"I'll have to check," Myers answered. He knew it was his responsibility to have that information on hand, but it just didn't feel right to encourage a patient to fight as long as possible and then turn around and ask what he wanted done if his heart stopped beating.
Frank died the next day. "I'm going to sleep for a little while, and I want to be comfortable," he told his mother, courageous to the end. They buried him in his pajamas.
The little guy had put up a good fight. And yet, as slow as AIDS might kill one patient, it can overwhelm another in a matter of days.
Jeff, the young Hispanic man who only a month before had told Myers that his "whole body felt glad," was now on the brink of death. The heaviness in his legs had progressed up his back in a rapidly ascending paralysis. It wasn't the Kaposi's after all, but a cytomegalovirus infection of the spinal cord that failed to respond to the usual treatment of gancyclovir--an antiviral medication.
By the time Jeff was taken to a hospital, he was unable to move. He was in a hospice now, waiting to die.
Caven promises Myers that she'll visit Jeff at the hospice over the weekend. Myers nods his head. He can't bring himself to visit any more hospices or attend any more funerals right now. There's only so much emotional baggage he can carry.
The conversation turns back to Frank. He had loved life so much that despite repeated attacks from various painful infections, he was always willing to try something new and encourage other patients who were having a hard time. Yet, since he was gay, many people had thought of him as a pervert, a queer, a faggot. Someone to be despised, not a real man.
They compare Frank's approach to that of a patient in the regular oncology clinic who is suffering from prostate cancer. The man is an immigrant from Cuba who has a three-year-old baby girl and an alcoholic wife who can't even care for herself, much less their child. His best chance for survival lies in the removal of his testicles--but he refuses to go under the knife.
"He says he wouldn't be a man," Caven says. "He'd rather leave his baby to deal with life without him."
What defines a man? His genitals? Or something in his heart, something Frank had in spades. The question hangs in the air as the last patient hobbles out, down the elevator and into the night.
Next week: How AIDS changed Dr. Adam Myers as a physician--and as a man.
end of part 2