Hep C Stories

SAJAD

Toronto, Ontario

I immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in August 2015. Shortly after arriving, I wasn’t feeling very well. Initially, I thought maybe I was just having trouble adapting to my new life in Toronto. I had all kinds of symptoms—an upset stomach, dizziness, depression. My plan was to see a doctor and get checked out once I got my health card.

So I waited three months—that’s about how long it takes for a newcomer to Ontario to get a health [OHIP] card. Immediately after I got my card, I went to a walk-in clinic and told the doctor about my symptoms. He said, “You look fine but let’s do a complete checkup.” He recommended various tests and discovered that I have hep C.

I didn’t know anything about this illness, so when I got home I looked it up online. I learned that it can kill you. I was shocked and dismayed. I didn’t understand how this could have happened. The doctor told me and I read online that the virus is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. At first I couldn’t figure out how I got it. Finally, it came to me: It must have been from a dental procedure I had in Pakistan right before coming to Canada.

At first I couldn’t figure out how I got it. Finally, it came to me: It must have been from a dental procedure I had in Pakistan right before coming to Canada.

 

I told my roommate at the time because I was alarmed and wanted to let him know so that no harm would come to him from my condition. He is my friend. I know him from Islamabad. His father had suffered from the same illness, so he was not as fearful about it as someone else might have been.

The doctor told me that I shouldn’t have sex, which made me feel like a pariah. I wasn’t dating anyone at that time, but I had met one or two people and was hoping to date more. He also told me that I would soon get a call from public health. I worried I might be quarantined. I felt scared, sad and depressed.

I called my closest friends—one in Pakistan and the other in the UK—and told them about it. I didn’t tell my parents because they’re old and ill and I worried about the impact it would have on them. I told my brother in Toronto, and then my three other siblings. It was difficult for all of them, especially my two sisters, but they have all been supportive.

 

When I met my liver specialist, I felt great relief. He reassured me that at my stage of liver damage, the state of my health wasn’t as serious as I had thought. They did more tests to determine what strain of hep C I have. I found out that it’s genotype 3, which is more common among South Asians.

Initially I was very disturbed by the fact that I had hepatitis C, but I have grown more comfortable and stoic about it. I’ve also started taking antidepressants, and I feel better—less stressed, less gloomy and more motivated about work and my future plans.

In fact, there are days when I totally forget that I even have it. I try to not focus too much on it because until I start treatment, there’s not much I can do about it.

Late last summer they tested me again and determined that I probably have stage 2 liver disease. Now I’m in line for drug coverage through Ontario’s Trillium Drug Program. I’m hoping I’ll be able to start the medication soon.

I wish these new treatments were not so expensive. I had to do a lot of paperwork to apply for coverage and I am still waiting for final approval. It seems like all will be fine once I start the medication. I must get this treatment. I’m taking medicine for other health problems, so I’m quite used to being careful about taking medicines on time. My body is already kind of a chemical lab.

 

The biggest challenge has been working a minimum-wage job, as a security guard, for which I have to exert myself physically and stay mentally alert for long hours while suffering from brain fog. I think my persistence to get treatment has helped me and despite all the paperwork and the long wait, I have been able to get the best out of Canada’s medical system.

In the meantime, I was told not to drink too much alcohol, so for months now I haven’t been drinking. The nurse also advised me to change my diet and eat more vegetables. It’s hard for a meat eater to be totally vegetarian, but I’m trying to eat more vegetables.

I don’t have many people in my life here. My brother who lives here is always busy; we mostly talk on the telephone. And since my roommate moved out, I’ve been living alone. I haven’t made many friends.

Although I’m usually very friendly and I have plenty of friends in Pakistan, here I find it difficult. If you didn’t grow up or go to school here, it’s pretty hard to meet people. People are polite but not very chatty. Also, I work night shifts so even at work I don’t get to interact much with people. It is kind of a lonely life: You go to work, you come back, you sleep, you eat, and then you go back to work again.

As a newcomer, you have to start from scratch. My old roommate told me that the first year is especially hard for immigrants.

Sajad’s Advice for Others

There are many different kinds of hep C medications available now. One’s chances of getting them hinges in part on how much one knows about these things. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye out for the latest developments. These days it’s not difficult to get the latest news about hep C and hep C treatment.