Thursday, December 2, 2004

The Itch of Prejudice

Since it was World AIDS Day yesterday, I thought I'd share my little AIDS story. Oh, and in case you're wondering, I am not HIV positive or anything like that. My story is a personal encounter with a HIV positive person. Or something like that.

The year was 1994. It was the time when the world still didn't know much about AIDS. Then again, that could have been just me. Still, despite being fairly ignorant of the disease I knew the basics - you could get AIDS from sexual intercourse or blood transfusion but you won't get from touching. So there!

One day, a scruffy scrawny 30-something guy came up to the office. Being the only male in the office at the time, I attended to him. He spoke good English, "Sir, I'm dying." Whoa! I was flummoxed. It's not everyday that you encounter such a greeting. And so I stood there, my mouth gaping wide as he stood there... erm... dying. "I'm HIV positive," he went on.

I invited him in to listen to his story. And boy, this boy was prepared. He took out letters and documents certifying his condition. He had medical reports, and letters from his doctors and a sad, tragic story. The poor guy had caught the disease in an unfortunate event of donating blood! What could be more sad than that? At the end of his sorry story, I was so overwhelmed that I gave him 50-bucks to help ease his sorrow. Then, as he stood at the door to leave he reached out his hand to shake mine. "Oh shit!" I thought to myself, "What do I do now?"

I reminded myself that I couldn't catch AIDS just by touch and so I took his hand. Part of it was manners, I suppose. But mostly, I did it so that he would feel a little less like an outcast. He's had a shitty day already - he sure as heck didn't need me rubbing it in by avoiding him like the... erm... plague! So I shook his hand. Held it tight and good. And then he left.

As soon as he did, I opened the palm of my right hand and stared at it. And as I did, I felt a tingling sensation at the center of my hand. Shit! And then it started to itch like crazy. I panicked! "Wash the damn hand, fool!" a voice in my head shouted. I ran for the toilet. The itch got worse. It started to spread to my forearm. Then my elbow. I ran into the toilet and I put my whole arm underneath the running tap. I took up a piece of scouring pad, dabbed it with floor cleaner and started scrubbing like a man possessed.

That, my friends, was the itch of prejudice. And prejudice, as we know, is usually a product of fear. It's funny how the mind can play tricks on you when you're afraid. And that's what AIDS victims face everyday - a fearful bunch of people who'd like to scrub them off with floor cleaner. Okay, maybe not quite but you know what I mean.

These days, I tell myself that if I ever come across another HIV positive person I'd react differently. Perhaps with less of my chickenshit reactions. But honestly, like most things, this one's easier said than done. Oh well... I guess those AIDS awareness campaigners have quite a gigantic task ahead of them.

Ten years on, I still see that scrawny fella walking the streets. These days, he's based himself in Kepong. Now, either he's one resilient bugger or one resourceful trickster beggar. Folks tell me it's the latter. *sigh*


  1. i'm curious... how come he suddenly barge into your office and tells u he is dying?!?

  2. Olivia: He was a beggar mah! :)

  3. it's sad when someone gets AIDS from donating blood (or during any blood transfusion). the hospitals should prevent this!

  4. But a good story - we always think we are above prejudice, but then - being confronted with something, it stares into our face, and laughs

  5. I try to donate blood at least once a year, been doing it for abt 8 years now. this story freaked me out though

  6. Narrowband, I don't think this happens anymore nowadays. Preventive measures against such occurences have imporved vastly over the last decade.
    Prejudice is a vicious animal, isn;t he, Andreas?
    Nothing to worry about Norzu, we're far more hygenic these days. Even hairdressers and tattoo artists are taking precautions. Besides, Scrawny guy's story is supposedly a scam.

  7. you've been had! But it doesn't matter. It came from your heart.
    What about lepers? Will anyone be afraid to shake their hands?

  8. Too many scams are about, makes you feel whether you charity is really going to someone in need. Maybe the government's drive to stop begging is a right move, maybe it isn't who knows?

  9. the prejudice that you experienced is normal and happens to many people. why, even a priest once told me, though he knew (like eveyone else) AIDS can't be spread via touching, once after he shook hands with a HIV patient, he quickly went to wash his hands too.

  10. yeah, it's freaky and very difficult to get the prejudice out of your mind sometimes. When we're doing our hosp postings, we go into a ward, knowing that certain patients are from the nearby drug rehab center and some of them are HIV positive.. the tough part is about going up to them and clerking them.. but after a while, it becomes less difficult. Just take necessary precautions lor...

  11. Definitely easier said than done. I think i would still act the way u did no matter how my brain is programmed. Could it be a lack of awareness among m'sians? sad tho, aint it.

  12. Yah, that's the only consolation, Mom of One!
    I think Malaysia's move to stop begging is a good idea, Kervin. But it can't stop there. I think Malaysian's are a generous lot. The govt. should channel all that generosity towards a good charity.
    Thanks Lucia. It's assuring to know that I'm not that much of a butthead I think I am.
    Good for you YP. Florence Nightingale, eat your heart out.
    Lack of awareness is a big factor, Andrea.