Stickman Readers' Submissions March 31st, 2004

My Friend With AIDS

There is a family in Bangkok that I have become quite friendly with over the last few years. There are three sisters who rent two tiny apartments side by side in the city. Usually one of the sisters is away taking care of mother in the home province, so each usually has her own room. One girl works in a bar, which is where I met her. I got used to her meeting me at the airport, and now she takes good care of me when I visit. She does my laundry, cuts my fingernails, pilots me through the city and protects me from scam artists. A few times a year, mother will visit from the home province, and the whole family will make the usual rounds of the temples.

My “girlfriend” is the middle-aged of the three sisters. She has worked in the bars for at least four years, which is when I first met her. Her older sister works in a shop that sells small canvas bags, and she also goes to university part-time. Her younger sister moved to Bangkok about a year ago, and has a son who lives with her mother back in the home province. It is the youngest of the three sisters who has Aids.

He Clinic Bangkok

Besides the fact that she has a son, I also know that there is no husband anymore. I’m not even sure if there ever was. She only found out that she was HIV-positive after she had developed full-blown Aids, which was about 6 months ago. A year ago, she was healthy, and then she started getting sick. She lost a lot of weight, and eventually she had to be hospitalized. It was then that they finally ran the tests that confirmed that she was HIV-positive. Over a six month period, she was transformed from an attractive young woman into a frail old woman. When I went to visit her in the hospital, I barely recognized her. The doctors tried to form a timeline, to determine who had infected her. Because HIV can take awhile to develop into Aids, they determined that she had caught it from her husband/boyfriend (I was never sure what his status was) back in the home province. I’m not sure if he has died, or if has just moved away and hasn't gotten sick yet.

The story gets worse, though. A year ago, when she came to Bangkok, she had the choice of working with the oldest sister in the canvas-bag-shop, or going to work with the other sister in the bar. Of course, she chose the bar, since it looked like an easy way to make money. She worked in the bar for a little less than six months – up until she started getting sick and losing weight. So, going by the timeline that the doctors had figured out for us, she was HIV-positive during the entire time she worked in the bar. I have no reason to doubt the fact that she did not know she was HIV-positive until she went to the hospital. On the contrary, she seems to feel a lot of guilt about working in the bar while she had the virus. She shows no self-pity, but she seems to be more concerned for the men who barfined her over that six month period.

She actually emailed a few of them to tell them the news, but she told me that this was a small number, and she had no way of contacting most of them. She told me that sometimes, the man wouldn't want to use a condom, and that she never thought too much of it at the time. Now she feels guilt that she may have unknowingly passed the virus on to some of them. Think about how many girls are working in the bars, and how many men brag about not using condoms – eventually, it has to catch up with some of them. The idea that just because a girl works in a bar, she automatically gets tested for STDs every month is a myth. The only time she got tested was when she started actually getting sick.

CBD bangkok

I guess that's the main part of the story. You can’t take chances because you can’t tell who has this virus just by looking at them. This is a mistake that can kill you, and however low the risk may seem, eventually, it can catch up with you.

However, there is some good in this story. The other two sisters make enough money (barely) to buy whatever anti-viral drugs that they can afford, and the youngest sister’s health has improved enough that she can live at home and have a fairly normal life. The last time I saw her she seemed happy, although she still looks like the empty shell of her former self. One of the men she contacted by email still visits her when he comes to Thailand. I know him as “The Man From Spain”, since his name apparently can not be pronounced with a Thai mouth. He obviously loves this girl very much, and I think he has many regrets about what has happened to her. He still sends her money, and treats the entire family very well, although his relationship with her is now just a friendly one.

The family has been very supportive too. I’m not just talking about the money, but I’m referring to the way they kept her in the fold. During her stay in the hospital, her sisters visited her at least twice per day to feed her, and take care of her. When the time came for her to come home, they had concerns over their own health, but they trusted the doctor’s assurances that it would be ok as long as they followed some basic hygiene procedures. And as for my girlfriend – she still works in the bar, but now she is adamant about condom usage, and she makes it a point to go get tested for STDs every month. It’s not perfect, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Stickman says:

wonderland clinic

While sad, stories like this are a very important reminder to us.

nana plaza