It’s 7:00 am on December 1st, too early to be up and out of the house, too early to be in one of the places I like the least in this world. The white walls, the intense illumination reflected in the shining floors, the penetrating and constant cold, but above all the smell, that disinfectant and latex smell so typical of hospitals and clinics. I would definitely prefer to be in the comfort of my bed, or anywhere else, and not in this place, fulfilling my family duty.
I arrived here early bringing improvised sandwiches to some relatives for breakfast. One of my cousins, Luz, who is hospitalized, apparently something serious, as expected, many relatives have arrived to accompany Cristina, Luz’s older sister, who oversees the situation. The truth is that they aren’t entirely for supporting, rather it’s a matter of curiosity: to know what has happened to Luz and how she became so critical overnight, to the point of almost dying. Yes, I know that’s what the family is really doing here, finding out some new gossip to entertains themselves.
But I really don’t care, I just came because my mother practically forced me to do it. My cousins are from a town far away from this city, they have nowhere to stay or resources to pay for food as well as clinic expenses, so the family duty dictates to help. "How long will I have to keep doing this?" is the ruminant thought, as I nod, respond with short phrases and fake a faint smile to the relatives who speak to me.
"They are all here, they are like vultures looking for carrion. No, no. What the hell is wrong with me? No carrion, Luz can’t die, I can’t even think about it. Besides, not everyone here are vultures, my cousin Ana is there. I didn’t see her since I was a girl and here she is supporting, she has brought breakfast for all of us who stayed at the clinic last night; She looks like a good girl, she gave me a smile of encouragement this morning and the best thing is that she isn’t asking annoying questions".
The voice of the Doctor interrupts my train of my thoughts, he calls me out to tell me about my sister’s condition, so I get up quickly from the chair in the waiting room that has served as a bed for me the last few nights, trying to keep the doctor away from the intrusive ears of my relatives, they should not listen.
I have already told the Doctor; he can’t reveal the truth about Luz’ diagnosis or talk about it with anyone other than me. But they are meddlesome, another of my cousin and Aunt Cecilia came to know what the doctor has to say, so I beckon to the doctor to remind him to maintain discretion and he seems to get it.
The Doctor begins to give his part, he is a good-looking man, in his forties, he has been very kind since we arrived, however, his eyes are focused on me and what I see in it makes me want to run away, but I can’t, my body has been frozen. His voice seems to come to me from a distant place piercing me like hundreds of daggers stabbing my chest, and there I am, motionless without being able to elude it, it only remains for me to hear him utter the dreaded words:
— "Luz’s situation isn’t improving, under her condition there isn’t much more we can do. The time has come to prepare for the inevitable" —
..."The inevitable" …. "The inevitable"... and so suddenly and just like that, the world around me ceased to exist.
— "How is that possible that nothing else can be done? What condition is he talking about? What’s wrong with Luz?" —
I don’t stop railing the doctor in search of answers, but he only looks at Cristina and then he replies that maybe we should talk to her and he leaves. "As if it hasn’t been the last 48 hours trying to find out what has happened to Luz, but Cristina only tells me that it’s tuberculosis, Tuberculosis! Yes, of course, nobody gets tuberculosis, and then she dies, just like that, here’s something else and I’ll find out!"
I look at Cristina ready to interrogate her without respite, but then I notice that she has remained static and pale, it seems that the words of the doctor have left her in shock. I take a deep breath and decide to delay the interrogation. I approach her and surround her with my arms, she is frozen, I rub her back with my hands and immediately she begins to cry, it’s a convulsive and unbridled weeping accompanied by painful moans that are like scratches that threaten to break her in two, or me or whoever listens to her. Between moans and tears, I hear her babbling, where it’s not necessary to ask what she means. The feeling is clear and overflowing: "No please, Luz no."
I hug her even harder, I don’t know what to tell her, Luz is such a young girl, she barely turned 30, and for Cristina she is almost a daughter, she being the oldest, helped raise her. Just imagine what this must mean to her, and to her mother, my sister, my God! This is a tragedy ... I don’t know at what point, but I notice a salty taste in my mouth and I realize that it’s my own tears that coming from my eyes. Yes, I’m crying with Cristina and the rest of the present family surrounds us contemplating the scene with glazed and silent eyes.
