Five years ago, Vera was close to death. She hadn’t been taking her HIV medication and had been moved to a hospice. A visit from her son helped her to turn her life around and she is now rebuilding her relationships with her family. We caught up with her to hear her story…
Can you tell us when you found out you were living with HIV?
It was about 22 years ago. I don’t remember too much about that time in my life. Everything revolved around drugs, it was terrible.
What began to change?
Just over five years ago, I became really unwell. I was still using drugs and not taking medication for my HIV. I was in hospital for over six months before a stay in Milestone. It was a really bad situation, I was dying and they moved me to a hospice.
One day, when I was still in hospital, my son visited with one of my baby granddaughters. It flicked a switch. I came alive again. I was in the ward and I stood up – I hadn’t been able to walk in ages and was in a wheelchair.
I got help to stop drugs and started to take my medication seriously and I’ve been taking it ever since. Slowly my health started to improve and I was allowed out of the hospice.
My son’s been a huge support over the years. I used to phone him and he’d come running. Seeing him and the grandkids was the motivation to keep looking after myself a bit better. He comes to see me every week now. It’s so important to me – even if it’s for five minutes, it makes my day! I love him.
What different support have you had from Waverley Care?
Ever since I was diagnosed, I’ve been in touch with Waverley Care, and I’ve been in and out of Milestone lots of times. Over the years, I’ve worked with a few different support workers. Now, I come up to Milestone every six weeks and spend a couple of weeks at a time. I really enjoy it.
How does staying in Milestone benefit you?
It’s a chance for some peace and quiet. It’s really noisy where I stay with traffic and sirens. It’s not a nice environment to live in, especially at night when you’re trying to sleep. I try to just get on with my life, take every day as it comes and try to enjoy it.
Not long ago, you got back in touch with siblings after a few years. Can you tell us a bit about how that came about?
I’ve got two sisters and a brother. For years when I was using drugs, they didn’t stay in Edinburgh so I became quite isolated. I was in such a state that I didn’t think they’d been to see me. But it turns out they’d visited, in the hospital, in the hospice, and here at Milestone but I just don’t remember.
The thing that really split us apart was to do with my mum’s wedding rings. I had them after she passed away and managed to convince myself that I pawned them to get the money. I was convinced in my heart. I felt so ashamed that I couldn’t face my family. I was worried how they’d react. I got so stressed I’d pull my own hair out.
I was really desperate to see them, so Karen at Milestone helped me to send a message through Facebook. It was only a couple of minutes before the phone was beeping away with messages from them.
Reconnecting with my family was the happiest day of my life. I’ve met my wee sister’s grandchildren, they’re lovely, you just want to cuddle them!
I apologised to one of my sisters about the rings and she was like ‘what you talking about? You gave them to me’. I couldn’t believe it after all those years of not talking. I was just so happy.
Now it’s great to be back in contact with them. I phone them all the time and I’ve travelled to see them in Liverpool and Cumbernauld.
Five years on from being in the hospice how has your health changed?
I’m doing so much better. My CD4 count’s improved [a type of white blood cell that protects the body from infection] and I’ve got an undetectable viral load. There’s still lots of challenges but it’s nothing like how it was.
What would you say to someone who was thinking of supporting Waverley Care?
Go for it!
Can you tell us what you like to do in your spare time?
I spend most of my time in the house. I’ve got a cat called Lucy, but he’s a boy. My granddaughter called him that and I couldn’t change it! It’s short for Lucifer but he doesn’t live up to the name!
I really look forward to my time in Milestone. Just sitting in the common room is great, I can catch up with folk as they pass through. I like meeting people, whether they’ve been here before or it’s their first time at Milestone. We don’t tend to talk about HIV, it’s all about what we’ve got going on in our lives.
What’s your favourite food?
That’s easy, [Community Project Manager] Mike’s curry! He makes it at home and always brings a few portions round to me. It’s delicious.
What do you like to watch?
I don’t really watch films, I’ve not got the attention to sit through a whole one. I watch all the soaps. Corrie’s my favourite. I like the baddies, it’s great fun to watch.
Do you like to read?
Not really, but I like the adult colouring books. I’ve got a couple of them. It helps me to keep my mind focused instead of worrying about things that are going on.
Do you get away on holiday?
I like to go to Tenerife. I’ve been a couple of times to different parts of the island. I go across with my son, his girlfriend and some of the grandkids.
You’re in a good place in terms of your health. Do you have hopes and plans for the future?
Sometimes I feel too old to plan for the future. I just want to focus on each day as it comes.