Walking in the narrow streets of the centre of Palermo, looking for some shadow and solace from the scorching heat of the end of July, I couldn’t stop thinking about D. The last time I saw her was in Palermo, on my way back to London from Alicudi.
I met D the first time when she came to register at PW. She didn’t speak any English and I translated for her. She was only 20 years old and she just found out that she had HIV while she was pregnant. Her baby was only a few weeks old.
During the next couple of years I spent a lot of time supporting D. It took her a long time to tell her partner that she was HIV positive, even if she believed he had infected her. Once she came to PW with a black eye, and bruises on her arms. She had told him, he had beaten her up. They kept being together even if he refused to go for testing. D didn’t think it would have been possible for her to get another boyfriend now that she was positive.
Sometimes I would go with D to hospital to help her not only with the translation, but explaining the medical stuff. When she got pregnant again, I went with her for an ultrasound. It was snowing heavily, it was a January evening, and they kept us waiting until late. We had to wait for a doctor to explain the results of the tests. The doctor told us that next to her baby, in the womb, they had found a big lump. More tests were needed.
In spite of her health problems and before having any more exams D went to Palermo to see her mother and her 4 years old daughter she had left there. Her mum still knew nothing about her diagnosis. While in Palermo she had a miscarriage and had to go into hospital. In the hospital she was put in a ‘isolation room’ and all doctors and nurses who came in were wearing masks and gloves, as if she was an highly infectious threat. I really don’t know how she explained that to her family. She was discharged after a few days, in spite of still bleeding heavily, with remarks on not really wanting to treat people like her.
When D came back to London she was diagnosed with late stage cervical cancer. She was given only a few months to live. She decided to go back to Palermo and I encouraged her to tell her mum about her HIV. D called me a few days later to tell me her mum had thrown her out of their home, calling her a whore. She was staying with another relative.
Somehow D patched things up with her family and the last time I saw her it was in a hospital in Palermo. Even if I was ‘on holiday’ I felt I had to say goodbye to D. The taxi driver took me to the hospital on my way to the airport. Her mum and daughter and other brothers and sisters were there. D had lost a lot of weight but there still was a glow on her face. She was upset I didn’t warn her I was coming. She wanted to give me a present, some Sicilian delicacy. She always gave me, and other people who came to PW little presents, that’s how she was.
D died a few days later. Her daughter keeps living with her mum in Sicily and the boy is somewhere in London with his dad, if he is still alive….Even when D was really sick, he still refused going for the test. Both children are HIV negative
When I walked the streets of Palermo a few weeks ago I couldn’t help thinking about D. Her short life could have been so much better. Nobody can deny that dying at such a young age is a tragedy beyond words. However would have she suffered so much if she had just died of cervical cancer instead of AIDS?