THEY WILL ASK thee as to what they should spend on others. Say: "Whatever of your wealth you spend shall [first] be for your parents, and for the near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer; and whatever good you do, verily, God has full knowledge thereof." - Al-Baqarah (2:215)
Malaysia Flag Pictures, Images and Photos

Thursday, 29 May 2008

House visits with the new trainee

It has been a while since I last visited any of my clients. Ever since I was assigned a new trainee volunteer under me, I have yet to bring her around for any house visits. Weekends during school holidays are definitely not a good idea as there will be lots of kenduris to attend. So yesterday I thought of bringing the trainee with me to visit Fuzi. Since the trainee is a retiree, she doesn’t have any problems about going on a weekday. As a matter of fact, she prefers to go on a weekday.

So, after stocking up my car with some groceries donated by some good Samaritans, off I went to fetch the trainee and we headed to the small town where Fuzi stays. On the way while I was driving, a call came in. It was the general ring tone, so I didn’t expect the call to be from any of my PLWHA clients. The call turned out to be from Mrs. K’s 13 year old daughter, who called from a public phone – thus the general ring tone instead of the easily recognizable Bond ring tone.

She asked if they could borrow RM20 to buy milk for her baby sister. They ran totally out of milk powder for the little girl. While they do get financial assistance for the baby, sometimes the money gets banked in rather late. I thought something didn’t sound quite right. By right, their financial position shouldn’t as bad as when they were first introduced to me. Obviously Mr. K had finished up his EPF withdrawal, no question about that. But Mr. K’s health had improved quite a bit and the last I knew he managed to find himself a job. Surely their financial position isn’t that bad?

I told the girl I was on my way to another house which is totally the other direction from their house and that I’d try to figure something and call her back later. Before the line was cut off, I managed to hear her saying, “Phone dah tak ada!” Uh oh… that means no way of calling her back.

Actually I was thinking of visiting them next week. We were already on our way to Fuzi’s house up north of Ipoh, so we just went ahead with our original plan. If the girl had called earlier, I probably would have changed my plans and visit Mrs. K’s family first.

We got to Fuzi’s house and right after I honked, Fuzi opened their brand new door, and we were greeted by sweet smiles from Ijam, the HIV+ boy, and Iwan, his younger brother.

When I started to nag Fuzi about losing the keys to the door, Fuzi said she suspected one of the neighbor’s kids took the key. Apparently he’s quite well known for taking things from people’s homes. I don’t know how true it is, but I told Fuzi if she knew she shouldn’t trust the kid, then all the more reason for her to be extra careful and so she shouldn’t leave the keys lying around just like that. Fuzi just smiled without saying anything back – she knew she was at fault.

Anyway, I was more concerned about Ijam’s progress, He has already started taking his medication and when Fuzi showed me the whole stack of medicine for Ijam, I was thinking oh the poor kid… at such a young age he has to take so much medicine… and many times a day too. Fuzi had to set the alarm to make sure Ijam takes his medication on time. As early as 6.30 am she has to wake Ijam for his first dose, 2 more times during the day, and later at 10 pm, when Ijam is already asleep, she has to wake him up again for another dose. I guess probably the medication is not given twice a day like for other HIV patients because Ijam’s still a kid, first time taking medication, and so the medication needs to be given in smaller dosage. But am not a doctor, so I don’t know for sure.

After a while, and looking at the time, I decided maybe I should just go ahead and visit Mrs. K. The trainee didn’t seem to mind either. So we headed back to Ipoh, dropped by our centre to get more groceries, stopped by a sundry shop to buy milk powder, and then headed off to Mrs. K’s house south of Ipoh. It is school holidays and so even if Mr. and Mrs. K are at work, the kids would be home. To my surprise, when we got there, Mrs. K was home. Apparently, she had to take emergency leave as her youngest daughter (now 1 year 5 months old) was down with fever so yesterday she had to take the little girl to the clinic. Mr. K was at work while her eldest son, Shah, went to a fully sponsored motivational camp. Good for him!

While the trainee chatted with Mrs. K’s 6 year old daughter (about the cartoon they were watching on TV!), I had a quiet chat with Mrs. K. She suspects her husband is beginning to take drugs again – albeit on a smaller scale and not by injection. He has a brother and a sister who are drug addicts (I never knew this earlier) and lately he had been getting closer and closer to them. That’s probably how he initially got his supplies. Hmmm… no wonder they are beginning to get into financial problem again. And remember when the daughter called me earlier; she mentioned “phone dah tak ada”? Guess what happened to the phone? Ahah… it’s at the kedai pajak gadai… courtesy of Mr. K...

Shah, their son, had even mentioned to his mother that if things got out of hand again, he wouldn’t hesitate to hit his own father. Shah had seen enough of his mother’s sufferings when his father took drugs earlier and so naturally he didn’t want history to repeat itself. I knew from his reactions earlier that Shah had not really forgiven his father for the earlier episode, and so if Mr. K gets back to his old habit, I doubt Shah will ever forgive him.

