“O, with what freshness, what solemnity and beauty, is each new day born; as if to say to insensate man, “Behold! thou hast one more chance! Strive for immortal glory!”
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Every day the new dawn offers us a chance to start over for the better. And each day we manage to screw it up by unconsciously repeating previous days’ bad habits. I am a repeat offender of many faults which include drinking too much wine and wasting time, among other things. Of course, none of us is perfect but I would think that if something bugged me that much, I should be able to change it. But come 6 pm the first glass of wine has been poured and more often than not I’m toasting absolutely nothing. Ah well, there’s always tomorrow, or perhaps not. I think we really need to internalise the notion that tomorrow is not guaranteed before we are jolted out of our complacency. And there’s nothing like confronting mortality to get one going.
It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up – that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.
During the dark days of Thabo Mbeki’s HIV/AIDS denialism, which disputed the existence of HIV or its role in causing AIDS, we became aware that our employees on the farm were showing symptoms of HIV / AIDS. No-one was comfortable to talk about the disease back then because there was so much stigma and ignorance attached but I had watched a friend and colleague (a remarkable woman who had so much to offer the new South Africa) die of the disease because she was too ashamed to admit that she had AIDS. I could no longer keep quiet on the subject, like I had done with H, so I asked Mike, my brother, who is a doctor in Phuthaditjhaba, to come and speak to our workers, and those of our neighbours, about HIV / AIDS and its treatment. He brought a Zulu-speaking man with him who had been very ill with AIDs and had made a recovery after taking anti-retrovirals (ARVs). After the talk, everyone came forward and asked Mike to examine them. They all showed signs of AIDS and he advised them to get tested. Our farm worker and our neighbour’s domestic worker were the only two who asked for our help to get tested.
Since the state-run clinics were not keen to test for HIV (the government was trying to keep the statistics down) I took them to McCords Hospital in Durban to be tested; both were found to be positive. Then began the long and agonising process of getting them on to ARV treatment; first there was training (in those days the treatment was a lot of tablets taken throughout the day and the patients had to understand that once they started they had to take the medication for the rest of their lives); and next came the TB treatment. Our farm worker was really at death’s door by the time he finally started taking the ARVs. My worst memories of that time are of him and I sitting for hours on end in the waiting room at McCords surrounded by emaciated people (some as young as 12 years old) while the hospital admin staff treated everyone as if they were invisible.
Our employee made a fantastic recovery once he started the treatment. Sadly, our neighbour’s domestic worker developed complications due to also having been infected with hepatitis B and she had to come off the ARVs because they were shutting down her pancreas. She died a few years later, but not before she became an advocate of making HIV / AIDS less stigmatised in her community.
Our farm worker has been healthy for the past 12 years, however in January this year he developed cryptococcal meningitis which one only gets if one has a low CD4 count (which would only happen if he had stopped taking his medication). Since then he has been in and out of hospital until finally he was sent to the TB hospital in Richmond. We went to visit him there last week and I was impressed with the hospital but surprised to find it virtually empty despite having a physiotherapist, dietician, occupational therapist and social workers on duty. I was shocked to see how frail our farm worker had become despite assurances by the doctor that he was getting better. Time will tell. I have to say I have been angry since the visit – angry with him for stopping his meds; angry with the doctors at Northdale for discharging him when he was so ill and waiting 6 months before referring him to Richmond; angry with H for dying because I sure could do with her company right now; and angry with myself for squandering the time that I have by procrastinating and drinking too much.
Perhaps tomorrow I’ll turn over a new leaf.