Just when I was going home I heard her cry, my skin bristled immediately and I knew it, Cristina received bad news. I thought about going home anyway, but for some unknown reason I couldn’t, my body didn’t obey me and without knowing how I was already walking towards the origin of the moans and the shuddering cry. I didn’t need to see the scene closely to feel that I was totally out of place and that at the time I could not walk away.
It took almost an hour for Cristina to calm down enough to sit with her eyes empty in the waiting room, while the rest of the family passed the news to everyone until they all knew. They didn’t stop talking through their phones, the whispering voices that carried the message of imminent death.
I lean against a column and look at Cristina, the pale skin and the rictus of a person who seems to have lost the soul, the sensation of being contemplating an empty container, a dark and infinite abyss, I get chills. I change my gaze and I notice that Aunt Cecilia approaches me. She is a corpulent, hateful woman, always making comments as false as the black color of her tinted hair. I try to avoid her, but it’s late and she speaks to me:
Cecilia (Ce): I can’t believe that our Luz is going to die, so young, with so much life ahead.
Ana (A): Yes, it’s very sad.
Ce: Do you remember how she always cheered up family reunions?
A: No aunt, I didn’t know her very much.
Ce: Oh, well, you don’t go to meetings much. You took that from your father. But Luz really was a very good girl, although perhaps too much of a party girl, she liked to go out for drinks often, that’s why her relationships never lasted. But she was a very good niece.
A: I can see it.
Ce: I don’t just see it, that’s the way it is. What makes it even worse is that everything has been so sudden, I can’t understand how this happened.
A: Aunt, she hasn’t died yet and you already heard it from the doctor, she got tuberculosis and got complicated.
Ce: I don’t believe it, the doctor said there was a serious condition, but Cristina doesn’t want to tell us what it is.
A: Maybe Luz didn’t want them to know. That should be respected, right?
Ce: Something she didn’t want us to know? and why wouldn’t she want that?
A: I don’t know aunt; I don’t know her too much but maybe she didn’t want to worry anyone.
Ce: No, I don’t think it was that. Cristina should tell us.
A: Leave Cristina alone, aunt. Luz is going to die. Isn’t her death what we should be worried about?
And tired, but dissembling everything that I could humanly I left the room. My aunt does nothing else but to annoy, probably Luz didn’t want her diagnosis to be known in order to not be the topic of newest gossip in the family... And it was there, just at that moment, that I knew what was Luz’s condition about. "Tuberculosis, complications, acute deterioration and secrecy, everything fits". I don’t blame her for keeping it hidden, in this family there is too much ignorance.
I put on the necessary clothing to enter the intensive care unit room where Luz is. The gown, the cap, the mask, the gloves ... only add a more unreal tone to this situation. It’s as if I saw myself through a distorted mirror, which shows a twisted dimension of my life. Then, I enter the room, I see you there lying on that stretcher, swollen, connected to so many cables and tubes, transfigured, you don’t seem to be my Luz, but you are, this is the cruel and horrible reality.
I try not to cry, this isn’t how I want to say goodbye to you, this isn’t how I intend to tell you that it’s okay, that you can finally rest, little sister, although the truth is that I’m dying inside when I imagine your absence. I approach the stretcher; the sound of the machines that monitor how you fade is similar to the ticking of a clock that makes fun of my pain. I hold your hand against mine, unable to feel your skin because of the gloves and my mind wanders to the memory of that day, sitting on the bed in my room, we had that conversation taken by the hand.
Cristina (C): Well, tell me then what you wanted to talk to me about, is there a new guy interested in you? You already have more than a year without going out with anyone or, rather, you have not told me about anyone, so talk, tell me who is he. By the way where did you catch that terrible flu?
Luz (L): No sister, it’s not about anyone. It’s not about guys what I wanted... what I need to talk to you about.
C: Then what is it?
At that moment you dodged my gaze, as you always did when you hesitated to tell me something, but this time I could see on your face that something was wrong and I felt a twinge in my chest.
C: Why do you have that look? You’re scaring me, Luz.
And then as if you just found the necessary courage while looking at the floor, your eyes fixed on me with determination, and then you spoke.
L: First of all, this I’m going to tell you, you can’t tell anyone else. You have to promise me that you will not tell anyone Cristi.
C: Luz, what’s going on? Tell me what is happening at once!
L: First promise me!
C: I promise, okay, I promise, now please tell me what’s happening.
Your face softened, doubt returned to you, I could perceive it. You closed your brown eyes and with a slow voice you were spinning the words that brought us to this moment.
