Thirteen years: Not out of the woods yet

AIDS was… an illness in stages, a very long flight of steps that led assuredly to death, but whose every step represented a unique apprenticeship. It was a disease that gave death time to live and its victims time to die, time to discover time, and in the end to discover life.

~ Hervé Guibert

Not out of the woods yet

Continued from… Isaac’s condition improves

That evening had another surprise for Isaac. Just as the bell rang to mark the start of visiting hours, Margaret appeared in the door opening of Isaac’s room.

“Margaret!” Both Isaac and Annie called out at the same time.
“Hey you two! It is so nice to see both of you again! How are you feeling, Isaac?” Margaret asked.
“A lot better now that I see you,” Isaac flirted.
“And seriously now?” Margaret laughed.

“Actually, this is the first day since I got ill that I’m feeling okay again. I think your flowers had something to do with it. Thanks a lot for them,” Isaac said as he pointed at the bouquet of flowers.
“You’re welcome. And it’s good to hear that you are feeling better again. When do you think you will be discharged from the hospital?” Margaret asked.
“I actually have no idea. I’ll ask the doctor tomorrow morning. I guess I will not be able to leave until they take this thing out,” Isaac motioned towards the catheter tube connected to the bag holding a thick yellowish fluid.

“What’s in it?” Margaret inquired.
“I think it’s steak and chips on the menu today,” Isaac joked, and then he was serious again. “It’s some kind of concentrated liquid food they’re give me, since I couldn’t eat. They will not let me leave the hospital until I can eat by myself. That seems logical, I guess.”

Towards the end of visiting hours, Isaac got somewhat quieter. The day was long and even though he was feeling better, he had used up too much of his newly found resources. He needed to rest again, so everyone said their goodbyes and left.

On their way to their cars, Margaret walked next to Annie.
“Annie, please let me know as soon as Isaac is discharged, because we then need to arrange his return trip as quickly as possible. I had to arrange for a temporary residence permit for Isaac and the authorities want to be kept in the loop about his circumstances. I know the two of you would want to spend time together when Isaac gets out of the hospital, but we are also bound by the laws of the country. Please do keep me updated?” Margaret explained.


Myra brought her daughter, Sylvana, with her when she visited Isaac the next evening. This evening Jacques didn’t come to the hospital, as he had to work that night. Annie would drive back home with her mother. The four women stood around Isaac’s bed, joking and laughing. Isaac was yet again in good spirits, feeling just as well as he had the day before.

About fifteen minutes after visiting hours started, the head nurse of the ward walked into the room. She addressed Annie.
“Ma’am, may I speak with you for a moment?”

Annie followed the nurse to a corner in the family room. Her mother joined them.
“You must have noticed your friend is feeling better,” the nurse started. “However, our concerns about his health aren’t gone. He’s still running a fever of almost forty degrees Celsius. His temperature hasn’t come down since he arrived in the ward. That he feels better is a good sign, but we are not out of the woods just yet.”

“What do you mean?” Annie asked.
“Last week and up to yesterday, we feared for his life. It really was touch and go. He has acute pancreatitis. He told us he also had it about six months ago. The acute pancreatitis has nothing to do with him being HIV positive. The only connection is since he’s HIV positive, he’s bound to get ill quicker than healthy people. Isaac is feeling better now, so we do have some hope, but we will only be confident about his full recovery when the fever is gone. As long as he has the fever, he is still very ill, no matter how well he feels,” the nurse explained.

A sob escaped Annie. Where she had feared for Isaac’s life too, only in that moment she realize how serious it was. Her hopes for his quick recovery were quite high since the day before, but now she understood it was too soon for any cheering. Her mom put her arms around her.

“It will be okay. Isaac is strong. He’s fighting this as hard as he can. He will win,” her mother soothed.

Annie knew Isaac might win this battle, but chances of him winning the war were zero. The sand in the hourglass of Isaac’s life was slowly running out.

“I guess then for the time being Isaac will not be discharged from the hospital?” Annie’s mother asked the nurse.
Grace wanted Isaac home just as much as Annie and the others wanted it.

“Indeed. Our first priority is to get the fever down. If that stays down, the deep catheter will come out and he will have to start eating again. Only if all of that goes well, we can consider discharging him. We’ll all have to take one day at a time. He’s a very nice and polite person, the best patient we’ve ever had in the ward. We don’t mind having him around a while longer,” the nurse tried to lighten the mood with a joke.

Annie smiled through her tears. Soon her mother and the nurse were engaged in a conversation about South Africa. Annie used the time to calm down and dry her tears. She didn’t want Isaac to know she had been crying about him.

She had to be strong – for him.

They heard the laughter when they were still in the hallway. Annie and Grace quickly glanced at each other. Sometimes – just sometimes – Myra immensely irritated both of them. They entered the room and Annie firmly closed it.

“Why are you closing the door?” Sylvana asked.
“Because we could hear the laughter down the hallway and we don’t want to disturb the rest of the patients,” Annie said.
“Oh, they won’t mind,” Myra waved Annie’s words away.
“They might not mind, but I don’t want to upset the nursing staff either. They have been very tolerant, allowing us to visit Isaac outside visiting hours and not moaning when there are too many visitors in the room at one time. I just think that we can have some consideration for them too,” Annie said.

“You’re right, Annie,” Isaac said as he put his hand on hers, “they’re very good to me. I don’t want them to get angry with me.”

“They won’t, Isaac, but we should just think about them too,” Annie said. She was glad the diversion helped to take the attention away from her red eyes. Isaac was quieter since they came back from the nurse than he was before they had left. He didn’t let go of her hand, either. Somehow, it was like he tried to comfort her. This thought made her feel sad again. Here he was trying to make her feel better, when all she wanted to do was to comfort him.

For once, Annie was relieved when visiting hours were over. She could hardly wait to get home and to go to her bed, where she later cried herself to sleep.

To be continued… Phone calls upset Isaac

Note: This series is a rework of a self-published book (2009), rewritten for this blog, and in loving memory of a dear friend who suffered from and passed because of AIDS. Keep in mind this story happens in the late eighties and throughout the nineties. Names of characters have been changed to protect their privacy.

© Rebel’s Notes
Image from Pixabay

6 thoughts on “Thirteen years: Not out of the woods yet

  1. Such a difficult conversation to have. Well, two really. Having the authorities breathing down his neck while still battling the pancreatitis is quite the burden for Annie. I don’t imagine you could share it all with Isaac at this point either? Or risk slowing his recovery. N xx

    1. I don’t think I ever shared it with him. I didn’t want to burden him more, because of how ill he was xox

  2. There is nothing as painful and that makes you feel as useless as watching a loved one fade away, knowing that while they might win small battles, that the outcome in the end will be the same. Much love, Marie… this story breaks my heart <3

    1. You’re right, Nora. We knew what the longterm outcome for him would be, and when my mom fell ill in 2017, we knew the same. It’s hard, really hard. Thank you so much for continuing to read this story xox

      1. My experience with this was with watching my husband’s grandfather go slowly. It was hard to see his family all rooting for him, knowing that… there just couldn’t be an ideal outcome, not in the long run. It was a very difficult life lesson.

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