Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Summer's Gone, Fall's Here. It's "Bad News" - Remember ANGELS IN AMERICA?

Summer is gone. Fall is a day away. While "summer euphoria" may still linger in the air, most of us can feel the reality of fall creeping in our bodies and souls, only to prepare us for the long winter months to follow shortly.

Many people love fall. Personally, I'm not too excited about the season. It has always reminded me of a time when I had to go back to school, of early, cold and dark mornings when I had to be up and running and out the door, just to face the reality of school, not the studies, but the individuals surrounding the idea of school.

Fall is also a season of... death (for lack of a better word). It's the time of year when things just... die, but not before showing themselves in the best light (or color) possible. Just think of all those turning leaves...

Fall is a sign for tough times (and temps) to come. Tough times--the idea of "Bad News" comes to mind ("Bad News" is the name of one of the six-parts of one of my favorite movies, Angels in America.

It's always "bad news" when you are given a death sentence, for example, in shape of a terminal illness. Angels in America characters receive the AIDS "bad news" not once, but twice. The interesting thing is that the particular scenes parallel similar real-life scenes. I've heard this "bad news" myself, when interviewing long-term AIDS survivors--best selling author Joel Rothschild, award-winning photographer Kurt Weston and many others.

I'd like to share with you the "bad news" as told to me by long-term AIDS survivor, AIDS activist and award-winning legally blind photographer Kurt Weston when I interviewed him for the JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS, a biography I wrote on his life and art. Hope you enjoy the read.  

As always, thanks for stopping by! Hope you enjoy the read.
Alina Oswald

Excerpt from "Chapter One: The Runway" of JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS

By 1991 the number of AIDS-related deaths skyrocketed. Many of Kurt’s friends and people he knew in his community became infected with HIV. But Kurt didn’t really worry. He had been feeling fine and hadn’t been sick at all, so there hadn’t been any reason for him to go to the doctor for his annual physical.  As a matter of fact, Kurt hadn’t been to a doctor in over a decade. He’d been healthy… at least up until the end of October 1991, when he started coughing. It was a persistent cough, exhausting, draining him of energy.
    Not knowing what to make of it, Kurt tried to self-diagnose, thinking he had an allergy. So, he decided to put to good use the health insurance he had through his work and flipped through the provider books with their endless lists of physicians, searching for an allergist. He found one and called his office to make an appointment. A few days later the doctor gave Kurt several shots of different allergens under his skin to determine just what he was allergic to, and then sent him home, advising him to return in a few days.
    Once at home, Kurt started feeling much worse. He went to bed only to wake up in the middle of the night soaked in his own sweat. That’s when he realized that something was seriously wrong with him and it wasn’t allergies. He started to think that whatever was wrong had something to do with HIV.  
    Only a week earlier Kurt had taken his date to a gay bar, where he first noticed an AIDS magazine. He picked it up and flipped through its pages and he came upon a list of various opportunistic infections associated with AIDS. One of them was Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, or PCP, otherwise known as “the AIDS pneumonia.” Kurt mentioned his suspicion regarding his HIV status, but the other guy brushed him away, saying that Kurt was probably overreacting.
    But after waking up several nights covered in sweat and feeling sicker and weaker by the minute, Kurt decided to call a doctor—a general practitioner this time—and make an appointment. He got in a few days later and by then he was coughing constantly and had mild fever.
    The doctor x-rayed Kurt’s lungs and drew blood to send out for fast testing. It turned out that the photographer had pneumonia, but the doctor needed more time to determine what kind of pneumonia it was.
    Kurt’s blood test results were back in no time. The physician studied them and noticed that his patient’s white cell count was way out of the normal range. That was reason enough to ask permission to perform an HIV test. Permission granted, the doctor drew more blood from Kurt’s arm and sent it out for more testing, and then he sent his patient home with a prescription for antibiotics to treat his pneumonia. Kurt was to return in a week for a follow-up visit.
    During the following days, despite the doctor’s treatment, he started feeling even worse and by the end of the week Kurt became certain of his HIV status. When it was time for him to return to the doctor’s office, his sister insisted on going with him. “You can’t go in there without some emotional support,” she said and drove him and stood by his side as he received the news.
    According to the new blood test results, Kurt not only had HIV. He had AIDS. He was also experiencing his first bout of PCP—two more were to follow in less than a year. His T cell count was fifteen. [In comparison, the T cell count for a healthy person is approximately one thousand or more, measured per unit of blood.]
    Being a general practitioner, the physician thought it was time to turn his patient to an HIV specialist, and so he sent Kurt immediately to the hospital. There, although doctors didn’t tell Kurt much else at the time, they told the photographer’s mother that her son might not make it through the night.

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