Before I left, Mrs. K made me promise not to talk to her husband about his drug problem. She was afraid if he knew she had been telling me about it, she may get into trouble. So I told her that if she can persuade her husband to agree, I can recommend him to the proper people to get him off the habit.

And I thought that part of the problem was already over… sigh!

Anyway, this morning around 7 am, Mrs. K’s daughter called me again - this time to tell me that her baby sister who was down with fever had to be hospitalized. Apparently at around 4 am the little girl was crying and crying and they noticed she was turning blue. So they immediately rushed her to the hospital. I don’t know much detail yet since I didn’t get to speak to Mrs. K (the daughter called from a public phone).

Oh dear, I do hope it’s nothing serious…

Monday, 26 May 2008

When the children get infected

I was reading MarinaM’s posting about a wedding of a HIV+ couple and also about another HIV+ couple (who got married after knowing about each other's HIV status) she met at the wedding. The second couple is expecting a baby soon.

Now, before some of you start thinking that the second couple are being selfish and are not thinking about the risks of passing the virus to the baby, please note that their good doctor had informed them that their viral loads are undetectable (they are on antiretroviral medication) and as such the risk of passing the virus to the child is somewhat minimized. Of course, they still have to make sure that all other measures are taken (other than the mother taking ARV, delivery will have to be by caesarian section and she must not breastfeed the baby).

Ahah, that being the case, why was I so worried about Yah and Mr Darling, both of whom are positive? Well, I don’t know Mr Darling personally, but based on whatever was going on between him and Yah and not forgetting his ex-wife, Lin, all he was thinking about was having sex! Yah on the other hand, ever since the angau bug bit her, can’t seem to get the romeo out of her mind - I’m not surprised if she’s not taking her medication regularly. My fears were confirmed when SN told me that Yah’s CD4 count dropped tremendously while her viral load count was very high! Many of my clients don’t seem to see the importance of being compliant in taking their medication no matter how “berbuih mulut” SN explaining to them from A to Z.

Anyway, from the group of HIV positive women under my care, 5 of them found out about their HIV infection when they were pregnant. It was also then that they found out about their husbands’ (or ex-husbands’) HIV status.

Zainab, Maria, Fuzi, Yah and Sha all took the necessary measures to minimize the risks of their babies getting infected. Sha did think about abortion the moment she found out she was HIV positive, (she thought the virus would surely infect the baby if she continued with her pregnancy) but upon advice from the doctor, and after consulting her HIV-negative husband (she got HIV from her first husband), she went on with the pregnancy.

The children of all 5 ladies are now over 2 years old and have been safely confirmed as free from the virus.

Then there was Zana, the problematic young woman who got pregnant out of wedlock and hid her pregnancy, even from the doctors! By the time I found out, she was almost 7 months pregnant (and yet it didn’t show) and I had to immediately arrange for her to meet the doctor again despite her last appointment being just the week before. She was immediately given ARV medication and arrangement was also immediately done for her to see a gynae. She safely delivered twins, but one of the twins died last year, not due to HIV but due to other complications.

Imagine if Zana simply ran away to avoid people from knowing about her pregnancy, and ended up delivering the babies without proper checkup until it was time to deliver, chances were that she would have gone through normal delivery and the babies would have been infected. Thank goodness she was desperate to find a shelter home so she finally confided in me.

So yes, from the 6 pregnant HIV+ women assigned to me, all of them delivered HIV-free babies. You see, the risk of the virus being passed on to the baby is highest during delivery, not during pregnancy… thus, the need for c-sect.

Aha, but I have mentioned about a few HIV positive children in my previous postings, haven’t I?

I don’t know when hospitals started screening pregnant women for HIV, but the 4 HIV infected children that I personally know, are all aged 6 years and above. The eldest is Pushpa (one of the recipients for our sponsorship programme), 13, whose parents died when she was small. Nuri’s daughter, Fara, is 8 while the other 2 kids – the late Lily’s son, Boboy, and Fuzi’s son, Ijam – are both 6 years old.

My guess is, 6 years ago pregnant ladies were not screened for HIV.

So, what happens if the children are infected? Ahh… medication all their life - unless of course one fine day a cure is found. What about the stigma and discrimination they may have to face? Well, in most cases, the fact that they are infected is kept a secret. In Fara’s case, when initially she used to get sick, the school authorities only knew that she had some lung infection.

Is there a chance that even if the school authorities knew, the children will not have to face stigma and discrimination? Maybe, although I doubt it, really. While some may sympathize and empathize, there are bound to be one or two kay-poh ones! When Lily’s children submitted their father’s death cert (indicating he died of HIV) to the school to apply for financial assistance, one of the teachers kept pressuring Lily to provide proof that her 3 daughters at the school were indeed not infected. Things were even worse for Boboy, her infected son, whose kindergarten teacher kept telling him he need not come to school after she found out about Boboy’s HIV status. Oh, the poor child…

So folks, if one fine day you do happen to get to know of any HIV positive child, give the child a hug, will you?

