Today, pre-operative HIV testing in our hospital identified the first positive patient in my nearly 2 years of working here. We have debated this issue many times - is it ethical to conduct this test in the first place. And is it right to charge the patient for it since the result does not affect the medical management of the patient (except for laparoscopic operations which cannot be done as we do not have the facilities to sterilise the telescopes). Especially as Meghalaya is one of the states with the lowest HIV prevalence in the country. Till June 2009, only 234 patients have tested positive for the virus since it was first discovered in 1999 (NACO data). Being a rather closed community has certainly had its benefits.
So it is really unusual to find a patient who carries the virus. So unusual in fact, that it attracts the attention of all and sundry. Having trained in a hospital where HIV is quite commonly seen and talked about, I was surprised at the reactions that I saw, even from doctors. Widened eyes, curiosity about the history, even the indecency to find out which was the patient, so that they could go and see what he looked like. And finally, the worst cut of all - when I went to the ward in the night to see him post-op, he had been segregated by the sister in charge and I was powerless to change that as the concerned sister had gone home and was not contactable!! (Hopefully, that will change tomorrow after the full venting of my fury......).
Our true colours as humans need only the slightest opportunity to come raging forth to the surface from the depths where we try to hide them. The malice, smarminess, unkindness and downright indecency that were on display today are hidden away somewhere inside ready to burst out. Our only hope is to think on the good, pure and holy things (Phil 4:8) and pray they will be pushed out in due course.
In the meantime, I think of the poor (literally) man to whom I had to break the news today. About how his life changes. About how he now lives with not just a disease, but also the stigma of it. About his wife, who did not want him to have the operation in the first place. About how this deadly disease has the power not just over a person's health, but also his moral standing. Rightly or wrongly. And finally, about how my own true colours were exposed today. For in discussion with a colleague about his disease and our treatment plan, I said, 'After all, he is a driver.....' As those hateful words left my mouth, I knew I had sinned. I had condemned him in my mind without even giving him a chance to explain. I had joined the long line of accusers who for some reason believed we were better than him. I had judged him to be a victim of his own mistakes and assumed God's punishment.
How treacherous is our mind and our heart. In the midst of talk and thought of love and self-righteous indignation at the way he was being treated by others, I had become one of the biggest culprits. A true Pharisee. Would that my true colours were love, joy, peace and the other fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) and not the fruits of my own sinful spirit. There is a long way to go, but I pray with longing for that day.