I am not the type of guy who likes hugs. I’m “OK” with handshakes or bows. Even a wave, nod, or the old tip of the hat is fine with me. But what do you do with an 8-year-old girl who comes running up to you, arms open, with a big smile on her face and large, happy eyes? What do you do with a little girl who expects to be lifted up into the air, into a warm reassuring hug that says every thing is going to be all right, when you know she is never going to be all right again? How can you hug a child with herpes zoster (shingles) and not cause her excruciating pain?

When Masela runs toward me, I stop her in her tracks by raising my hand like the police.

“One, two three, red light!” I say.

Then, while she stands there, frozen in place, with me watching to see if she
moves so much as an eyelid, I walk over to her and ask her:

“Is it OK for me to hug you today? Will I give you much pain if I hug you? Where are the sores so I do not rub into them?”

Joy fades from Masela’s eyes as her hands come slowly down to her sides and her face turns downward to the floor. With the softest of whispers that can only be uttered by the soul of an infected child she says, “I’m OK! Mom says today I’m huggable!”

Then, I move like lightning back across the room. The words explode from my mouth: “One, two, three, green light!” 

She lifts her head and I see that her face is beaming. Then she’s off, running across the floor, into the air, and into my arms.

Thoughts spin through my mind: Thank God she can be hugged today! Thank God her herpes zoster is beginning to heal! Thank God for the good days! Thank God for reassuring hugs!

Masela was in second grade. Her mom brought her to be tested for HIV at a Volunteering, Counseling and Testing Center where I was assisting as a volunteer counselor. Masela had more than two clinical signs of HIV and her health was getting worse. Her mom needed to know of her little girl’s HIV status. The mom herself was convinced she was positive. However, it was not known if Masela’s illnesses were due to a poor immune system as a result of HIV. Both mother and daughter were tested and found HIV-positive.

It was a very hard time for Masela and her mom. Two months before coming to the VCT Center her dad had died after a long struggle with full-blown AIDS. Masela shared with me how she helped with the cooking, cleaning, carrying water, and washing clothes. She told me that her dad would make her leave the house early to be at school on time and how he would listen to her read at night when she got home. Masela spoke of how “Mom still cried each night” since Dad was gone and asked me to give “Mom some medicine to make mom’s pain go away. This way mom could sleep at night and be better for work in the mornings.”

Masela shared her favorite things from school to friends with me. She loved school and she wanted to be a nurse so that she could take good care of her mom. This way “Mom would stay a long time and not have to go so fast like Dad did!”

All that could have been done for Masela and her mom were done for them. Their last years with us were filled with as much laughter as they possibly could be. I often pray that she is once again getting her needed hugs, this time from her dad.

Reprinted with permission from

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