Friday, 23 May 2008

Bad luck... careless... or couldn't care less?

I haven’t even had the chance to visit Fuzi since she got a proper door for her house and this morning I received a call from Fuzi.

“Kak, pintu rumah saya kuncinya dah rosak.”

Huh? They just installed the door last week and already rosak? Haiya! Must have been shoddy workmanship or poor quality lock.

Then Fuzi continued…

“Anak kunci pun hari tu orang tu bagi 3 tapi satu dah hilang entah ke mana. Semalam ada orang masuk rumah lagi kak tapi tak ada apa-apa yang hilang.”

Huh? They just gave her the keys last week and already hilang? Haiya! Why lah like this? Everything also she tawakkal without putting any effort to protect her household ka? Susahlah ini macam!

Maybe Fuzi is not too concerned because nothing was stolen this time, but then again, that was probably because she didn’t have much money at home, unlike the last break-in.

I intend to visit her next week. Chances are I will get into my nagging mode.

Sigh… I hate nagging!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

IAMD KL & Various Updates


While we were preparing for our IAMD exhibition last week (not that there’s anything much to prepare), one of the guys from Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) called me up to inform me about the International Aids Memorial Day (IAMD) organized by MAC to be held on 31st May in KL. Like previous years, MAC is inviting us to send our representatives, especially our HIV clients, to the event. The deadline to submit the reply slip was 20th May – so I only had a few days to call around and ask whoever wanted to attend.

Actually an email was sent to our usual contact person, our former secretary, but since she’s overseas for the moment, we did not get the invitation earlier. Only when our MAC guy called to follow up, he found out that our usual contact was not around, and so he immediately called me. I asked him to forward the email to me so I could do the necessary.

And so I forwarded the email to my fellow Buddies, asking them if any of them wanted to go, and asking them too to ask if any of their clients wanted to go. There was no response. Well, it will be during the school holidays – I guess many would already have other plans.

I made a few calls myself. The first 2 who came to mind was the same 2 who attended last year’s IAMD – Jah and Shila. As I had expected, they were both excited to go – especially at the thought of getting the chance to spend the night at a hotel… fully sponsored by MAC. Never in their life did they ever stay in a hotel before. Then I called Fuzi, whom I thought may be interested to go as it would be a great opportunity for her kids to go jalan-jalan during the school holidays. Again, as expected, she said yes. I tried calling Yah but couldn’t get through. Since I had a deadline to meet, I could’t afford to keep on calling – so it’s no go for Yah.

There were clients whom I didn’t bother to ask – those whom I knew wouldn’t be able to go no matter how much they want to…

Lin, for example, works on weekends and it won’t be easy for her to get leave from her boss. Same case with Hana.

Maria? Naaah… she wouldn’t be able to get the green light from her hubby.

Sha? Her son doesn’t know about her HIV status and she’s always afraid that by attending any of these functions, her son will end up asking all sorts of questions.

So the final list coming from Buddies consists of Jah, Shila (plus 1 child) and Fuzi (plus 5 children). That’s already an improvement from last year. My only worry now is for them to get to the hotel. Last year, Jah was already at her aunt’s house in KL while Shila and her daughter followed me in my car for a day trip. This time, they will need to go on their own – by bus – all expenses paid, of course, but still, once they get to Puduraya, they will need to find their own way to the hotel. Traveling out of town is not something they get to do often and so they are not too confident about traveling on their own. My plan is to get them all to go on the same bus so that they will have each other for company. I will also need to brief them on all the whats, wheres and hows before I send them off at the Ipoh bus terminal.

Myself? Well, I will be in KL that weekend for some family matters, so if I have the time, I will be attending as well; but not needing hotel accommodation. After all, the event will be held at One Utama, which is not that far from my brother’s house where I’ll be staying.

Yes, this year MAC will organize the IAMD at One Utama and for the first time ever, it will be an open-door event – unlike previous years’ closed-door by invitation only. So if you happen to be free, why not come over?

Day/date: Saturday 31st May 2008
Time: 7.30 – 9.30 pm
Venue: One Utama Shopping Centre, New Wing (main entrance)

Highlights include performance by local artistes, showcase by People Living with HIV, and candle lighting.


