs of having a stroke. She didn't suffer paralysis on one side of her face, but her speech was a little slower. I didn't think twice about it. Then she had another stroke. This time, her old college roommate told me that she was in the hospital. When I called her at the hospital, they transferred me to the infectious diseases floor. That's when my antenna went up.
When I spoke to her old roommate, she told me that she suspected that Tasha had HIV. At this time, to my knowledge, I hadn't known anyone with HIV or AIDS. She didn't have it. If she'd had it, I would've known right? Tasha was a heavy smoker and certainly didn't take care of herself. If she had it, wouldn't she be much more health conscious? Well, the answer to both questions is no. Tasha never went home after the second stroke. She was moved to a hospice for those living with AIDS. After a while, she allowed us to come to see her at the hospice. It wasn't your typical hospice. From the outside, it looked like a regular house and it was in a housing community. Inside, each room of the house was turned into a patients room. There were about 10 or so. When we went to visit, Tasha asked us to go to her house to get her purse because it had her medicine in it. We obliged. Her medicine was a clear liquid that she took with a dropper. Well after a couple of visits, we noticed that she was back to her old self. Laughing, talking, and she seemed well. We also saw that she was hiding her "medicine" from the nurses. Well, come to find out, the medicine was morphine. Liquid morphine. And needless to say, she wasn't allowed to have it. I'm sure she started using it to deal with any pain she was suffering, but at this point, she was probably addicted. The nurses found it, and took it from her. She stayed there in her regular ol' Tasha state for about four months. And then it seems like overnight, things started to go downhill.
She went into a coma. She woke up for about four days and then she was gone. In the last four days, she knew that we were there. She had her eyes open, held our hands, and nodded in response to us. The disease was so taboo to us at the time, we never even had an open conversation about it. I asked her one question. I asked if her old boyfriend knew. She said that he always used protection. But did he know I asked. She said that he always used protection. Needless to say, I informed her ex so that he could get tested. But between she and I, there were no more questions and no more discussions.
I was so young then I didn't know how to respond. I knew that young hetero-sexual women could get it. But not at 22 right? Surely not college graduates that aren't handing their bodies out like candy right? And definitely none of my friends. It was my wake up call. A true wake up call. Now as I sit here 12 years later, I have friends who are living with the disease. They are healthy and happy. I am blessed that I haven't had to see any of them die from the disease again.
I believe that it is part of my responsibility to fight for them and fight for Tasha. I also have to fight for my 22 year old self. The people who think that it can't happen to them or anyone that they know. The ones who feel that they can spot someone with the disease at the drop of a dime. I promise to fight for all of them. And by getting tested and using protection, I fight for myself.
Join me in my battle. I could always use a few soldiers. Get tested. Support AIDS initiatives. Protect yourself. Get informed and share your knowledge. Support your friends that are living with the disease. Have their backs and your own.
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