Protective Measures

I am 31 years old, divorced, with no kids.
I am the oldest of three; I have two younger brothers.
I got married in 1998.
My husband was Saudi.
I got divorced in 2003.

I got married again in 2003 to an Egyptian.
We had loved each other for a long time.
I got divorced a year and a half later.

I found out about my illness by accident.
I was pregnant with twins, one of them grew out of the womb
There was an explosion in my abdomen and I suffered internal bleeding in 2004.
I was admitted to the French Qasr el-Aini hospital.
I was in a terrible state.
Beyond exhausted.
My blood pressure was really low, and so was my hemoglobin count.
I don’t know why they had tested me for something like that.
They didn’t tell me, they just told my husband.
My husband told me about a month and a half later.

At the hospital, they took three blood samples.
They kept me 10 days without telling why they were keeping me.
They asked me a lot of questions like, “Did your husband ever travel to the Gulf?
Did you ever get a blood transfer before?
Did your husband ever travel to Iraq?”

I hadn’t said that I was married before
Because my ex-husband had a lot of friends at the hospital, and I didn’t want them to know.
I had an operation before with the speculum, and the twin that was in the womb was still there and alive.
Two days before I got out, a doctor came and asked me a lot of questions.
She scared me and made me doubt myself, asking questions like,
“Did you ever get a blood transfer before?”
I can’t exactly remember the questions because I was very agitated.
She made me reach a point where I was banging the walls, and I left her in the room, and went to the reception.
I insisted on not staying in the hospital any longer.

The truth is, her words made me start doubting my case.
The doctor in the Qasr el-Aini refreshed my memory.
I thought maybe she’s right.
Because in 2000, I was in Dubai with my first husband to get the residency.
They, too, tested me several times.
In the end they took me to a representative from the Ministry of Health there,
He kept asking me, “Do you know why you’re here?
“I have SLE,” I replied.
“You have AIDS,” he said.
I asked him where I could have contracted it from.
He gave me a look and said that I could have gotten it from anyone I slept with.
I shouted and called for my husband
And told the employee,“I am a married woman, not a bad one.”
If she has it, then do I have it too?” my husband asked them.
They wanted to arrest me in the United Emirates,
And hold me in the outpost until they deported me.
But my husband stopped them, he didn’t allow it to happen,
and we left the country.
He told me to go back to Egypt, to get tested so I could be sure.

When I returned to Egypt I got a complete checkup.
I didn’t ask for the HIV tests specifically.
I thought that they would be included in the general tests.
They told me that I didn’t have anything.
My husband too went to Saudi, and told me that he got tested himself.
And that he was negative.
Then I had to also be safe.
He also took me to the American Hospital in Beirut.
They tested me.
He told me that the doctors told him that I don’t have anything but SLE.
And up until now, I doubted that my first husband had AIDS.
I thought that perhaps it was me.
One time I got tests done for pulmonary edema,
and I took a local anesthetic.
The devices weren’t sterilised.
I also think that maybe I got a blood transfer long ago.

I got out of the French Hospital without knowing anything.
Later, my husband took me to get other tests somewhere else.
In this period our relationship didn’t change. He even slept with me.
After around a month and a half, he said he wanted to have a quiet talk with me.
He took me in his arms.
“I want to tell you something,
I’m just not sure how to say it,” he said.
He paused and then said,“Noha, you have AIDS.”
“And you?”
He said he didn’t have it.
“Fine,” I said, “What am I going to do?”

Of course I had my doubts after what happened at the hospital.
I already kind of expected the news.
But even though I responded to my husband so calmly,
I cried a lot afterwards.
“Thank God, you’re okay,” I said.
“But what will we do about the fetus?”
We didn’t have any information
And we had no idea what to do.

When I used to take the metro during my university days,
There was a sign about an AIDS hotline.
I still remember the number.
At the beginning, I was scared to call,
because maybe they would’ve taken me and put me in jail.
But then I found the courage.
I needed information.

I told the doctor on the phone.
He told me that the SLE is what was testing positive,
And not the HIV.
He wasn’t of much help.
So I called again and asked him where to go.
He gave a doctor’s office number.

From here things started getting clearer.
We got tested.
He called us and we went to see him.
“How did you get it?” he asked me.
“I was married to a Saudi” I told him.
We talked a lot, and he calmed me down.
He was really good to us
But I also didn’t understand anything about the disease.
And we had to make a decision regarding the baby.

By then it was April and the problem was that.
I was in the late stages of pregnancy, and no one would have agreed to abort the baby.
My husband thought that it wouldn’t be right to bring a sick baby into the world.
I got the abortion pill. I was in the second trimester.
But God is merciful.
I found out later that the baby was dead before I aborted him.

I went to the hospital, and this is when the tragedy began.
There were labor pains and a couple of blood drops.
The baby was dead, but the placenta didn’t come out.
My husband told them that I’m HIV positive
I was left on the bed for seven hours, and they said we’ll take you to the operation room,
But they didn’t.
The doctor came later and told me, “There is no need for you to get an operation.
I’ll just pull it out with my hands.”