Various updates -

Opah called me last week. She needed to bring Hamid for another appointment and since I do have some funds with me meant for the traveling/medical needs of the poor, I told her to call me if she needed help. After banking in the money into her bank account, I called to inform her about it so she could go to the bank and withdraw the money. She was so happy she ended the call with, “Terima kasih cu… peluk cium dari Opah!” Hmmm… even my real Opah (may Allah bless her soul) never said such things to me…

Early this week I received a text message from Maria. She was feeling down as her mother just passed away last Friday. Maria being the only child, her mother had always been staying with her, even after her marriage. I can imagine Maria feeling the emptiness now. And with her on-and-off problems with her husband, I guess Maria may feel a bit worried too now that her mother is no longer around. I must go visit her one of these days…

Fuzi’s house was repaired over the weekend. I have not gone to see it yet but I was told now her house has a proper door! Definitely more secure. It has been quite some time since my last visit to her house. I need to visit her soon and bring along the trainee volunteer who’s supposed to be my “baby” (baby for training lah!).

Ahh, but there so many things to be done… sigh!

And oh, before I forget... remember R from my posting here? Her blood test results are out and she's been confirmed negative. Yes, she's FREE from the virus, alhamdulillah!!

I love good news...

Monday, 19 May 2008

The Exhibition

Since our exhibition is held on a long weekend and many of our volunteers already had other plans, we only managed to rope in a few Buddies to volunteer for the exhibition at Ipoh Parade yesterday. As a matter of fact, for the morning shift, only our honorary secretary and myself were able to make it. Another colleague informed us he'd only be able to make it a bit later. Thank goodness the event was jointly organised with the Perak Family Health Association (PFHA); and they brought along members of a youth club under their wing, the Inteyo Club. So yaayyyy!! We had energetic youths helping out with the exhibition.

When I got to Ipoh Parade, my colleague was already there with the buntings and brochures. I was just in time to help set up our buntings. Just as I sat down to prepare a piece of paper to enable the public who'd like to become volunteers to sign up, I saw a familiar face. Whaddaya know... a school senior of mine whom I seldom got to meet despite her staying in Ipoh.

At the Buddies table, my school senior, my fellow volunteer and the lady in blue is from PFHA.

The PFHA also offered blood pressure measurement for the public and free blood sugar tests for the first 100 to register while the youths from Inteyo Club got the public to fill in a survey to find out the public's knowledge and opinion on HIV/AIDS - offering free gifts for those who agreed to do the survey.

Blood pressure and blood sugar tests.

The youths from Inteyo Club getting the public to do the survey.

On our side, we distributed our Buddies brochures and also some brochures on HIV/AIDS info provided by Malaysian AIDS Council. And oh, red ribbons too in support of people living with HIV. There were also quite a few who were interested to become volunteers. By the time I left about 2.30 pm (after the 4 volunteers for the afternoon shift arrived), I saw 7 names on the list. Hopefully there were more by the time the exhibition ended at 5.00 pm.

2 of the guys who came for the afternoon shift, enabling me to finally leave...

Overall, I think okay lah... instead of having the public run away at the sight of the word HIV/AIDS, there were some who showed interest. Of course there were still some who didn't want to get caught looking at the posters for too long... especially the poster with graphic demonstration on the right way to use a condom... hehehe...

Saturday, 17 May 2008

International AIDS Memorial Day 2008

International AIDS Memorial Day (IAMD) is on the 3rd Sunday of May each year. So this year, which is also its 25th anniversary, it will be on the 18th of May. The theme for this year is NEVER GIVE UP NEVER FORGET.

This annual international event, is meant to remember all those affected directly and indirectly by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and provide an opportunity for solidarity and resolve in the challenge against HIV/AIDS.

During last year's IAMD (21st May 2007), I attended the event organised by Malaysian AIDS Council in KL (for this year MAC's event will be on 31st May), only to come back to Ipoh to find out that one of my clients, Lily, had just passed away.

Anyway, for the first time, Buddies of Ipoh will be organizing an event to commemorate IAMD. Nothing on big scale since we don’t really have the manpower, but at least for a start we are organizing an HIV/AIDS awareness exhibition on 18th May 2008, together with the Perak Family Health Association.

So this Sunday I will be at Ipoh Parade for the exhibition. Will report more on that later…

Thursday, 15 May 2008

International Day of Families

Are you aware of the International Day of Families? Well, I wasn't... until this year...

The International Day of Families, observed annually on 15 May, provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families as basic units of society, as well as, to promote appropriate action.

Proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution 47/237 of 20 September 1993, the annual observance of the International Day of Families reflects the importance that the international community attaches to families as basic units of societies as well as its concern regarding their situation around the world.

2008 is the 14th Anniversary of the International Day of Families. The theme for this year is "Fathers and Families - Responsibilities and Challenges".

Read more here.

Go to Unicef Malaysia website here.

Monday, 12 May 2008

In Loving Memory of Rose - A Recap

I was going through my old log book (to keep track of the progress of my HIV clients) and noticed that one of my earlier clients, Rose, died in May 2006. Yes, it has been 2 years and In Loving Memory of Rose was the first of my clients’ stories that I highlighted in this blog.

For this posting I’d like to share my notes on Rose, from the first day I was introduced to her until the last day of her life. (*I’ve omitted real names and place of stay.)


15/2 – Was introduced to Rose at the HIV clinic.

