I was bruised and battered/And I couldn't tell what I felt/I was unrecognizable to myself

It´s been two weeks since I´ve started working in the HIV clinic here in La Plata, and the words of Bruce Springstein are all around me. Already my head is swimming with stories and emotions. While I am far from seeing it all as they say, I have seen so much more than ever before in such a small period of time. In my first week, I stared Kaposi Sarcoma (skin cancer associated with AIDS...indicating the innevotable mortality which awaits) in the face...I spoke with young women who were meeting HIV head-on, with their small children along for the ride...I spoke with mothers and children of sick patients, transexual sex workers, drug addicts, and patients with fewer CD4 cells than I have fingers...I helped to counsel a young couple, newly infected with HIV, as they delt with the raw emotions associated with the news and anger over the fact that the man was unjustly fired from his job when his co-workers learned that there was merely the suspicion that his girlfriend was HIV-positive...at this point, I began looking for Tom Hanks...but then, this isn´t a Hollywood blockbuster, is it? This is real life...this is HIV in a developing country at the dawning of the 21st century.

I was delighted to hear that the state offers so much to these desperate individuals...the government actually pays for ALL diagnostic tests, care, and treatment (including antiretrovirals)...the problem is, however, that these gifts don´t necessarily give life. After the economic crisis in 2001, life in Argentina quickly plummeted for the vast majority...with over 70% of the population living below the poverty line, HIV is just one more thing that many can just not afford the time or energy to properly deal with. Free ARVs are fantastic...but what good do they do if you have no food, or at least inadequate amounts and types of food, to eat with them (beyond the obvious importance of food, it is incredibly important for HIV-positive individuals to maintain a healthy diet and many of the drugs require that they be taken with food)...what good does emotional counseling and empowerment do if you have no job and no permanent home to call your own? It seems as though these people have been continuously betrayed by their own government and now they have been betrayed by their own bodies...even the blood in their veins is rebelling against them...

Before coming here, I was a bit confused by the words Bruce Sprigstein sings in the middle of his hit song Streets of Philadelphia: ...aint no angel gonna greet me/just you and I my friend...Now I see a bit more clearly just how true these words can be...how right Bruce might have actually been. While I completely see God´s hand here and am confident that there are, in fact, angels here among us...for me, maybe they´re all HIV-positive...I am also accutley aware of the lack of such comfort felt by our patients. I would like to think that there are angels who will greet them here in this world, but I´m just not confident that they will be afforded such encounters...at least not outside of the clinic in which I find myself working. There, we try to build a sense of empowerment and ownership over their bodies, their lives, their illness...we hold workshops every friday (including art therapy and reflection sessions) to supplement our normal medical and psychosocial services, with the hope that we can build a base, a foundation from which the patients can begin to organize their lives and make healthy decisions in every area of their life, as they begin to allow HIV to trickle over into all aspects...as they begin to live with HIV rather than die from it...


Sylvana said...

Wow. This is so amazingly intense... How do you communicate with the people? I didn't even realize you are fluent in Spanish! I'm so proud of you. You are one of their angels! But there is so much more work to be done of course... lots of love, can't wait to see you in November. We must plan our trip out. Will be in touch soon.

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