Sadiyya Sheik
Sadiyya Sheik

Why wait for the maggots?

My eyesight is terrible. I really can not see well out my left eye, a congenital problem I am told. One that was not identified by the conglomeration of nurses who descended upon my primary school with their wooden spatulas and needle-and-syringe kits. But that’s another story for another time.

Seriously though, I am not sure of an exact percentage but I am sure that the visual ability of my left eye is severely poor. I frequently compensate for this fact with the aid of my right eye and a most embarrassing squinting manoeuvre. You know the one where you scrunch up one half of your face while staring at the person a few metres in front of you that you think you recognise. Then while maintaining this pose you watch as the person gradually comes into focus and you realise that this is a person you have never seen before.

My point in sharing this story is a social commentary on help-seeking behaviour and the lengths we go to to avoid it. It’s ridiculous really, to squint and stare and sometimes not look too far ahead because of what might not be seen. In analysing this (admittedly unclever) behaviour of mine, I drew comparison (although this may seem more like hyperbole than comparison) with a patient seen recently with peripheral vascular disease. This patient initially had an ulcer on his leg which over a period of time grew, showed no signs of healing, became infected and eventually bred maggots. That’s what it took to get him to hospital. Maggots.

I am sure that we all have different reasons for avoidant behaviour. I don’t have the time / It’s not that bad / I’m sure it’ll get better in a few days, a week, a month / I’m afraid of what this might mean / I can’t afford to be admitted to hospital.

This is a potentially endless list and though I’m guilty of avoidant behaviour myself, I can see the idiocy of it. The truth is that if you ignore something like an ulcer for long enough, it doesn’t go away. It gets worse. So why wait for the maggots?

It may be a long shot but I think that we can attribute this manner of thinking to the attitude we as a nation have adopted towards HIV. It may even be easier to do, because the actual transmission of HIV is not something that we can see. There is no HIV ulcer that you have to think up an excuse for.

I am frequently told (most often by medical-aid companies) that health is not merely an absence of disease. If we were to adopt this view towards health, I am sure we would be a happier, healthier, more productive, less HIV-infected nation. Absence of disease is a wonderful opportunity to focus on disease prevention. If you don’t have diabetes right now, good stuff but let’s make sure you don’t get it later (especially if the genetic odds are not in your favour). Your HIV test is negative, thumbs up. Abstain, be faithful, condomise.

What this involves is an effort by an individual to be responsible for their own health. Know what medical conditions you at risk of contracting. Know how best to prevent them. Know your HIV status and take responsibility for the life choices you make.

As for me, I have a long-overdue appointment with an optometrist to go to.