The sterility is so foreign to Brad, an avid gardener. Myers recalls the times Brad arrived at the clinic with armloads of summer squash and a standing invitation to come see his pumpkin, his pride and joy. The only thing Brad had ever asked of Myers was to keep him alive long enough to harvest that pumpkin and carve it into a jack-o-lantern. And snow, he wanted to see snow once more.

"I'll tell you something about all of this," Brad says, sweeping a hand to indicate his surroundings. "Sometimes it's overwhelming. I feel so beaten's always one thing after another." The doctor reaches for a box of tissues as another round of coughing erupts.

When he recovers, Brad whispers, "But I wonder if it's time to let go."
The two men are quiet. Brad reconsiders. "Then again, I think that there's some health in me...if I can just get over this cough."

Myers nods. He's heard the same determination in the men--and an increasing number of women, now that AIDS has breached the heterosexual wall--who come to the clinic. As an oncologist, he has witnessed enormous bravery in cancer patients. But nothing compares with the will to live just a little longer, despite the pain and suffering, that he sees in so many of his AIDS patients. Perhaps it is because they are so young.

He wonders--as he often has since reluctantly accepting the mantle of "AIDS doctor" nearly ten years ago--where his patients find the courage and strength to go on. How did clinic nurse Georgia Caven put it the other day? Imagine having the worst flu of your life; now imagine it lasting not two or three days, but months, even years.

And yet most of the patients he sees in the HIV clinic he once thought of as fags, pansies, queers, fairies. Once the mere thought of their personal lives left him uncomfortable, disgusted. And yet...over the years he had witnessed these men in the most selfless acts of love and tenderness and commitment to each other.

It had changed Myers as a human being and as a doctor. It had renewed his faith.

So many had died. So many more will die, including, without a doubt, Brad, who suppresses a cough to ask about taxol--a new treatment made from the bark of the yew tree that he's heard has shown some promise fighting Kaposi's.

Myers looks at him, balancing the hard facts against his patient's morale.
"Taxol is not an FDA-approved treatment for Kaposi's," Myers says. He hesitates, then adds, "It's had about a 30 to 35 percent response, and even that's only a partial response."

Brad bites his lower lip. "I guess I should look at this realistically. There are only so many things left to try." He turns away. "I need to face reality."

Myers senses that it's time to drop the man-of-science bedside manner.
"We have options," he says. They both know that it is a game, but as long as Brad is willing to pick up the ball, Myers is willing to catch it. He owes it to the patient and to his own memories.

"But let's sit down and talk about them after we get this thing licked."
Brad looks back at Myers and nods just as he is seized by another fit of wet coughing. It's getting worse. "I wish I could do something to make it stop," he cries softly. Myers immediately summons a nurse. When she arrives, he asks for a cough suppressant. "With codeine," he adds, "as soon as possible."

An hour has passed since he walked in the door, and it's time to leave. Myers draws a deep breath and tells Brad that he will be gone for the next three days. He's flying to New Jersey to see his mother.

For a moment, Brad's eyes widen and he starts to say something. But he catches himself and chokes back whatever it was. Instead, he says, "That will be see your mother."

"Is there anything else I can do for you before I leave?" Myers asks as he rubs Brad's shoulders. On his right hand is Brad's graduation ring, which Brad gave him a few weeks earlier when he began tidying up his affairs.

Brad shakes his head. "Having you here for a visit was a nice enough event. Don't worry about me."

"I'll see you Sunday night when I get back," Myers says.
"I'll probably still be here," Brad says before realizing how that sounds. With a croaking laugh, he quickly adds, "In the hospital, that is."

In the hallway outside the room, Myers wipes at his eyes. He's not sure how many more of these partings he can take.

He feels guilty about leaving for the weekend. He may have said his last goodbye to a gentle, brave man he has come to know as a friend.

But there's nothing he can do for Brad--and his mother needs him. If it wasn't for her, he wouldn't even be a doctor. This afternoon, as he steps on the elevator, he's not sure whether he should thank or curse her for that.

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