Thirteen years: Reading Isaac’s words (5)

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

Reading Isaac’s words (5)

Continued from… Reading Isaac’s words (4)

June 18, 1998
I’m a bit ill. I have pancreatitis or something like that.

On Monday, I woke up with an aching stomach. I felt feverish and Kathy said I should go to the doctor. The doctor didn’t see or feel anything, but she took blood and the results for whatever they had to test were very high. The military doctor then called my civilian doctor, and he agreed with her diagnosis. They measure pancreatitis in three grades, from 1 to 3. I have grade 1, which is not too bad. With grade 2, they admit you to the hospital and then they put you on a drip for two days without food. Tuesday was a public holiday, so the doctor had sent me home to rest. She told me that I should rest and be very careful with what I eat.

On Wednesday, I went back to her, and she took blood again. The results were better. All the values had come down, so everything I did was good. I’m booked off for the rest of the week to do the same – rest. That is exactly what I am doing: resting! I have to go back to my military doctor on Monday. I really do feel better. My stomach is still tender, but the pain is bearable. I am not feverish anymore. I’m keeping my diet to pasta, yoghurt and soft fruits for now.

July 1, 1998
Last week, I was in hospital. I was booked off from work the week before because of the pancreatitis. I really felt good, so I went to work on Monday. I had just walked into the office when I felt a severe pain on my stomach. I literally doubled up. A couple of colleagues offered to drive me to the hospital, but I declined. I drove myself. When I got there, I went straight to the doctor. Before I could come to my senses, I was on the bed, under a duvet cover, still fully dressed in my street clothes. They gave me a morphine injection, but the pain didn’t budge. Then they gave me a terrible white medicine and half an hour later, I was in the radiology department for a CT scan.

Back in the ward, they put in a drip and I stayed in bed like that for three days. No food. No water. Nothing. Not even my pills. They had stopped everything. The doctor had prescribed morphine for every eight hours. Monday evening, I had another injection and yet another one on Tuesday morning. Only then did the pain subside. The doctor came on her rounds and said I had to stay on the drip until Wednesday. There were no tumors in my pancreas; it was just very swollen.

On Wednesday, they removed the drip, and they allowed me to eat dry crackers. That was a punishment! I know you are not supposed to get hungry with the drip on, but I was and I wanted everything they said that I shouldn’t eat.

Also on Wednesday, my military doctor went on a two-week leave and another doctor took over from her. This other doctor sent me home on Thursday and she said I had to report at the ward on Monday, June 29. I had a pleasant weekend and didn’t really watch what I ate.

When I went back on Monday, the substitute doctor said she didn’t really know what to do with me, so I can go home. I gave her the telephone number of my civilian doctor. She phoned him and told him what my blood results of June 22 and June 29 were. She also told him what medication I was on and what dosages. He said it’s no wonder my organs are collapsing, as I am overdosing! Also, I shouldn’t use the tablets with the sleeping tablet my military doctor had prescribed.

So yesterday, they officially discharged me as a patient and booked off from work for two weeks. They have also stopped my tablets for two weeks, and after that they will give me a lower dosage. I told the substitute doctor I couldn’t sleep without my sleeping tablet anymore, so she prescribed one, which I now can use with my other medicine.

While I was waiting to see the doctor yesterday, I heard I was one of the few military people who get HIV medication. Apparently, it would bankrupt the army if they had to give medication to every HIV-positive soldier. So I will just leave it be that I almost overdosed. If I complain, they might just decide to stop my medication.

July 3, 1998
I have been to the hospital to visit Billy. He only comes home during weekends. He has to stay there for at least six weeks. He and his wife are in therapy now. I hope it helps him to get a handle on his depression.

July 10, 1998
I have been to the Waterfront with friends on Saturday July 4, when the stomach ache returned. I doubled up again and sweating profusely. It ran in rivulets from my head. The friends immediately took me to hospital. Elaine was on duty and not long after I arrived in the ward, I was on a drip again. They gave me morphine – a stronger dosage – but it didn’t help any quicker than the last time I was in hospital for the same thing.

I developed a fever and a headache and instead of keeping my mouth shut, I told a male nurse. He told Elaine. This was on Sunday. Elaine and a doctor entered my room, and they said they were going to do a lumbar puncture. I told them it wasn’t necessary; they should just give me a tablet or something. They didn’t want to listen. They said a lumbar puncture was necessary because the fever and the headache could mean I had meningitis.

The lumbar puncture came back as I suspected: no meningitis. I was on the drip until Wednesday and then discharged from hospital this morning. I’m booked off from work until July 20 and I have to go back to my doctor on July 15.

Do you remember I told you about the gay youngster who works in the signal office? Well, last night when I was still in the hospital, Elaine came to me. She said she hoped I didn’t mind, but there was a young man who had just been diagnosed as HIV-positive. She had told him he should come and talk to me. Apparently, he was very depressed. She never said who it was. But guess who walked into my room this morning? Indeed, the gay youngster who works in the signal office! I don’t know how he’s going to cope. He is really broken up about the diagnosis.

Billy’s six weeks in the hospital are almost over. I cannot believe it has been six weeks already. He has to go for therapy every morning for a week. He was here this morning, and he looks good, but I think he has a long road ahead. His therapist told Billy that when he feels down, he should come and talk to me. It seems I’m becoming a therapist now!


Annie folded the letter back into the envelope. This was the last letter she had received from Isaac by regular mail. Soon after this, he at last had his computer settings sorted out, and he had switched to email. She looked outside and was surprised to see the day was breaking.

With lead in her shoes, she walked upstairs. Quietly, she slipped into bed next to her husband.

To be continued… Reading Isaac’s words (6)

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: Reading Isaac’s words (5)

  1. For the first time in my life, I am getting a taste of how disruptive and scary medical issues are. It must have been so hard for Issac to be in the hospital for these stays, alone, and probably afraid.

    1. I got very angry reading this, not with Isaac but with the military doctors callous disregard for correct dosage and timely interventions. They were quick enough to ask the civvy doc to confirm diagnosis, but didn’t think to check dosage with him, or check which sleeping tablet would be most sensitive to work in unity with his other meds. They could have killed him and to know that he felt he couldn’t complain about their overdosing him in case they withdrew their supply of medication just makes my blood boil.
      There is so much wrong with what happened to him I want to travel back in time and rail against the machine that made his life so very much harder than it should have been.
      I’m sad again now, I know Danny didn’t go through a quarter of what Isaac went through once he was diagnosed, and I thought he had it rough from the medical profession in the UK. He was passed from pillar to post with such cold disregard, he wasn’t treated like a patient, he was treated with such disrespect and coldness because of the fact he was HIV pos. He often said when I went to see him that I must be mad to want to come and spend time with the leper of the colony.
      Many tears.
      Once again, thank you for telling Isaac’s story. xx

      1. As I edited this, I felt the anger too, because they were seriously incompetent there. The way they treated him, and the hold they had over him, being able to withhold his meds from him.
        Thank you for sharing parts of Danny’s journey too. I think it’s horrible that HIV positive people were treated so badly, as if indeed they were lepers, while they also had to deal with a deadly disease 🙁
        Thank you for your comment, Gem! xox

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