'My TB treatment was a bitter pill to swallow,' TNP reporter says

PHOTO: The Straits Times

I was 14 and living in Canada when I was told I had latent tuberculosis (TB) by doctors who had done a screening test since I was a new immigrant.

Even though I didn't have any symptoms, I had the TB bacteria in my body. It meant I was at risk of contracting active TB if my immune system was weakened.

For nine months, it became my daily routine to take isoniazid pills, medication to treat latent TB.

The treatment felt like it would never end.

I will never be able to forget the gag-inducing bitterness that enveloped my tongue each time I took the white pill.

For nine months, the pills were a cloud that loomed over me, and I dreaded the thought of going home to take my medication.

During the first week of my treatment, I got up in the middle of the night to empty an entire week's worth of pills into the trash.

Call it pure parental instinct - my parents found out about it the next morning.

Needless to say, they were furious.

Taking me to and from the hospital for my monthly appointments by bus in winter also took a toll on them.

Back then, I could not understand the gravity of my situation and how important it was for me to take the pills dutifully.

When my doctor found out I did not take the pills in the first week, she made me take it in front of her.

EXPERIMENT

I felt like a subject in a science experiment, being scrutinised in a cold room under harsh fluorescent light.

After that, I never threw a single pill away.

Opening up to my friends about my treatment also had its own hurdles.

When they learnt I had latent TB, their first instinct was to cover their mouths and noses.

Some even passed snide comments like "Does everyone have tuberculosis where you come from?"

This made me feel guilty - guilty that I was the newly arrived immigrant from Singapore who had TB.

My treatment then became a well-buried secret.

I battled with the conflicting emotions of shame and wanting to be open about my medical condition.

What really helped me persevere through the nine months was my parents' support and encouragement.

It was not easy but I am grateful to have known about my condition before it erupted into active TB.

After what felt like ages of undergoing treatment, I finally took my last pill. And although it was the same pill, somehow it tasted a lot less bitter.

And the check-up that confirmed I was cured was just plain sweet.

ongyq@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 16, 2016.
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