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BUYING TIME PART II

"Normal." Bob pronounces the word slowly as though practicing a new language. Then he whispers, "I wish I could."

Nightmares Without Answers

Dr. Charlie Abernathy came to Denver General as head oncological surgeon when Dr. George Moore decided to cut back to part-time. Abernathy was a regent at the University of Colorado and a member of the university teaching staff. Built like a fullback with the smile of Santa Claus, he brought with him an embracing love of life.

Abernathy was a good friend. Busy as he was, he always found time to help out. When Myers mentioned that his son had decided he wanted to be a doctor after spending two years in the Peace Corps, Abernathy asked to meet the boy.

He took young Adam on rounds and questioned him about his choice. When they returned, he told Myers, "He's the sort of person we need in medicine--compassionate and caring, like his father."

Abernathy was an avid outdoorsman, and other than a touch of asthma and a slight elevation in his cholesterol count, there was nothing to warn of impending danger. But in summer 1993, during a trip to California with his wife, he suffered a heart attack and nearly died.

When he returned to Colorado, Myers visited him in the hospital. "Adam," the older man confided, "I got a look at the other side of the wall."

Although he didn't elaborate on what he'd seen, he seemed more at peace. Myers wasn't surprised when his friend announced that he was going to cut back to part-time work and move with his family to Steamboat Springs, to be near the mountains he loved.

In March he suffered another heart attack, this one fatal. Myers was stunned. For weeks afterward, he suffered recurrent nightmares.

In the dream, the two doctors would be working in the oncology clinic when suddenly Myers would notice that Abernathy was gone. He searched and searched, then started to panic. "This isn't like Charlie," he would say over and over. "Where is he?"

When he woke up, Myers missed his friend more than ever.
Then another physician friend, a doctor known for his gentle way with patients and love for his occupation, was diagnosed with a particularly malignant cancer.

The night after discussing the diagnosis with him, Myers had another dream: He and his friend were working in the intensive-care unit at University Hospital when suddenly his friend began acting confused and disoriented. With horror, Myers realized that these were symptoms of the cancer attacking his friend's brain--and he was at a loss to know how to treat it.

Myers woke up in a cold sweat with the words "no answers" echoing in his head. He was overwhelmed with despair. He had no answers.

September 1, 1994--Infectious Diseases/AIDS Clinic

The clinic is quiet. Outside the day is cool and gray, the first warning of the approaching autumn--a dangerous time for patients for whom a runny nose may presage death.

In the Library, Roger is hardly recognizable as the young man who first arrived at the clinic in May. If he looked ten years younger than his actual age at that time, now he looks twenty years older.

His face is swollen to volleyball dimensions by edema. A bright reddish-purple circle hovers under his right eye; his skin is as white as typing paper and nearly as translucent. He's wearing a pink scarf with a teddy-bears-and-hearts design over his head to hide his hair loss.

Roger's in a talkative mood and tells anyone who will listen that his religious beliefs "are a bit of a Mulligan stew."

"Some days it seems better to pray to God," he explains. "Other days it's the Great Spirit or the Powers That Be or even shamanistic animal spirits."

Right now he's praying because his father is dying of prostate cancer. They weren't very close, he says, but he's troubled that now they will never resolve their differences.

He's also worried about Tim, whom he married a year ago. Tim had accepted Roger as HIV-positive and stuck by him through each opportunistic infection--the pneumonia, the Kaposi's, the cytomegalovirus. But the strain was beginning to show. "Last night was a real crisis," Roger says.

"I tried, but I couldn't handle it all myself and had to yell for help. Tim was there in a flash. He changed the sheets, bathed me, got me my medicine and stayed up all night with no sleep. He says he's okay, but I know it's wearing thin."

Myers has entered the Library and listens to Roger's story. He's heard so many like it that the love between these guys no longer surprises him.

"My sister brought me to the clinic this morning," Roger continues. "She started crying because I told her, `It's close now.'"

The young man looks out the window at the gray sky. "At least Tim and I made it a year."

October 24, 1994--Infectious Diseases/AIDS Clinic

Woofer sits alone in the Library. It's late, and most of the other patients have received their treatment and gone home. Myers and the nurses are in the staff room reviewing the day's cases.

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