5/3 – Went to Rose’s house with a few other Buddies but was told by neighbours that she was hospitalized. Immediately went to GH to visit her.

6/3 – Went to visit Rose again to check on her needs. Was informed she hadn’t been receiving her monthly financial aid from JKM since December. Children’s school fees and bus fares had not been paid. To help out in finding sponsors or get CEF for her children.

8/3 – Rose called to inform that she has been discharged.

15/3 – Called Rose to check on her condition. Was told she has hospital appointment on 20/3 and 28/3.

20/3 – Fetched Rose from GH, brought her to JKM and sent her home.

21/3 – Received call from Rose saying she has to be warded again. Fetched her and sent her to GH.

24/3 – Went to visit Rose at GH. Was informed that doctors had to prescribe her Warfarin.

27/3 – Visited Rose again. She was transferred to 8B.

31/3 – Visited Rose again.

3/4 – Visited Rose again. She seemed depressed after informed by doctors that her cancer had spread. Also met her sister, the one closest to her.

7/4 – Rose was discharged. Fetched her from GH and sent her to her sister’s house.

8/4 – Received call from Rose. She had to be warded again.

10/4 – Went to visit Rose. She was in excruciating pain.

13/4 – Went to visit Rose again. Met another sister of hers.

14/4 – Received call from Rose saying that she was discharged. This time her brother fetched her from the hospital.

17/4 – Received call from Rose. She needed help to bring her to GH the next day for her appointment.

18/4 – Fetched Rose and her sister from her sister’s house and brought them to the hospital.

25/4 – Received call from Rose at midnight asking for help to send her to the hospital the next morning as nobody else was willing. She couldn’t afford a taxi and too weak to go by bus. Told her I had a meeting the next morning and would only be able to send her in the afternoon. Since she had no other choice, she agreed.

26/4 – Went to fetch Rose in the afternoon. She seemed weak and in pain. Had to help her to the wheelchair and from the wheelchair into my car. Dropped by her sister’s house to fetch the sister so there’d be someone accompanying Rose while I park my car at the hospital.

28/4 – Went to visit Rose in the afternoon. She was in too much pain and couldn’t be bothered with her surroundings. Was informed by nurse on duty that they needed to see Rose’s family as they needed to transfer her to palliative care. Called Rose’s sis-in-law to inform her and asked her to get any family members to come to the hospital.

29/4 – Called to check on Rose’s condition. Her sister answered the phone. Was informed that Rose was most of the time sleeping and no longer talks to any of the family members – not even her children.

2/5 – Visited Rose at Palliative Care. She was sleeping. A relative of hers tried to wake her up but there was no response.

6/5 – Went to visit Rose. Again she was sleeping.

8/5 – Received call from Rose’s sister at 7.30 am to inform me that Rose had passed away.


Noticed that during the early stages nothing was mentioned about her family members? And noticed that I went to visit her quite often? Well, I felt I needed to visit her often because she seldom had visitors. It was only after her condition worsened that I began to see her siblings… even then they didn’t visit her enough. They only gathered at the hospital after she was transferred to Palliative Care. By then Rose was unconscious most of the time.

So folks, don’t wait until your family members/friends are dying before you start showing them that you care. Don’t wait until it’s too late…

*Note: From the notes it may seem as though my life is all about my HIV clients. No, it's not usually like that - only for certain circumstances. In Rose's case, she needed all the support that she didn't seem to get from her family members.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Mother's Day Special


Oh, come on... in appreciation of all the things our mothers have taught us, let's give 'em a break okay?

My Mother taught me about ANTICIPATION...
"Just wait until your father gets home."

My Mother taught me about RECEIVING....
"You are going to get it when we get home!"

My Mother taught me to MEET A CHALLENGE...
"What were you thinking? Answer me when I talk to you! Don't talk back to me!"

My Mother taught me LOGIC...
"If you fall out off that swing and break your neck, you're not going to the store with me."

My mother taught me more LOGIC...
"Because I said so, that's why."

My Mother taught me MEDICAL SCIENCE...
"If you don't stop crossing your eyes, they are going to freeze that way."

My Mother taught me to THINK AHEAD...
"If you don't pass your spelling test, you'll never get a good job."

My Mother taught me HUMOR...
"When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don't come running to me."

My Mother taught me how to BECOME AN ADULT...
"If you don't eat your vegetables, you'll never grow up."

My Mother taught me about GENETICS...
"You're just like your father."

My Mother taught me about my ROOTS...
"Do you think you were born in a barn?"

My Mother taught me about WISDOM OF AGE...
"When you get to be my age, you will understand."

My mother taught me TO APPRECIATE A JOB WELL DONE...
"If you're going to kill each other, do it outside. I just finished cleaning."

My mother taught me RELIGION...
"You better pray that will come out of the carpet."

My mother taught me about TIME TRAVEL...
"If you don't straighten up, I'm going to knock you into the middle of next week!"

