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Moment of indiscretion seals Pumpkin’s fate

Moment of indiscretion seals Pumpkin’s fate


Sydney “Pumpkin” Joseph believes that one of the reasons he is still alive seven years after he contracted HIV is because he disclosed his status to the public.{{more}}

Today, Joseph is on a quest to let other Vincentians who have been diagnosed with HIV know that they can also lead a normal life by taking their anti-retroviral drugs on a daily basis.

“I am taking anti-retroviral (drugs) now for the past seven years without missing a day, without missing any hour, because my life depends on this only thing,” said Joseph to SEARCHLIGHT in an exclusive interview.

Anti-retroviral medication

He disclosed that he takes his medication twice a day: mornings and afternoons, between the hours of 5:30 a.m.-6:00a.m. and between 5:30p.m.and 6:00p.m.

“I don’t know what could come up that could make me forsake my anti-retroviral. When you say anti-retroviral, it is the other part of you you’re talking about. You’re not supposed to miss that for nothing. Any other thing else could wait,” said Joseph, noting that persons who are HIV positive should make taking their anti-retroviral drug first priority.

In May this year, Joseph had a CD4 or T-cell blood test done, and when he received the result on Wednesday, June 16, 2010, the result was 864. This test is normally done to give doctors a look at a person’s immune system. The higher the number, the stronger the person’s immune system

Persons without the HIV infection normally have a CD4 count of 700 to 1000 CD4 cells in a drop of blood the size of a pea. HIV infected people are considered to have “normal” CD4 counts if the number is above 500 in that same size drop of blood.

“I try to encourage adherence. Missing your medication is not an excuse. You compulsory want to die. You wullfully want to die. The doctor done do their part. Your part is to take these tablets on time,” Joseph advised.

A security guard by profession, Joseph stated that he takes his medication with him to work. He has also been a peer communicator with the National AIDS Secretariat (NAS) for the past two years.

“I was a drug user”

“I make sure I walk with my treatment. In case I run into a flood or a storm, my treatment not involved in that. My treatment goes where I go,” said Joseph with a laugh, adding: “It’s the other part of my heart. That is my heartbeat.”

Giving full disclosure of his past lifestyle, Joseph said he peddled drugs and was also a user.

“Before I was a peer communicator I was smoker, a drinker. I was into hard drugs, crack/cocaine, cocaine itself. I was a user and seller for over twenty-four to twenty-five years and alcohol in the mix, marijuana, too,” said Joseph. He said after he was diagnosed with HIV in December 2003, he quit the use of alcohol and hard drugs. He admitted that he still smokes cigarettes occasionally.

Paying a severe price

Joseph believes with each passing day he pays a severe price for one night of intoxication.

Disclosing how he contracted the virus, he said: “I rescued a girl from a man who uses to ill-treat her. I took her to live on my farm at Barrouallie. I took her not in the form of a sex partner, but I took her in the form of somebody who needed care. She had a child at the orphan home in Georgetown, I even took that child, too.

“Three years later…December 2002, I bought up some liquor. The Christmas Day, I decided to stay around and eat and have a drink with them. When it come down to the night, I had some black wine and strong rum and that black wine and strong rum lead to the sexual intercourse, unprotected,” said Joseph.

In August 2003, he discovered that the young woman was HIV positive.

Joseph said he was thrown into a state of shock when he went to receive her at the E.T. Joshua Airport and saw her condition. She was returning from Barbados where she had gone to spend a month’s vacation with relatives.

The young woman, said Joseph, was taken to the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital (MCMH) that same week where she died 11 days later.

“In December 2003, when I got tested and received the results I felt like an astronaut,” said Joseph, noting that his positive result almost blew his mind.

He stressed his grandmother’s teachings to pray to God might have saved his life. Joseph said since the day he was diagnosed as being HIV positive he has never ceased praying.

The hardest thing was breaking the news to my daughter

He told SEARCHLIGHT the hardest thing he had to do after his diagnosis was to break the news to his daughter.

“She was crying at first and I told her it’s not anything I can go and take an operation for. She accepted that,” said Joseph. He, however, noted that she has grown to accept his peer communication work and has become one of his biggest admirers.

Joseph pointed out the bond he shares with his daughter has survived his diagnosis. He said that once he achieved that he could not care what others thought about him.

Disclosure is one of the antidotes for the HIV/AIDS virus

As time went by, Joseph said he told friends and co-workers about his status, and two years ago he took the decision to become an HIV/AIDS peer communicator and has been sensitizing Vincentians about the disease.

Joseph told SEARCHLIGHT that he believes that half the persons who are stressed about having a positive HIV status are that way because they keep their status a secret.

“I get to know that disclosure is one of the antidotes for the virus. Talking about it releases a stigma even from within yourself. Talking about it builds your confidence that even if you see two people talking you wouldn’t study that they talking about you and the HIV,” said Joseph.

“Disclosing is one of the methods that I know can help anybody who is HIV positive…I cope with HIV like normal.”