Because you’re more than your disease.
Chad is only 25. He is gay, and has been with his partner for 15 months.
He was last tested for HIV a year ago, and the results were negative.
He came to my ER last Thursday with back pain - but the back pain didn’t concern the physician. The red plaques on his body did. He reported having them for 5 months or more.
These red plaques are tell tale signs of Kaposi Sarcoma, tumors that themselves are telltale signs of AIDS and a severely throttled immune system.
Chad admitted to knowing this, but not seeking help.
His back pain came from meningitis. He had fungus in his blood, in his spinal cord, and in his brain. He had to be placed on extreme forms of anti-fungals. We had to medicate him for the fevers, chills, and spasms the treatment caused. He had panic attacks.
And his nurses, myself included, were angry to some extent. Who would let this happen to themselves? We said in the hallways. Who grows red scales on their bodies, has every warning sign of HIV, but doesn’t seek help?
I got my answer that day. His mother came to visit as I was calming him from a panic attack. He couldn’t stand the thought of another round of amphotericin B that night. After a small dose of ativan, I plunked him in a wheelchair, and we made a point to get out of the unit for a bit. He’d been in that room for 7 days straight, growing weaker. He hadn’t seen or heard from his partner since his diagnosis.
His mother asked me why he was so weak and he pulled me down before I could answer. “I don’t want her to know what I have,” he whispered in my ear.
And it hit me. He is all alone.
He is an island in the middle of nurses and doctors who are fighting hard for him, but who do not - can not - truly understand what he is going through, or why he made the choices he did in delaying treatment.
I told his mother he has an infection in his blood and spine. I carefully avoided words that could hint at HIV; but in truth, if she had wanted to really know, less than 5 seconds googling the rash on her son’s body would have lead her to an answer.
After she left and we returned inside, I helped him into bed.
“Why didn’t you find help earlier?” I asked as I helped him get his weakened legs onto the mattress.
“I didn’t think anyone would care. I thought I’d have to beg for help, and…I don’t know. I didn’t think I’d get the help. I’d be shunned.”
I was speechless for a moment. I hate that, in 2015, someone would avoid life saving treatment because of the shame society places on diseases.
He continued “My boyfriend is the best thing that’s happened to me in years, and I knew he’d leave. My mom knows I’m gay but doesn’t ever talk about it. My dad hasn’t talked to me in years. I saw the signs and I felt like…well, my life is over. I only came in because the pain got so bad.”
I hate to think of how many more days you will spend in that room, listening to us badger you into eating hospital food, into just one more dose of amphotericin, just one more lap around the unit. I hate to think that those days may only stop because we lose the battle against the raging infection in your immunosuppressed body.
I hate to think that you may not live to see the year 2016.
You are so much more than your disease, Chad. You are more than your sexual orientation. You are more than your mother’s opinions and your fathers silence.
I hope you’ll see it before it’s too late.