TB & Me: 'You need to get treatment and believe in yourself'

22 March 2017

Artem  blogs from Ukraine about his experience of multi-drug-resistant TB...

My name is Artem. I am 35 years old. I come from the Donetsk oblast, Mariinskyi rayon, the village of Constantynopolske. I was born here and I have lived here all my life.

In 2013 I was convicted for the offence I had committed. After a year of serving my sentence in the penal colony I was diagnosed with tuberculosis. I was diagnosed with drug-sensitive TB.

This diagnosis was unexpected for me. The very stay in the colony was already a difficult test for me. This was my first and only conviction; I got it because of my own fault, I should say my own "stupid fault". For a long time I was getting used to the idea that I was going to be in the colony for a long time, and I was also diagnosed with TB. I retired into myself, closed up, stopped talking to people, and drew the most terrible pictures in my imagination.

  Prisoners who had already faced this disease supported me

This made me feel worse psychologically. Seeing my condition, several prisoners who had already faced this disease more than once supported me. They explained to me that TB is not so dangerous as many people believe, and it can be cured even while in prison, that they had already been there. They said that in this situation you cannot 'overthink', you need to get treatment and believe in yourself, and never give up if you want to survive.

Artem wears a knitted hat and a grey jacket, and smiles

Photo: MSF.

I was transferred to a specialised TB colony, Zhdanov IC number 3. I was explained the rules of being there. Prisoners who refused to be treated were kept in a separate ward. Nobody forced me to be treated. It was my decision. I began to follow the treatment procedure; it was not so difficult, because I had good tolerance to drugs. And when the course of treatment came almost to the end, the resistance results were delivered.

You cannot 'overthink'. You need to get treatment and believe in yourself, and never give up if I you want to survive

In March 2015, I was diagnosed with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. This news did not cause the kind of shock that I had the first time. I was told that this is a more severe form of TB, so the course of treatment will be extended and the drugs will be replaced by stronger ones.

No one said why this happened to me, but I did not go into details, I only knew that I took the medication by prescriptions. I had already almost reached the finish once and thought that it would be easy again. But the treatment was very difficult this time.

The body was already used to one drug, and it had to rebuild. The first three months were simply unbearable: I felt sick badly, my head felt like an iron, I had pain in the liver. The main problem for me was vomiting after taking medication. Some patients shared drugs, but I took all my medications at once.

I repeatedly had a desire to quit. I saw prisoners who had these symptoms throughout the course of treatment and understood that I could not stand it for so long. I was very angry with myself for my weakness. But then the anger passed. I saw prisoners who died from TB, because they were either not treated at all, or had quit, and then re-entered the treatment, but it was too late.

Overcoming this disease made me strong not only in body, but also in spirit

The good news for me was that I would be released on parole. In July 2015, I continued to be treated at the anti-tuberculosis dispensary in Toretsk. The medicines were the same, but it was much easier to follow the treatment: good nutrition, conditions, attitude of medical staff. Nurses and doctors, though strict, were sincere, understanding, they explained what I had to do and how I had to do it, took better care of me. I was not always an obedient hospital patient, but I was given concessions.

The support of relatives also helped me very much. No one condemned me or turned away, but everyone treated me with understanding. While I was in the colony, because of the outbreak of the military conflict in Ukraine, my sister did not have the opportunity to visit me, but she always supported me morally. After I had left the colony, already during the supporting phase of treatment, I lived with my aunt. She never reproached me about my illness because she had twice recovered from TB and knew what it was.

If, God forbid, I had become sick with TB again and had been choosing whether to be treated or not, despite the long and difficult path of treatment I have experienced, I would have chosen 'treatment'. I have a lot of unsolved problems, the resolution of which depends more on a number of circumstances than on me. But sticking to my TB treatment depended on me completely. This is my great victory over myself, and overcoming this disease made me strong not only in body, but also in spirit. Now I am healthy and I know that I have enough strength for solving other problems. 

If you're an Arabic speaker, you can read Artem's post in Arabic here.

Read more...

> Posts from patients with drug-resistant TB