AIDS has ravaged Zambia in a very bad way and everyone has felt its effects. There was a slogan which went something like this in the 90s, “You are affected by HIV if you are not infected.” It is true. We have buried too many people, we have too many double orphans, we have too many people widowed and too many parents who have lost their children. I sometimes think that HIV is the devil incarnate.
I had a friend who had full blown AIDS, but was fortunate that it was managed well managed through a drug cocktail. I commend it in that it gives free Anti-Retroviral (ARV) drugs to patients with HIV and this has helped save countless lives. My friend did not want to be seen on the “AIDS queue” in case someone she knew saw her and spread a rumor around. Instead she got a prescription from her private doctor and bought drugs enough for three months each time.
My friend had a clever way of getting her drugs – I was actually the main player in her plan. She would tell me that she was running low on her drugs and she needed to buy more. This was her way of telling me that I had to buy the medicine for her. She would not be seen dead going to buy her own medicine. I would have to go to the pharmacy and do so for her. The pharmacists would pack the medication in their storeroom and give it to you away from other customers’ prying eye. Also, they would give me instructions in a very low voice so that others would not hear. I really appreciated that. One female pharmacist got to know me and whenever I walked in, she would ask me to wait for her to attend to me even though the other pharmacists were free. I think she wanted my medication to be a secret that only she knew. I appreciated that as well.
However, there was one downside to me being my friend’s ‘medication buyer’. I went to the chemist one day and the female pharmacist took me to the side, held my wrists, looked directly into my eyes and said that not all was lost. She said there was hope for me because the medicine works if I took it religiously. I told her that the drugs were not mine, but she pointedly looked at my wrists which are very skinny (people have always said I am skinny). She said she could also tell me what food supplements to take so that I put on weight. My denying that I had HIV fell on her deaf ears and she insisted that I should get on the supplements and put on weight.
In the meantime, my friend was relaxing in my car looking as if she was the HIV-less one and I was with the one with HIV. My friend laughed when I related this story to her and said I had to put on weight ASAP just like she had with the ARVs.
My conversation with the pharmacist was uncomfortable, but I was happy that my friend was as healthy as could be. Ah, the price we pay for the sake of friendships.