My mother taught me FORESIGHT...
"Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you're in an accident."

My mother taught me IRONY...
"Keep crying, and I'll give you something to cry about."

My mother taught me about the science of OSMOSIS...
"Shut your mouth and eat your supper."

My mother taught me about CONTORTIONISM....
"Will you look at that dirt on the back of your neck!"

My mother taught me about STAMINA...
"You'll sit there until all that spinach is gone."

My mother taught me about WEATHER...
"This room of yours looks as if a tornado went through it."

My mother taught me about HYPOCRISY...
"If I told you once, I've told you a million times. Don't exaggerate!"

My mother taught me the CIRCLE OF LIFE...
"I brought you into this world, and I can take you out."

My mother taught me about BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION...
"Stop acting like your father!"

My mother taught me about ENVY...
"There are millions of less fortunate children in this world who don't have wonderful parents like you do."

My mother taught me ESP...
"Put your sweater on; don't you think I know when you are cold?"

And last but not least...

My Mother taught me about JUSTICE...
"One day you'll have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you....Then you'll see what it's like!"

*from my email archives*

"By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time-off. They are the great vacationless class."
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh -

To all mothers - YOU ARE A GEM!


Tuesday, 6 May 2008

What would you do...

… if you found out that your husband had been infected with HIV? How would you feel, knowing that you too may have been infected? Would you be angry? Sad? Confused? Unsure what to do?

Would you react differently, if your husband got HIV through different ways? Would you be able to accept your husband more if he got infected through drug injections instead of through promiscuous activities?

Actually, the recent talk for the Perak Women for Women (PWW) Society, where the matter of the empowerment of women were brought up, had me thinking. Would things have been different if the women under my charge had been empowered with more knowledge?

Would it have been easier for the women to make decisions for their future?

Ahh… so many questions!!

I do wonder how different people would react to the different situations faced by my clients. So this time, I am hoping my blog readers can give some input on how they think these women should react. Let me just refresh your memory with some of their stories…

In the case of Zainab, she found about her HIV infection before her husband found out about his. She was pregnant with her second child then, and when they found out that Zainab was HIV positive, her husband Zaki had the cheek to ask Zainab if she had any affairs with any Mat Banglas at her work place since he himself did not have HIV. Only later when he did his blood tests and found out that he too was infected did he admit that although most of the time he took pills for his drug addiction, there was once or twice that he resorted to sharing needles for injection. Zainab readily forgave him. After all she thought, since both of them had already been infected, they might as well just live positively as husband and wife for the sake of their children.

Then there was Mrs. K, who found out about her husband’s HIV infection when she was pregnant – but she herself miraculously was not infected. The doctor had her blood tests done twice to be doubly sure she was not infected. Mr. K, despite being a former policeman, somehow got involved in drugs and that was how he got infected. Mrs. K’s family was mad with Mr. K and told Mrs. K to leave her irresponsible husband, but Mrs. K remained loyal to him despite herself being confirmed negative.

In the above cases, the husbands were injecting drug users. They didn’t play around with other women.

Then there’s Lin… yes, Mr. Darling’s ex-wife. Lin had known about her husband playing around with other women for many years, but being someone who believed that she had to sacrifice for the sake of the children; she just tolerated him and prayed that one day he’d change. Well, he did not. And after keeping everything to herself without letting her feelings out to anyone, when she found out her husband was HIV infected and that she too was infected, that was the last straw. She was mad at him for being the reason of her infection. She asked for divorce. By then, although 3 of her 6 children were still schooling, they were grown up enough to understand her situation.

Recently, a blog reader, R, contacted me to relate her story as she needed to talk things out with someone. Now, to regular readers of my blog, don’t get so curious… she never left a comment in my blog and no, she’s not someone you know, ok? She actually contacted me direct to my email address and later on I gave her my number so we could talk. Let me just summarise R's story without going into the nitty gritty details.

In R’s case, when the husband was found to be HIV positive, he admitted to her that he had been “naughty” before their marriage. For a moment there, R did feel a bit relieved although she was still worried about getting infected as well. The fact that he did not cheat on her after marriage somehow did make her feel a bit better. Then after some thinking, she remembered that her husband had been quite a regular blood donor… surely his blood would have been tested for HIV. If indeed his HIV infection occurred before their marriage, surely he would have been detected positive during one of his blood donation and he would have been informed earlier. When cornered, R’s husband finally admitted that he did “have some fun” during his recent overseas assignment. Yes, just recently!

The first blood test done 6 months ago for R was negative. But not long before that the couple had been planning to have another child and when the first blood test was done, it was still during the window period and as such R was not 100% safe yet. R had just done her 2nd test and is now waiting for the results before she can be sure of her status.

For the moment R is still with her husband, although she no longer feels for him the way she did before. Her decision on her future will depend on the outcome of her blood test. Unlike the other women I mentioned in my stories, R is an educated and independent person. By the way, R has 2 kids, aged 3 and 8.

