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In the HIV Medical System

From the series Uncovering a Hidden Need in China, an Adoption Story

Having finally gotten into the medical system and now on their way toward treatment, Beth and her family journeyed further into the shame, ignorance, and difficulties hiding those living with HIV in China.

A Day at the Hospital

Hand in hand every month, my daughter and I would walk across the bustling street to our local hospital for routine testing and receiving of medication, a process that could take over an hour. We’d walk past the smokers in the lobby, and then weave our way down a dark hallway to a side clinic specifically for HIV patients. Without the help of the Elim staff, we would never have survived the language barrier much less the process. Up and down stairs to various reception areas for billing, receiving blood vials, and blood withdrawals until we finally got my daughter’s prescription.

One day, after about a year and a half of living this routine, I stood in line with my daughter when with an innocent face she looked up at me and asked, “Why are there so many men and why do they all wear masks?”

I’d been so caught up in completing the task, keeping my daughter from crying every time they couldn’t find her vein for blood withdrawals, and keeping up with the language that I’d never stopped to look around. As I broadened my field of vision, I saw her in her bright pink coat and pigtails engulfed in a long line of men aged from 20 years old to middle-age, all in black jackets, black pants, and white medical masks. Some appeared healthy looking while others were marked with signs of HIV.

My daughter was the only child.

These were the people with HIV in my city, but it couldn’t have been all of them. Where were the young women? Where were the families? It couldn’t be only men. We were moving deeper underneath the veil.

When a Blood Draw Went Wrong

Standing in the long queue to have blood drawn, we watched the team of nurses, none of whom wore gloves, administer tests one after the other.  Those of us in line looked on as usual, watching each person before us as if they were giving a stage performance. Suddenly the head nurse accidentally pricked herself with a used needle. We all looked wide-eyed at her face as fear and panic overtook her. Frantically she dropped everything and ran from the room leaving the line of patients in shock. Within what felt like seconds, and with hands shaking, she’d registered herself and administered an HIV test.

Her panic rippled throughout all of us, staff and patients, who had seen the incident. A base fear welled up in each of us that day. For the staff, the fear was contracting HIV.  For the patients, the fear was knowing they were the carriers of the feared disease.

I would have hoped that the medical professionals would not have caused such alarm. They should have been practicing proper blood handling guidelines. They should have also known that once HIV infected blood contacts the air the virus dies almost immediately. The amount of blood exchanged from that needle would have been minuscule (certainly not enough to infect), and the nurse who tested herself immediately should have known there would be no tangible results.

That day I saw the struggles and misunderstandings my daughter will face for the rest of her life. My compassion for those living with HIV grew beyond my daughter that day.  I saw the very painful struggle each one faces. The struggle to hide themselves, to even deny themselves care because of the fear surrounding the HIV virus which makes them people to be feared.

Why I Share Our Story

I share our story to encourage you to pray for those living hidden under the shameful HIV veil in China. Society fears them, the education system denies them, the medical system misunderstands them. There is great need for compassion.

Though the World Health Organization continues to fund free anti-retrovirals for those infected with HIV, it is difficult to get into the system, harder to be near a hospital (for monthly visits), and shameful if you are identified.

And then there is the obstacle of day-to-day care. Anti-retroviral pills must be taken every day at the same time without fail. If one starts treatment, but then ceases for a month or even perhaps a week, restarting the treatment won’t work. The HIV virus can mimic and adapt, therefore, making the treatment ineffective. It’s important for a patient to habitually and faithfully remain on medication.  This seems to be the hardest challenge in China, as well as most other countries. The HIV virus could be eradicated and stopped if every person received treatment and strictly adhered to the regiment. Therein lies the battle, so please continue to pray.

Our family has been forever changed by adoption. Not only because we added a child to our family, but because we’ve entered a cause. A cause to fight for life, and to love the unlovable. Those living with HIV/AIDS cannot be forgotten or hidden. In many ways, they are an unreached people group; today’s modern-day lepers. I share our story so that we may be educated about the virus and be moved to love those who struggle to get the care they need to live a healthy and long life.

I desire that my daughter lives a life free from the fear others might have about her because she lives with a virus she has no way of stopping. Today she is healthy. The virus is literally undetectable in her blood due to treatment. I hope this for others and as a family we continue to pray for a cure. One day that may very well come to pass.

If you would like to contact Beth with questions concerning her story, you may reach her at her blog:

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Beth Forshee

Beth Forshee

Beth Forshee studied journalism and public relations at Baylor University in Waco, TX and has been serving in various aspects of ministry to China for over 13 years. Her love for China’s culture and people started on her first short-term trip in 2001. Later Beth and her family served in …View Full Bio

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