Loud voices drowned the little hope I had. They were voices of loved ones I had called in a brief moment of panic. Here, they were; everyone had an opinion, an idea of what I should do.
The doctor’s report lay on my centre table. It looked a bit rumpled now that we had taken turns to peruse it. We had also gone through the motions – denial, fear, then, reality seeped in. Miss Jemima Okon HIV-POSITIVE. I had these rashes that defied treatment. My doctor said I should do a HIV test let’s see. I did and now we’ve seen!
As a church-going family, we had prayer points; none was that one of us should come down with HIV/AIDS! I answered all their questions truthfully. No, I did not sleep with anyone. No, I did not. No, I did not.
At the moment, God seemed to be in a very bad light. How could He let this happen to me? I mean, I was a good girl, if you could call me that because I was 43 and single; not divorced or widowed. My mother’s sighs and facial expression said it all – God had disappointment us!
Well, after all was said and done, we came down to the nitty-gritty. Treatment must commence to control and to reduce viral load. My mother knew an herbalist but she was quick to add that he was not a spiritualist, no incantations on the herbs. “He’s like Dr. Bamidele Ogaga but not quite.” Dr. Ogaga was a nutritionist herbalist or something like that. This other man used only natural herbs or just veggies and roots of plants. My Aunty Koko suggested going to Dr. Ogaga at once. He successfully treated a friend of her friend’s boss’s wife. My Aunty said Ogaga would treat me with apples or some nice-testing fruits. She never liked bitter herbs and roots.
My brother suggested deliverance. ‘There’s this church where they use loud prayers to invoke evil spirits. When they appear, the pastor asks them questions and then, casts them out!’ He went on to tell us how victims fall down in the process as if dead but later, they rise up healed. My elder sister did not like anything to do with evil spirits because we happened to be Christians. She suggested that I should seek out strong men of God or go to crusades where hands could be laid on me because HIV is demonic!
However, it was her husband who gave me a clue to what I should do. He said I should try everything. ‘Jemmy, don’t put all your eggs in one basket because AIDS is a killer.’
My father, who was away, phoned me. He sounded flustered, his breathing laboured. He promised to pay the bills and advised me to commence treatment immediately.
When everyone had gone, save my mum, I got up and moved around to see if I could feel the weight of the viral load (a new vocabulary in my life now). My mother sat in my cane chair, her eyes wide with fright.
“Jemmy, what are you going to do now?” she asked.
“I’ll seek help. I know a great physician,” I said with feigned confidence.
“But, you wiII also pray and use Dr. Ogaga?” she pleaded.
“Would you like me to spend the night with you?” she enquired.
I heard the trepidation in her voice. I shook my head.
My sister had said that viral load increases rapidly. My mum repeated it now. I nodded, wishing her to leave.
“Where is this physician, UNTH?” she asked, her eyes still round as two ‘O’s.
Before she could ask where HTH was, my cell phone began to ring. It was my eldest sister from the U.S. She was already weeping and talking.
HRH stands for Heaven Teaching Hospital. I knew prayer was considered a weak thing but when my brother-in-law said, ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket,’ I knew that was what I should do!
The first night, I spent in mumbling prayer and studying the word. But I felt like I was in a dream.
I took money from everyone that offered it for the treatment. I also cleaned out my account and I laid them at the altar. It was crazy but I was desperate. How could I survive without cash until the next pay day? But, was it not someone who was alive that would work and receive a pay?
Four weeks into my heavenly treatment, my mother discovered what I was doing and she came over to my house and just broke down and wept, pleading with me to get proper treatment.
“If I understood you mum,” I said, “God is impotent. But, I read my Bible; the woman with the issue of blood sought physicians and was nothing bettered. Then King Asa in 2 Chron. 16:12 sought not God but physicians. Mum, he did not survive. I choose to seek Him. When He fails, I’II seek earthly physician and not until then.”
We argued, my mother and I. She was a Christian before me and had read the Bible a million times before I came into the world. Was I saying that orthodox medicine was against God? Are there no Christian doctors? I quoted, ‘I am the LORD that healeth thee’ and ‘By His stripes I was healed!’ My mother asked, ‘what if God chooses to heal through doctors?’ There was no end in sight to the argument. I stood my ground – it was my body, I’ve made a decision. My mother left in anger.
Her argument threatened to destabilise me. Voices rose in my head, all of them negative. Fear stepped in. It pushed me down on the floor, somewhere near my bathroom. What if mother was right? Another voice reminded me what people say – ‘something must kill a man.’ What if God intended …? I stopped right there!
I tried to encourage myself. This was nothing but a test, like an exam in school. At the end of a term or semester, one is tested. Examinations are not easy but they are necessary devils to determine one’s progress in school. I looked at it this way to encourage myself although sometimes, I felt like jumping out of my skin. The world says don’t put all your eggs in one basket. But, that is what I have chosen to do, put all my eggs in one basket called, God. If He fails, He has dishonoured His Word!
Deaconess Lechi Eke contributes her short stories from Lagos, Nigeria