IASONEVOICE: THEN AND NOW SERIES
RICKY TREURNICHT, 68
Diagnosed with HIV at age 46
Country of residence: South Africa
Occupation: Candle maker
Take us back to when you first learned you were living with HIV. What did it mean back then and what does it mean today?
It meant terror, panic, fear, anger, loss and great sadness. I raged and cried and prepared to die. I felt that I had become an outcast, an untouchable, and was never going to be part of society anymore. I felt the fear of dying, of how I was going to die, waiting for it to happen, of losing friends. I felt ashamed and my whole personality changed. Since the first doctor I went to told me she could not do anything for me, I started taking every kind of pill I could find and went to dozens of healers, but not one actually helped. I lost my business, retreated to a small town, lost interest in everything, and gave away all my precious things.
But as time went on, I began talking about my diagnosis, and after about three or four months, I found a doctor who was an absolute angel. It was when I was very ill that my doctor referred me to a clinical trial, and that was my new beginning.
Have you ever encountered any HIV-related stigma? Has this changed over the years?
To my surprise, my friends did not desert me. In fact, I made many new and wonderful friends. I met people from all walks of life, all trying to help and give love and advice. A good friend asked me to speak to the children in his school one day and because of that, I found myself again and started speaking to the world. I was probably the first person who spoke publicly about their HIV status in my area, and then I spent years doing it: newspaper interviews, documentaries, articles in magazines, speeches to schools and big companies. By the time I arrived in my small town, everyone there already knew me and, to my surprise, there were no negative attitudes or judgements towards me, as far as I know. Of course there has been discrimination, and I have been aware of it, but there is nothing that someone can say that hurts me anymore.
Looking back, what has been the one key lesson that living with HIV has taught you?
I have been living with HIV for 22 years, and it has changed my life in many ways. I think it has made me more compassionate and kinder, it has given me greater awareness, and I really love who I am now. I live my life as if every day is my last.
What role does HIV play in your daily life?
I have a lot of pain in my body most of the time, caused by peripheral neuropathy, arthritis, sore legs, headaches and other symptoms. But I work seven days a week and have to keep myself alive and afloat, and so try to ignore the pains. I am just focusing on staying alive, living for the moment and doing the best I can.