Longform

BUYING TIME

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"Go ahead and do it," the surgeon said. Adam replied that he didn't feel qualified.

"Just do it," the surgeon repeated and hung up.
Adam was shocked. He couldn't get past the feeling that if this had been a private patient instead of the child of an indigent parent, the surgeon wouldn't have been so cavalier. He took a chance and called the hospital's chief of surgery at his home. A short time later, a rebuked neurosurgeon arrived at the hospital and performed the procedure.

The child survived and was soon returned to its grateful mother. And Adam had learned a valuable lesson about what it meant to be a doctor.

June 16, 1994--Infectious Diseases/AIDS Clinic

At noon the clinic is quiet. A few patients wait: A man sits holding his head stiffly upright because of the bandages on his throat; a blond beach-boy type chews his bubble gum and makes it clear by his stiff body language that he believes he is out of place here; a young, emaciated black sighs and collapses into a chair like an old man.

Myers is distracted, shuffling papers from one spot to another as he waits to begin seeing patients. A friend and fellow physician has just been diagnosed with a particularly malignant form of cancer.

He has managed to pull some strings to get his hands on an experimental treatment program for his friend. It shows some promising results, even remission, in as many as 20 percent of the test cases. Twenty percent isn't much, Myers concedes, but it's better than nothing when you're facing an otherwise universally fatal disease.

And it means that he will once again be able to go on the offensive as an oncologist. This time it will be all-out chemical warfare: doctor, patient and an arsenal of heavyweight drugs against the enemy. Some of the drugs will attack the cancer, others will allow greater doses of cancer fighters than a human body would otherwise be able to withstand, and still others will combat the side effects like nausea and exhaustion caused by such a massive assault.

It will be hell for the patient as well as for his family and friends. The onslaught will put him in the hospital for six days every three weeks during a cycle of medication, recovery and remedication. But at least there is the chance that the bogeyman will be sent packing. And that is more than Myers has been able to promise any AIDS patient.

Myers's week is chewed up with meetings, grant writing, clinical research, reviewing patient files and attending a general-cancer clinic. As a professor, he has teaching responsibilities as well as his hospital rounds. But the HIV oncology clinic, which he conducts on Monday and Thursday, is where his heart remains.

Woofer, a skinny, graying man in motorcycle garb, shouts for joy from the waiting room scales that indicate he has gained five pounds since his last visit. He was concerned, because he'd skipped his chemotherapy session.

"They get mad at me around here because I ride my bike to the hospital, get all drugged up and have to ride home," he says, winking at nurses Georgia Caven and Jane Gilden. "But I only live a few blocks away."

"Hi, Doc," he says when Myers emerges from the staff room. "Sorry I haven't been around. I gained five pounds."

Myers reaches out and pats Woofer's hips. "Just checking to see if you were putting rocks in your pockets," he says.

Caven tells Myers that John is waiting in an examination room. As Myers walks in, John is returning a medical book to the shelf. "I wanted to see what disease I could come up with next," John says.

"You could write a whole new book," Myers grins.
The banter is so light that they might have been discussing a case of measles. John guesses that he contracted HIV sometime between 1980 and his companion's death from pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in 1983. Since then, he's had his own brushes with death a number of times.

Myers has a joke: "What two words do you not want to hear in the men's restroom?"

"I don't know," John shrugs.
"Nice penis."
John hoots, then deadpans, "Some of us don't mind hearing that."

Myers notes that John's lesions seem to be retreating. But he worries that a persistent cough might signal a return bout with pneumonia or Kaposi's, recalling the cloudy spot on the X-rays. He urges John, who is going back to Kansas for a couple of weeks to see his family, to monitor his health closely. They hug and murmur, "Take care of yourself."

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Steve Jackson