Remote Central America, 2003:
Sweat ran down my forehead and dripped from the tip of my nose. But the family facing me in the dim light of the tent was decidedly more uncomfortable. “How do I say this?” I wondered to myself. “Lord, help me!” I prayed silently.
I took a deep breath and continued, “Senor, the test shows that you have the HIV virus—the virus that causes AIDS.” I waited for the interpreter to communicate this news. His face barely changed. He knew already. I thought so. His wife turned and studied him. The children huddled into the protection of their mother’s bosom. I turned to her, “Senora, you have it too.”
She burst into tears. Through my own tears I gave her the good news, “Both of the children tested negative. They don’t have it. And they won’t catch it from you.” She hugged them tighter and put her face between their grimy heads, uttering something I couldn’t catch, probably a prayer of thanks.
I turned back to him, “Senor, we have some antibiotics which may help you for a few days or even longer. But you don’t have long to live.” Still he hardly reacted. Maybe he felt too sick to react. Surely he was weak. He had been more or less been carried into this tent clinic in a dingy slum. Slowly he turned and met his wife’s eyes. His gaze strayed to his young children. I went on, “I don’t have any medicine for AIDS. And I don’t know where to get any. I wish there was more than I could do.”
No one moved. He looked at the dirt. She wept silently and smoothed her children’s hair. They stared wide-eyed, frozen. I just sat there. I prayed silently and felt helpless.
“Senora, you could like a long while still. You don’t have any symptoms, and that could last for some time.” I wondered if I should tell her that it was possible that there would be medicine available before she got sick. I didn’t really think it was very likely. I didn’t want her to give her false hope. “You should check in with the government clinic in the city every few months. If they get medicine, then maybe you can get treated.”
I kept praying. I didn’t know what else to do. I asked if I could do anything of if they had any questions. They were too shell-shocked to talk about it. Though there were other patients waiting, it didn’t seem right to get up and leave. We sat silently for a long time.
I wondered what was running through the mother’s head:
“Who will provide for us?”
“Where will get money?”
“How soon will I get sick?”
“Will I even be able to raise these children? Will someone else raise them?”
“Will they be OK?”
After some time, a local pastor and a few others from our team gathered around them in the tent and prayed for them. I wasn’t the only one with tears and sweat intermingled on my shirtfront