Today I went with John M. to visit a young woman who is dying from AIDS. She is the mother of a child in the Heartline orphanage. She is 22 years old. I don't want to use her name in the telling of her story. She tested positive for HIV in 2004, and had remained reasonably healthy on medication since then. The family is receiving medicine through a program at General Hospital in Port au Prince.
Her health declined quickly after she gave birth six months ago to a baby who currently also tests positive for HIV. Often times the early tests for infants show false positives. We're praying that is true in this case, as the thought of another generation of this family carrying this disease - and the thought of an innocent child born with this curse - is almost too much to handle right now. The baby is with the father, who says he has been tested negative for HIV, but no one knows for sure. Hopefully he is not out spreading the disease further.
Her older child currently waiting to be adopted was there today, giving them one last chance to see each other. It was a hard and heart-wrenching thing to watch. A nanny from the orphanage accompanied us - she buried her face in her hands and cried through much of the meeting.
I have been told that just a few months ago she looked like a healthy young woman. Today she looked like a skeleton with big beautiful brown eyes. I have never seen anyone, even the most malnourished child here, with so little muscle left. I sat next to her sponge foam mattress on the cement floor and wondered how she can even still have the strength or energy to move. She talked to us in between labored breaths and tiny unproductive but full-sounding coughs. She didn't say very much, but I was struck by how peaceful she seemed. It is the kind of peace that comes with knowing where you will be after death - the kind that 'surpasses all understanding'. We prayed with her and I wished I knew some Creole hymns to sing.
She is mainly being looked after by an aunt who seems like a wonderful woman with a warm heart - I can't imagine how hard it is for her. She changes the diapers and sheets and does the cooking for her niece as she watches her die.
I don't think I could ever bring myself to take pictures in a setting like that, but there was one image that I tried to capture in my head to remember the experience. I was standing outside looking in on the small dark bare cement room at her tiny frame wrapped in a blanket. A family member was rubbing lotion on her outstretched hand. It was beautiful and macabre all at once.
The conditions can be awful and frustrating here - even without a disease like this. I've never seen firsthand how devastating AIDS can be. I don't think I can put it into words.
After we left John and I wondered when a person would lose hope in that situation. In her case, she has accepted Christ's love and salvation, so I believe the only thing left for her is hope. Hope for something far better and far beyond this mess down here.