Welcome to the Lhak-Sam

Chapter one: Positive voices
Part IV: For people I was dead

For people I was dead

How does it feel when people are reluctant to stand next to you or sit on the same chair used by you a minute before? Ask 42 year old Pema Dorji and he would explain. In 2001 Pema's first wife was expecting their second child. There was no Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) tests in Bhutan in 2001. The test came in force in 2006 when the Ministry of Health issued national guidelines for PMTCT and paediatric treatment, which were included in the HIV care and treatment guidelines. Pema and his wife went for routine blood tests and were tested HIV positive. Without any pre or post-test counselling, the health officer coldly told the couple, "You can survive for ten years if you take precautions."

The couple was obviously shaken and decided to keep it a secret. But one evening, the wife, in an inebriated state, shared their secret with everyone sitting in the bar at that time. Within no time the news spread. The wife was the first one to desert Pema.

"My sisters told my father that an HIV patient should not be kept at home as he might infect others. My father threw me out. I went to live in my ancestral home in another district. But one day, when I came back from office, I saw my stuff thrown outside the house. I was completely broken. I thought that even though I was not dead, I was being treated like one. Even the doctors would wear gloves and masks before touching me, even if I went to them complaining of chest pain."

The situation in office was not very encouraging either. No one would sit on the chair used by Pema. His colleagues tried to maintain a physical distance from him. He was aloof and alone. No family. No friends. He tried getting some support from Ministry of Health but efforts were in vain.

Death was the only alternative Pema could think of to end his miseries and he bought some rat poison. "The poison did not work, may be my time hadn't come. I decided to attempt again by hanging myself from the fan. Before executing my idea, I decided to talk one last time to the health officer who had told me my status and changed my life."

Pema called the health officer in the middle of the night and told him that he felt miserable as there was no support or no help in sight and life seemed useless. The health officer asked Pema to hold his idea and think about it for just two days.

Those two days were enough to give Pema an insight. He realized that things would not change if he stayed in the district he was in and kept brooding. He confided in his boss about his status and the effect it was having on him, and sought a transfer to the capital.

"When leaving the village I also left behind all the frustration and stigma I was carrying. I told myself that it is only my body that has got infected, not my brain or my heart. I decided to start a new life."

Chapter 1 stories
The joke .. | Her past made .. | Wish there .. | Ignorance is bliss | Positive makes.. | The jail rock | Do negative pe..
Chapter 2 | Chapter 3