Longform

Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive

Page 23 of 27

Gourley had written that it would be necessary for gays to rely on an alliance with people of good intentions in the straight world to combat this disease. Some of that had been evidenced by straight society's pressure on the government to fund research and programs to help people living with AIDS cope with food, housing and medical assistance. But Gourley saw it on a more intimate scale with doctors like Cohn and Myers.

The doctors at the ID clinic were all more gay-friendly than most, and seemingly more human in both their approach and their emotions. Gourley worked most closely with Cohn, the medical director of the clinic. They had their rows, and it seemed that at times he'd had to talk to the doctor endlessly about understanding gay men. Cohn could be very intense, even short-tempered, and Gourley would be angry with him -- until he saw the time and care the doctor would spend with a patient, often far beyond what was medically necessary.

Some things had gotten better. There were better medicines for coping with the worst effects of opportunistic infections, making patients more comfortable. The doctors were beginning to get a handle on PCP and Kaposi's. But there were always other infections popping up to pick at the patients like ravens at roadkill until death won by default.

In the "library" -- a quiet corner of the hospital where medical students once caught up on their studies -- patients were hooked up to intravenous bags of chemotherapy drugs to combat Kaposi's or other infections, or for blood transfusions, as they sat forlorn in overstuffed chairs. Other patients quietly waited their turns out in the hallways or tiny examination rooms. Some, still in the early stages of the disease, seemed perfectly healthy except for telltale bruises on their faces or a dry, hacking cough. Many others, though, looked like concentration-camp survivors -- gaunt, haunted, hopeless. Some sat in wheelchairs next to portable oxygen tanks. Others had to be led like the blind because their faces were so swollen with edema they couldn't see. Many wore scarves or hats to hide the fact that chemotherapy had robbed them of their hair.

Patrick Gourley saw the faces of AIDS every day at the clinic and then again when he went home. If there was a silver lining, it was his amazement at the loyalty these men showed one another. Though some ran from the disease, more often than not they stuck it out.

Woodyard put up with his infections and went about his life. He acted as though AIDS were nothing more than a pesky fly interrupting more important things in his life. When it got too difficult to stay on his feet to work on his stained glass, he resorted to knitting. In 1995, as it became more apparent that he wouldn't last much longer, Woodyard started making sure Gourley wouldn't go off the deep end after he was gone. He teased that it was a good thing that Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead had recently died; otherwise his lover, who sometimes saw as many as fifteen concerts a year, might have become a full-time groupie. On a more serious note, he contacted an accountant, a dear friend of theirs, and made sure to set up his estate so that Gourley, never one for fiscal responsibility, didn't give it all away.

Woodyard was prepared spiritually. Death, he reminded the Buddhist in the relationship, was just another facet of life. But he didn't just lie down. Instead, he hosted a fundraising committee meeting for Children's in their backyard even as pain was beginning to grip him as it hadn't before. The next day he was in terrible agony, and not even the liquid morphine Gourley gave him helped.

Then, and only then, did David Woodyard weaken. Like Christ on the cross, he cried out, nearly delirious, "What did I do to deserve this?"

It stunned Gourley and caused him to despair. How could he bring his lover back from that state of hopelessness? David had done nothing to deserve this, but he was beyond hearing any such reassurances.

They had always planned for David to die at home, resting in the arms of his lover, surrounded by his many friends. But the pain was uncontrollable, and he was taken to Rose Hospital, where they were able to bring it to a manageable level.

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Steve Jackson