Saturday, 9 March 2013

Prayer and meds

As the world rejoices that a child in the US seems to be successfully 'cured' of HIV, we still face a huge set of challenges here in the day to day business of helping people with HIV get better.

Take 'Mary' for example.

A bright young nurse, Mary came to us because her friend 'Padmini''s mother had HIV.  We had earlier met Padmini after she approached Sheba took a seminar on HIV prevention for young women.

Mary was Padmini's friend and was working as a nurse.  One day she was fired from her job.  The reason?  She was 'retrovirus positive' - doctor code for being HIV positive.

Mary was crushed.  We counselled her.  Suggested she work with us.  Mary said no, she wanted to work with her church.  We didn't interfere.  Mary's mother is a nurse herself.  Mary kept her distance from us.

Later Mary came back sick.  She had started working at another place as a nurse.  Her immunity was down.  We welcomed her back, counselled her and started her on Anti-retroviral drugs - the life-saving medications which have helped so many live amazingly normal lives.

The catch, however, is that you have to take the meds.  They don't work if you keep them in a closet.  They don't work if you pop them occassionally when you are in a good mood.  They have to be taken every single day.  12 hour intervals.  Strict.  7 days a week.  Every week.  Every month.  Life long.

HIV has a nasty way of creating a hidden body of latent cells which stay dormant - not expressing their HIV genetic material while the drugs are present - but then replicating when the drugs are not [i.e. when a person has skipped their dose(s)].

We suggested that Mary get her meds from the government.  They are totally free.  She refused.  She insisted we start her on the meds.  We did.

She took them for a month.  And then we lost her again.

She did not want our staff to visit her at home.  Visiting her at work was obviously out of the question.

Today we found out the reason for her absence.  Someone had told her that there was a cure available.  They guaranteed it.  So she stopped the meds we had started her on - and took the quack stuff.

Tragically - but not to our surprise - her health worsened.  But instead of coming back to us she got herself checked into the biggest hospital in town.  She has been there for a month now.  Her medical bills are in the lakhs of rupees.  She has had convulsions.

And all she needed to take was her meds.

All we can do now is pray for her.

Its so maddening that people are still peddling all sorts of 'cures' - and that people are still going after them when we know that the Anti-retrovirals really do work!

We know that every person with HIV wants to be 'cured.'   Recently a pastor came to us with a man who he is looking after.  He took him off the street and found that he is HIV positive.  Instead of  rejecting him, the pastor cared for him more.  He loved him and prayed for him.  The man is feeling so much better.   The pastor came and asked that we test the man again.  He was sure that the man was now cured and would be happy to find out that he is HIV negative.

We said no.   We have gone down that road before - where people are told that 'prayer has healed them' and that they should stop their meds.   When God in his grace has given us excellent meds - which our government gives free to people who need them - why should we doubt his goodness?

Last week the daughter of a woman came to us.  Same story.  Her mother is a widow.  She was on meds but stopped after being told that she had been cured by prayer.  Now she is dying.  Her daughter is in 12th standard, working and looking after her 8 year-old brother - as well as looking after her mother.  They live heart-breakingly far away from us - at the very end of the great urban sprawl of Mumbai.  But another case of 'well-meaning' faith which has bitter consequences.

Now don't get me wrong.  I fully believe that Jesus has the power to heal.  After all He raise Lazarus from the dead.  I don't think it is wrong to ask for healing.  We are told to ask.  We are told to come to Him as little children.

But I know that every single person who loves Jesus and has HIV has asked Jesus to heal them.  Every single person.  I can't think of a person who has not.  And as I look out over the 'world of HIV' I see that the largest numbers of people living with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa - probably the most Jesus-following part of our planet at this point in time.  So that means millions of prayers.

So why are we not hearing of more 'faith healings'?   I mean real ones - ones where there is not a virus left.   I have seen many people 'come back to life' after we prayed for them.  People who were in coma.  People with serious brain infections.  People deeply in the grip of TB.  But they are still living with HIV in them.

I think part of the answer is that God is God.  He is not our lackey to do whatever we demand of Him.  As harsh as that may sound - especially when we desperately want something - it means that we come to Him as little children - but also trusting that whatever answer He gives is the very best for us.  And that means that so many of us are not going to be magically taken away from all the issues of suffering that HIV has with it.

And even in scripture the giants of the faith were not given some kind of super-immunity where they never got sick.   St. Paul gives a small glimpse into this when he tells Timothy to 'stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses' (1 Tim. 5.23).  Surely here were two super-faith fellows - and yet bishop Timothy seems to need a bit of wine because of repeated gastric problems.

So the bottom line is that I know God is good.  I know He is powerful.  I know and have seen Him answer prayers.  But I also know that many prayers do not get the answers we want.  Especially our brothers and sisters with HIV. 

Our prayers go out to Mary tonight as she fights for life in the poshest, most high-tech hospital Thane has.  Its such a futile situation since we know that if she had taken her meds she would not be in such a horrible situation tonight. 

Even now, precious Lord Jesus, have mercy on your daughter Mary, stretch out your hand and strengthen her every fibre of her body, help her fight the infections she is plagued with, restore her ravaged immune system,  help the medications she is currently on to really work in the right way, give her peace of heart and hope to fight, give her the assurance that she is loved by you and by all who are caring for her.   Lord give her another chance we plead...

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