by Trysh Ashby-Rolls –
Kim Goldberg left school at age 15 “to let the world be [her] teacher.” What the world taught the Nanaimo writer in that “psychedelic, strobe-lit era of free-love” on the Oregon coast led her to keep a secret for the next 40 years. Experimenting with drugs using shared needles is the most likely cause of the Hepatitis C she carried until last year.
If you know your ABCs, you’ll know that hepatitis comes in three different forms: Hep A, Hep B and Hep C.
Hep A is found in food, water or on unwashed hands contaminated with feces. The infection usually goes away on its own. Hep B is caught when a person comes into contact with any one of another person’s body fluids. There is a treatment but it will only slow down the virus, not eradicate it. And then there is Hep C. Blood-to-blood contact is how one catches Hep C: sharing needles, toothbrushes or razors; receiving blood transfusions or organ transplants that have not been screened (as they are in Canada); re-using tools for activities that break the skin, such as medical or dental procedures, tattooing and piercing. Occasionally, the Hep C virus goes away on its own, but it’s more likely a person will have a long-term infection. There are vaccines that protect against Hepatitis A and B, but there is no vaccine that prevents Hepatitis C.
Kim Goldberg never imagined a cure might be discovered during her lifetime, or that one day she’d tell her secret publicly.
In early 2015 she managed to access clinical trials to evaluate the success of a drug called Harvoni combined with another called Ribivirin. As a previously untreated patient with a particular type of Hepatitis C, Goldberg was eligible for the program. On May 5, 2015 she swallowed the first of 84 pills that would cure her completely.
Ever since she came to Canada in 1977 to join her family, who had immigrated from the U.S. during the Vietnam War, Kim has earned her living as a writer concentrating on social issues. So it is unsurprising that the seventh book for this award-winning poet would be about her journey to freedom and healing from Hep C.
Undetected, as she calls this beautifully written memoir, describes the day-by-day story of what delighted her – visiting her elderly mother, memorizing every detail “to hold close in years to come” – to how “the dead virus is eliminated … along with all other detritus of this drug-fuelled massacre” – causing endless sprints to the bathroom. Persuading her from her usual healthy diet onto the bland BRAT diet of Bananas, [white] Rice, Applesauce and [white] Toast that she’d never even heard of previously.
Yet she never forgets the 250,000 other Hep C Canadian sufferers, nor those who haven’t been tested and have no idea they have the disease. Or prison inmates known to have Hep C but whom the authorities ignore. Or those denied treatment because they are not considered sick enough. Or those with insurance companies who “pay for a sub-optimal length of treatment, to save money.”
Undetected is an inspirational, informative, emotionally stirring, triumphant and highly readable story, whether you have Hepatitis C or not.
For more on Hepatitis C go to www.catie.ca. I chose this website at random. Although it’s for people infected with both Hep C and HIV, and provides a lot of info for drug users trying to get clean and healthy – and stay healthy – it’s well worth looking at. However, there are other sites you may prefer.
Undetected by Kim Goldberg is published by Pig Squash Press (www.pigsquashpress.com).