What do you think her decision will be? And what would you do if you were in her shoes?

And to all out there, please... you may think that any action of yours, no matter how bad, is OK because it’s your life and it’s your problem if you get into any trouble. Just remember that your decision now may not only affect your own life, but also the lives of others in the future… your wife, your children, your loved ones...

So, THINK, THINK and THINK before you act.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Introducing Buddies...

Yesterday we were invited by the Perak Women for Women Society (PWW) to give a talk to their members and some of their guests. The talk was an informal one, more to introduce Buddies to them and to form some sort of networking.

What's PWW? It is an independent voluntary organisation [like us Buddies] committed to improving the lives of women in Perak. Their vision is to create a just and equitable society where women are treated with respect and free from all forms of violence and discrimination. The society is affiliated to the All Women's Action Society (AWAM) [while Buddies is affiliated to Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC)].

3 representatives from Buddies attended the talk - our honorary secretary, the assistant secretary and yours truly. As for the audience, other than members of PWW, we had also a few foreign students under AFS (locally known as Antarabudaya Malaysia). We had students from US, Australia, Germany, Japan and Egypt.

Since this event was meant for networking, Dr Sharifah started off the talk by giving a brief introduction of PWW to us Buddies and to the AFS representatives.

Our honorary secretary then introduced Buddies to the audience - explaining about how we started off back then just as a project under the Perak Family Planning Association, and then later we decided to move on our own, as an independent organisation registered under the Registrar of Societies. She also highlighted our various services/activities other than providing support services to PLWHAs - HIV clinic, Children Education Fund, Sponsorship for Children, Outreach, Buddy Bears, Welfare, etc.

After the brief introduction to Buddies by our honorary secretary, I then took over from her. Since the event was organised by PWW, a society for women, I thought it would be good to talk a bit about Women and HIV. To talk in depth about the issue would actually need a whole session by itself, so I just talked a bit about the problems faced by HIV positive women in general. Dr Sharifah had after all, mentioned about the empowerment of women in her earlier introduction speech, which I found to be very related to our HIV positive clients.

As I mentioned, somehow people tend to look down more on HIV positive women as compared to HIV positive men. People tend to get the impression that HIV positive women are the "itchy-itchy" or gedik kind. Whereas in actual fact, at least in the Malaysian context, 90% of the women were infected by their own husbands! Now, how fair is that?!

I highlighted too my own personal experiences in dealing with the HIV positive women - those who were not given the right to make their own decisions, those who didn't get family support, those who didn't have anyone to talk to - all because of the stigma and discrimination they had to face.

The audience also shared some of their own experiences. One talked about a good friend of his who had AIDS... how when this friend died the family didn't want to touch him. Only one sister-in-law was willing to handle the body; but after that, the family insisted she goes for blood tests every 3 months! And oh, they also had the house sprayed!!

Another lady suggested that the awareness should start at the hospitals first! She mentioned about a friend of hers, suspected to be HIV positive (it was false alarm actually), and was isolated in a separate room at the maternity ward. That reminded me of Maria, a client of mine - while warded at the maternity ward, after one of her meals when one of the hospital staff came over to her bed wanted to clear her fork and spoon, the staff didn't dare touch the fork and spoon with her bare hands! How do you think Maria felt then?!

Some of the audience including foreign students.

Anyway, overall it was a good event. Not only did we manage to get to network with other societies, we also managed to share our experiences. We all agreed that more should be done to create awareness amongst the public.

Before the whole thing ended, Dr Sharifah on behalf of PWW handed over a token of appreciation, which I accepted on behalf of Buddies.

The token - this basket was actually made from recycled paper!

While we were having some refreshments prepared by PWW, a few of the PWW members came over to personally ask further about our support services and our experiences.

Hopefully this will be a start to a better networking and cooperation between the different NGOs.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Hospital visits...

I wasn’t on clinic duty this week. But I had arranged for Hamid’s mother to bring him for his appointment on Wednesday through some funds I managed to get for their traveling and I thought it would be best if I could meet up with them personally to enable me to help arrange for some fixed monthly financial assistance for them.

I was also told by SN during my last clinic duty that Kak Som’s appointment would be last Wednesday, and I figured I might as well meet up with her too as I have not had the chance to see or speak to her yet.

So Wednesday, after settling some things at my office, I took about an hour off to go to the hospital.

This is Ipoh, so hey, it didn’t take that long to drive from my office to the hospital. But as usual, getting a parking space at the hospital can be hazardous to your health especially if you have hypertension! (Thank God I don’t…) After a few rounds (and almost at the verge of giving up) I finally managed to get one spot outside the hospital. Had to walk a bit but not a problem for me.

I headed straight to the HIV clinic, wanting to see SN first and to ask her if Hamid and Kak Som came for their appointments. I have never met them before and as such I needed SN to show me which of the many patients were these two.