I kept bleeding for three months.
My health deteriorated, and I went to see a lot of doctors.
But the bleeding didn’t stop.
I would call the doctor, and he would send us to other doctors,
Who knew about my case and my HIV.
It wasn’t until June that the bleeding stopped.

We went to see a doctor, the first doctor I saw—the nice one—
Referred me to him.
He asked me for tests and stuff, and I was really exhausted.
The hemoglobin count was around five grams.
He said that I needed a blood transfer immediately.
When I went to the French Hospital, I told them that I have HIV and needed a blood transfer.
I was practically kicked out.
I had gone to the hospital in a wheelchair, because I was so exhausted.
And when we got to the reception, I told them what I had.
They put me in a room and left me for almost two hours.
I didn’t know what I was waiting for.
It turned out that my husband was negotiating with them the whole time.
The person in charge refused to let me in.
Because I am “symbiotic”, and there is only one place for us, the Abaseyya Hospital.

“Buy blood from the vaccination center and I’ll make the transfer myself here,” The doctor also told us.
We got the blood and went
I was given a room, an impossibly terrible room.
Room 3 for AIDS isolation.
The mattresses were rotting and very dirty.
That day there was only me.
I cried, and I refused to continue.
Why were they treating me this way just because I had this disease?
And why did I have to accept these terrible conditions?
Anyways, my husband convinced me and stayed for the transfer, then left.

I hated the idea of going to the hospital again, and we made a home hospital.
We got a doctor and a nurse, but this time we didn’t say what I had.
I tried not to get cut as much as possible.
And I always made the nurse wear gloves.
I wasn’t getting better, and I also started throwing up.
I was really sick.
I wasn’t able to walk.
I only got better when I started taking the treatment in August 2004.
I started first with Combivir until April 2005, then I was put on another treatment.

We had a case of someone who became therapy-resistant.
We got him the treatment from abroad.
But we weren’t able to give it to him
Firstly, because we couldn’t ensure continuity, and we didn’t know how to give it to him.
And there was no doctor who could tell us how we could switch from the first line to the second.
And what the side effects or allergies or anything.
We took the treatment from the ministry,
but there was also no one to follow up with to see if we developed allergies or side effects.
We also had someone who had an allergy from the Combivir.
It broke down his blood cells.
He was financially well-off, so he got a different treatment at his own expense that cost 25k Egyptian pounds.
And we still couldn’t find him a doctor to follow up with his case, and we were lost.

I had no information about the disease before.
I only knew that something called HIV existed.
What is it exactly? I didn’t know.
Even those on the hotline in the beginning didn’t have sufficient information.

I didn’t tell anyone from my family about my case.
I mean what will I gain by telling them?
My father is an old man.
Imagine if he found out that his daughter has something like that. He’d die!
There are also the family children whom I love so dearly.
They really are attached to me.
If any mother took their child away from me, I might die from such a thing.

I started the treatment in August 2004 and got divorced in the same month.
I stayed at home, very sick and unable to go out, and I didn’t speak to anyone.
I called the doctor, who told me that there was a party at the Azhar Park for people with HIV.
He told me that I must go.

I remember that day clearly because it changed my life.
The doctor introduced me to people, a big group, and told me to talk to them.
Women and youth, who gathered around me and asked me, “Do you have AIDS?”
I paused a little and spaced out.
“Don’t worry,” they told me, “We all have it too.”
I started talking and crying, and with them I felt that I wasn’t alone in the world.
That it wasn't just me who had AIDS.

The gatherings in the beginning were just for men.
There were no women.
And then I asked to attend, and the women encouraged me.
We broke the barrier, and the women started attending with the men.
I am scared of sickness, but not of death. Death is God’s will.
I get scared when I get a flu, because I don’t want to have to go to a hospital like the one I went to before.
And even if I do go, I won’t find someone to treat me.
I hear about disasters when I visit people.
People die and no one asks about them.

For instance, there was one time when someone got sick and had diarrhea.
She was admitted into the hospital.
The free healthcare section was very dirty.
And they only had one room available, and they didn’t do anything to help her.
What’s the difference then? She could have just stayed at home.
We called the doctor, who said that we must inject her with solutions.
We went to the doctor at the hospital, who shouted at us,
and said, “No one teaches me how to do my job.”
The next day they let her go, even though she still had diarrhea.
The doctor referred us to Imbaba Hospital.
The treatment was better there.

We don’t have healthcare.
There aren’t any hospitals I can get into.
I have lived my entire life used to a certain standard.
And now that I have HIV, I get thrown into a hospital like this one?
Why aren’t all hospitals available?
Why can’t I tell doctors that I have HIV and be treated?

We need new lines of treatment, and doctors who understand them.
I sometimes feel like we’re treated like a commodity.
Everyone talks about us, but who listens to our needs?
I need to not feel scared and to be able to tell people what I have and not hide it.
I wish I could help anyone who is “symbiotic” and in need of money.
A lot of their situations are terrible.
I want to start projects for them.
There are people who don’t have anything.
I also want to raise awareness, especially about how a woman could protect herself.

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