edwin cameron: gladwell’s HIV/AIDS story from “witness to AIDS” (042)

positivenation.edwincameron.0067Book Reading and Panel Discussion with
South Africa’s Justice Edwin Cameron

October 21, 2005
excerpted at aids-write.org from kaiser family foundation webcast
Transcript provided by kaisernetwork.org

from the third chapter of witness to aids

“I live in a suburb of Johannesburg close to the broadcasting center and the two universities on a quarter acre of ground which was tended twice a week by a gentle, smiling man in his mid-thirties. Gladwell [misspelled?] as I shall call him loved my garden’s beds and corners and the two kitties and the ducks who share it with those of us who live there. My housekeeper, Sofi Kakana [misspelled?], has two young daughters Dinah and Paulina [misspelled?] who share the property with me. They would follow Gladwell around has he weeded and planted and mowed on Mondays and Thursdays every week. For eight years Gladwell worked for me. I thought that I’d come to know him well. At the end of 2000, I saw his health declining, worried I asked him about it. ‘Have you seen a doctor?’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I’ve been to the hospital. The doctor’s given me pills.’ ‘But what did he tell you, Gladwell?’ ‘Yes he told me, he said it’s TB.’

This, to me, was plausible. For a few months it was until it became to me that the pills that Gladwell said that the doctor had given him were not working. Gladwell was looking tired, he was becoming thinner, he was listless, his skin was looking faded.

I knew that I had to broach the big subject with him. I had to speak about HIV. It was long after my own public statement.

Gladwell knew, he had seen, he had brought me media cuttings from the journals and the newspapers that he read, that I had spoken publicly about having AIDS and that I had spoken publicly about how access to medication and medical care had saved my life. More than most people in the country, Gladwell knew that I enjoyed contacts and access that would ensure that he, too, would receive drugs if he wanted them. I took him aside one day. ‘I want to ask you, have you had an HIV test?’ ‘Yes, I have.’ ‘May I ask you what the doctor said?’ ‘He told me it was clear.’ ‘Are you sure Gladwell?’ ‘Yes, I’m sure.’ ‘You know that I can help you Gladwell.’ ‘Yes I do. My test was clear.’ ‘But you’re not getting better, Gladwell. Are you taking your pills?’ ‘Yes I am.’ ‘Why are they not working?’ ‘The doctor says I must take them for another few months then I will be clear.’ I was skeptical but how could I override what Gladwell told me?

Zaki Akameti [misspelled?] uses my home in Johannesburg when he is in the city, saw what was happening to Gladwell. He too confronted him. He too asked Gladwell the same question. He too could have helped me insure that Gladwell had access to treatment. He offered to take Gladwell for an HIV test. He repeated the offer to get drugs. Gladwell refused.

As he grew thinner my appointment by President Mbeki to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Blomefontein meant that I had to relocate. When I returned to my home in Johannesburg at the end of the first appeal term Sophie told me that Gladwell had returned to his family in Zimbabwe. At the end of June we received news that Gladwell would not return. He had died five weeks after last tending my garden.

Did Gladwell die of AIDS? Perhaps. Probably. We cannot know. Gladwell would not want us to know, yet as I look back I see things with greater clarity. I see that I failed Gladwell. My notions of autonomy and respect, so vital in principle, were misapplied in the lee of the jet fuel flames of fire, and stigma, and internal disentitlement [misspelled?] that were consuming Gladwell’s life. I thought that I was offering him help and thereby I thought that I was giving him the choice of living. But in Gladwell’s mind and in light of the stigma of African AIDS he had no choice. The stigma associated with AIDS left him no choice. Like those at the top of the World Trade Center towers who chose the horror of jumping 100 stories to their death rather than the horror of being consumed by jet fuel flames, Gladwell chose to refuse our offers of assistance. He chose to return to Zimbabwe to die rather than to let us help him deal with

AIDS. Gladwell died of stigma and of fear surrounded by uncertainty and fear, he made himself inaccessible to help. He was scared of stigma. But more disastrously and more importantly I think he was also ashamed. And yet, I could have done, I should have done more to reach him.

Looking back, I know exactly what I should have done. Remorselessly my conscious enacts it for me. I should have made an appointment with my doctor, Dr. Johnson. I should have made an appointment on Monday morning or a Thursday morning. I should have waited for Gladwell at my gate. I should have told him about the appointment. I should have told him that I was leaving for Dr. Johnson in ten minutes time. I should have told him that he was free not to come with me. But I should also have told him that I wanted him to come, that I wanted him in the passenger’s seat of my car. I should have opened the door and I should have urged him to get in. I should have told him that my doctor would diagnose him and if necessary treat him if it was AIDS. I should have told him that there was life and health and hope and that I was prepared to insist that he receives it. I should have told him that I could help him deal with his fears and his loneliness.

All these things I should have done. I did not. I failed Gladwell as much as stigma and the dislocation of his home country and of Southern Africa failed him. Gladwell is with me. He is in my thoughts, on my mind, in my reflections. He is present to me more than comfort or loss.

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