Before I headed to the doctor’s room to look for SN, I decided to take a peek out front to see if there were any familiar faces around. And whaddaya know, I saw a familiar face. Yah (yes, Yah Ah Ngau) stood up the moment she saw me and headed right towards me. Hmmm… she did look a bit different. When I first knew her she looked like the typical kampong girl. Then when she got infected by the angau bug from Mr Darling, she looked like a kampong girl trying to look like a city girl. Well, when I saw her on Wednesday, she no longer looked odd in her modern dressing. She now looks like a typical city girl. Ah well…

Anyway, no, Mr. Darling was not around, so I didn’t get the chance to see how this supposedly charmer look like. Yah told me that after the appointment she’d be going to KL as the next day (Labour Day) was a holiday. I asked if there was any specific reason for her to go to KL, to which she answered with a sheepish smile, “Tak lah, saja pergi jumpa kawan” and then gave me that “you-know-what-I-mean” look. Uh oh… I wasn’t going to ask for more details; so I excused myself saying I needed to see SN. After all, I needed to go back to my office after that, so I didn’t really have the chance to have a long chat. Darn! I even forgot to ask Yah about her children!!

Off I went to look for SN at room 11 – that’s where I usually find her. But she was not there. I then went to look for her in room 9 – the room where we usually have our counseling sessions; as sometimes SN may be there to explain to the patients about their medication. But SN was not there either – just the pharmacists. Luckily when I asked the pharmacists where SN was, another nurse happened to pass by behind me and told me that SN was in room 12. Apparently there were so many patients that day, they had to use room 12 as well for the HIV cases.

When I got to room 12, SN was explaining to a patient about his medication. She stopped when she saw me as she knew my presence there must be to enquire about any of the HIV patients. I was told that Hamid was outside with his mother and it would not be too difficult for me to find him as he was the only one on a wheelchair. When I asked about Kak Som, SN told me that Kak Som was warded in ward 8A (or at least that was what I heard lah!).

Then I went back out front to look for Hamid and his mother. I saw one guy on a wheelchair and an elderly lady sitting not far. I figured the elderly lady must be his mother but I couldn’t be too sure. So I went to speak to Hamid first and asked for his mother. True enough, it was the elderly lady sitting nearby.

When I introduced myself to Hamid’s mother, calling her makcik, she instantly remembered me as the lady who had called her earlier. She kept referring to herself as Opah no matter how many times I called her makcik. Ah well, Opah it shall be then, even though eventually I found out that she was actually 2 years younger than my own mom (although I have to admit, she does look older).

I asked Opah who else stay with her other than Hamid.

“Dengan Atok lah, tapi Atok dah umur 80 lebih, dah tak larat nak buat apa dah. Ada cucu makcik sorang, tahun ni tingkatan 5.”

So, Opah’s husband is still alive. And she also has a 17 year old grand-daughter staying with her. The grand-daughter is actually Hamid’s daughter. Apparently Hamid was married before and when they got divorced, Opah took care of the daughter.

When I asked Opah about her source of income, she said, “Entahlah, tak tau Opah nak cakap. Kadang-kadang ada, kadang-kadang tak ada.” Atok used to do some kampong work to make a living and now that he is already too weak to work, they no longer have a proper source of income. And with Hamid’s condition, Opah can’t rely on Hamid either to make ends meet. I then asked if Opah had any other children. She seemed reluctant to answer that question, but she did finally say that many of them had passed away.

Opah doesn’t seem to be getting any welfare assistance either although I personally feel both Atok and Opah should qualify for Bantuan Warga Tua as they don’t have any of their children taking care of them. I suppose the welfare department is not aware about of their situation while Opah herself doesn’t know how to get help. My responsibility now is to bring up the matter to the welfare department.

I told Opah I’d try to arrange for some help but at the same time I told her I could not promise her anything as it was not up to me to decide who gets assistance and who doesn’t.

I spent about 15 minutes talking to Opah, after which I headed back to my office. It wasn’t visiting hours yet so I figured I’d come back later to visit Kak Som at the ward.

After my asar prayer, I went back to the hospital. This time, getting a parking space wasn’t too bad. I headed straight to ward 8A, hoping the list of patients would be displayed outside the ward (usually it is) but was disappointed to see the list empty. I went in, looking from bed to bed for Kak Som but couldn’t find her name written at any of the beds. Finally I decided to ask one of the nurses, but since the name I mentioned didn’t sound familiar at all to the nurse, she decided to check her list. Nope, no such name. Even if Kak Som was discharged or transferred to another ward, they would still have her name in their records. Either I wrongly heard SN or SN had mistakenly given me the wrong info.

I tried looking for Kak Som’s name in 8B – still no luck. So no, I still haven’t had the opportunity to see or even speak to Kak Som. I will have to check with SN later.

I guess I am not fated to meet Kak Som yet...