Thirteen years: Phone calls upset Isaac

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

Phone calls upset Isaac

Continued from… Not out of the woods yet

When Annie walked into Isaac’s room one afternoon close to the end of his second week in hospital, he was on the phone.

“Yes, Major. Yes, I understand. Yes, Major, I will report to you the moment I’m back in South Africa. Thanks, Major. Good day.”

Isaac stared out of the window, ignoring Annie.
“Are you okay, Isaac?” she asked.
“I guess,” he answered.
“Is something wrong? What did the major say?”

From the part of the conversation she had heard, Annie gathered Isaac had spoken to one of his superiors in South Africa. It just struck her as odd that Isaac would call his work.

“The major called to tell me the army will not pay my medical bill since I came on this trip without permission,” Isaac explained, “but I really had permission. I had been to the doctor before I came here and she said I was allowed to travel. I had also asked for permission for a three-week leave of absence and they had granted it. Now they say I came here without permission and the army medical fund will not cover the overseas medical costs. I don’t understand those people. I really don’t. I did everything exactly the way I should have and now they put the blame on me,” Isaac’s voice had an angry sound in it.

“Please don’t let it upset you, my friend. We’ll deal with that later. All you have to concentrate on now is to get better,” she soothed.
“How can I not worry, Annie,” Isaac reacted sharply, “I don’t have the money to pay a hospital bill! Just think what it’s going to cost. I had a CT scan, went to the operating room for this,” he pointed at the catheter in his shoulder, “and the stuff in this bag cannot be cheap either. How can I not worry? I have to worry about it!”
“Then we will worry about that later, but not now! We will deal with it together, Isaac. I promise,” Annie said quietly while holding his hand, trying to calm him down. It seemed to work.

It was quiet for a while. Isaac stared at the television set, but he didn’t really follow what was on there. He was lost in thought. Annie sat down on the chair next to his bed, keeping quiet too.

“I have to call my mother. She must be very worried,” Isaac broke the silence.
“Why don’t you call her now?” Annie suggested. She was glad that Isaac seemed not to think about the major’s words anymore.
“I don’t know what to say to her.”

Annie didn’t know how to interpret his words. Then Isaac spoke again.

“She doesn’t understand, Annie. She wanted to know what had happened to make me gay. I had told her nothing happened, that I just am gay, but she still thinks something bad must have happened to me. It doesn’t help if I explain it to her. My mother never calls my illness by name. She calls it ‘that thing that you have’. She never calls it HIV or AIDS. I think she just can’t handle it.” Isaac fell silent again.

“She’s a mother, Isaac. It must be difficult for her to see you ill. She loves you. Just call her, my friend. Deep down, she really understands. She just doesn’t know how to show you she understands,” Annie tried to explain.
“I’ll call her this evening.”

The rest of the afternoon, Isaac and Annie watched television together. Isaac once drifted off to sleep. Annie paged through some magazines and left the room for a while to get some coffee from the family corner down the hallway.

Just before they could hear the tinkling of the plates and cups when dinner was brought around, the male nurse entered Isaac’s room for the daily injection. Isaac was on top of the covers. The moment he saw the male nurse, he turned his buttocks towards him and, in an exaggerated way, he opened his gown. Annie watched with a smile, and her smile broadened when she saw the twinkle in the nurse’s eyes. Isaac’s flirting was quite obvious, but the other mand didn’t seem to mind.


“It’s ringing,” Isaac said, “maybe she’s not home.”

He sounded hopeful. Annie couldn’t decide whether he sounded relieved or disappointed when at last his mom answered on the other side.

“Hi mom, how are you?”
Annie followed Isaac’s side of the conversation.
“Yes mom, I’m feeling better. They’re taking good care of me.”
Silence.
“No mom, I am not eating solid foods yet. I am still on a drip.”
Silence.
“I don’t know when the drip will come out. The doctor’s haven’t told me yet.”
Silence.
“No mom, I’m not allowed to use my medicine now. I don’t know when I can take it again.”

“It’s AIDS mom, not that thing. It’s called AIDS!” Isaac couldn’t keep the irritation from his voice.

He listened.
“Sorry mom, I should not talk to you like that.”
Another silence.
“Yes mom, I will tell them you send your love.”
Another short silence.
“Yes, and them too. Yes, they’re all very good to me. Don’t worry about that.”
The last silence.
“I will call you again soon, mom. When I have news. I love you. Bye mom.”

Isaac slammed the phone down.
“Why can’t she call it AIDS? It’s almost as if she thinks she might get it if she says the word. Dammit! It’s called AIDS, not that thing!”

Annie kept quiet. She didn’t know what to say, since she understood Isaac’s irritation, but she could also imagine his mother having a hard time to deal with the sickness of her only child.

During visiting hours that evening, Isaac was quiet again. He seemed to be tired too. Annie blamed this on the two phone calls – that with the major and the one he had with his mother. She knew even though he had said he would not, he was worrying about the hospital bill. Also, she knew Isaac well enough to know he felt guilty about his outburst towards his mother.

After a night’s sleep, he would feel better again.

To be continued… Who wants to live forever

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

7 thoughts on “Thirteen years: Phone calls upset Isaac

  1. His health is plummeting and the rest of the world is crashing down on him as well… My heart breaks for him. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to have your true self rejected by your mother.

    1. That was the one thing he just couldn’t deal with. From the moment he came out as gay, his mother’s behaviour towards him changed. And that at a time he needed her so much.

  2. That was most definitely a shitty thing to do by the Army. Not a surprise, but shitty nonetheless. I feel so frustrated for Isaac, how can you concentrate on getting better when everything is transpiring against you? His mother may have been upset over her only child’s illness but she should have heard him and called it what it was. Goodness knows, AIDS was vilified beyond measure in its early years so I suppose it is no great surprise his mom had trouble reconciling not only that Isaac was gay but that he had also contracted this terrible disease.

    We are such an ignorant intolerant species we humans, had he been suffering with cancer, people would have been going out of their way to help him, support him etc. I’ll bet the army would have paid his medical bills then!

    My dearest and closest friend in the late 80’s came out as gay after struggling with his feelings for years. It was such a huge moment for him when he finally owned his sexuality, I was devastated when he told me a scant year later that he had AIDS and then blamed himself because he had thought that his partner was faithful to him so they had unprotected sex. Turned out, his partner was already infected with AIDS and hadn’t told anyone. My friend died before treatment became readily available. His partner is still alive today.
    You telling Isaac’s story is so very close to my heart, thank you for sharing it. xx

    1. Thank you for sharing your story too. It’s so similar to that of Isaac. In future episodes, he will be sharing his own story. Like you say, we are a terrible species. Some people, who used to be his friends, treated him so terribly in his last two years. Just horrible. Thank you for reading his story, I really appreciate it xox

  3. What a shitty thing for them to do! I’m not surprised he had an outburst at his mum. Not only did he need to manage her lack of understanding but the previous call must have been weighing heavily. (If you can’t be grumpy with your mum who can you be?)

    N xx

    1. It indeed weighed so heavily on him, and remained a constant worry for him, despite my ministrations for them not to call him anymore xox

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