L: I don’t know how to tell you ... Cristina ... Do you remember when I was going to remove my wisdom teeth last year but then let that go?
C: Yes, I remember, what’s wrong with that?
L: Well, to get rid of my wisdom teeth, they asked me to do a series of tests, including blood tests, laboratory tests ... Things like blood type, clotting time, VDRL and HIV. So I went and I did the exams. What I didn’t think was that the results would show me that I was ... that I am HIV positive Cristi.
C: HIV positive? What does that mean?
L: That means I have HIV, sister. A year ago I knew that I have HIV. No, please don’t let me go, don’t feel disgust of me.
I don’t know where those words came from, disgust? I was not even aware of having let go of your hand and got out of bed, I was just terrified of what you were saying. But seeing your face dismayed and hurt, I took a deep breath and returned to the position in which I was.
C: I would never feel disgust of you Luz, you are my blood, my sister but I don’t understand, how? why? what does this mean?
You squeezed my hand, and with a sad smile on your lips, you answered my questions.
L: How I got the disease? Oh my sister, I never took care enough seriously about having sex with my boyfriends, I didn’t think that this could happen to me, but obviously the irony of life proved me wrong, it just happened to me. The reason, I don’t know, and asking myself how it happened, and it has only made me fall into a hollow depression and I can’t hold it anymore. As for what it means, well, HIV is a difficult condition Cristi, many doctors told me that I could live with it for many years if I took the medications and made changes in my lifestyle, but the reality is different. It’s difficult to access antiretrovirals here in Venezuela, I couldn’t continue the treatment and then ... the whole immune system begins to collapse, you understand? My body has turned against me. The cough that I have had lately, I fear that it will get worse, I am afraid that it will kill me, I am afraid that AIDS is a death sentence, and now my name is already in the list.
C: No, no, no! You’re not going to die; you’re not going anywhere. I’ll take you to the doctor, and you’ll get better. Are you listening to me? You will not die! Luz, my Luz, my beloved sister, why didn’t you tell me this before?
L: I didn’t want you or mom to be worried about me, but above all I didn’t want others’ comments to make me think badly of myself. Yes, I went to many parties and drank alcohol to have fun, but that doesn’t make me a whore or a bad person. I never hurt anyone. It’s sad, but most of people always think that people with HIV already have AIDS, that they are promiscuous, homosexual or both, and that is so false, they don’t really know anything and only attack with their poisonous tongues. I didn’t want everyone to start talking about me like that.
Please Cristi, I’m asking you, if I’m sick, if I fall in bed, if I die ... please don’t tell them it was AIDS, please don’t tell them. Promise me sister, promise me.
... I promised it, and I’m fulfilling it, little sister, I’ll keep it. You can leave my Luz in peace, I’ll take care of your memory forever.
Luz died that December 1st at 11:58 p.m. The death certificate reflected respiratory failure as the cause. Cristina kept herself up in a way that didn’t explain how she did it, and of course, she never said anything about the condition of Luz, which I fear was HIV. Like me, inevitably other members of the family began to suspect that this was her serious condition, the dry wood that had served as sustenance for the fire that consumed her.
But apparently, my family doesn’t really know what HIV is about and its difference from AIDS. I listen to how they whisper to each other precautions about whether or not to approach the urn at the funeral, about whether Luz was very prone to relationships with strangers, or if it was an ex-boyfriend who made her catch the disease... Ignorance and hypocrisy, frankly I only feel repulsion from them.
I have never dared to talk about this with Cristina, and I think I’ll never do it, I don’t think I’ll see her again after this. Something has been surprising to me, despite all the gossip on the issue, nobody seems to have any intention of telling Cristina, or confirming it with her. I guess it’s their way of showing respect.
I really believe that Luz died of a respiratory failure due to the tuberculosis that led her because of AIDS ... I don’t know, I can’t tell... but I do know with certainty one thing: it was ignorance that placed the nails on her coffin.
Source of images in order of appearance:
- "Cause of death", adaptation made by me from the image under Creative Commons CCO de Pixabay
- "Waiting for news", adaptation made by me from the image under Creative Commons CCO de Pixabay
- "Breaking", adaptation made by me from the image under Creative Commons CCO de Pixabay
- "Whispers", adaptation made by me from the image under Creative Commons CCO de Pixabay
- The separators were created by me in Power Point 2016
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