Jeff had avoided the hospital for as long as possible. He had seen too many friends in them. He had detested the way they were treated. And, of course, he didn't want to face his own future. So he stayed away. For as long as possible.
And then it was no longer possible.
Early this month, he lost 16 pounds, dropping to 119, more than 25 pounds below his normal weight. He was worried that the experimental drug he'd been taking was no longer working against the AIDS.
"I was scared," Jeff said. "My doctor convinced me to go to the hospital. I had been avoiding the hospital for five years. I had seen what happened to my friends. You're looking at a man who had 60 friends, and I've lost all but three, and those three are sick. . . . I had one friend who decided one night to unplug himself from the oxygen. He did this at 10 o'clock in his hospital room and they didn't find him until 11 the next morning. No one even bothered to check on him.
"Look, I've lasted longer than anyone I know. I've spent probably a quarter-million dollars on treatment. I've lost my business, my house. I had to move into the apartment and sell some of my furniture. It has wiped me out. I've dealt with rejection from the average person plenty. I understand that. It's the educated people in the medical profession I don't understand, the way they treated me."
He went to the hospital on a Monday afternoon.
"The young woman in admitting was very sweet, but that's where it ended," Jeff said. "I had to have a blood test, give a urine sample and get a chest X-ray. The woman who took my blood stuck the needle in my arm at a painful angle like this. . . ."
He motioned with his small, bony hands, showing how the nurse inserted the needle for the blood sample at a right angle.
"She was standing up, like she didn't want to get close to me, and blood was dripping out of the needle. By the time she finished with me, there were welts and bruises on my arm. I gave a urine sample, put the lid on the cup, and the nurse looked at me with absolute terror, and she put on gloves and a mask before she took the sample from me. I didn't get a chest X-ray. They took me to my room.
"They told me someone would come to collect my money for the TV. She never came. She mailed a bill to my apartment."
"This heavy-set nurse came into the room. She was obnoxious. She was going over the list of the medications prescribed for me. There were five in all. She looked at the list and snapped, 'What's this? What's this? We don't have this.' And she looked at a vial of medicine marked, 'For experimental use only,' and . . . said, 'You're not supposed to have this,' and she grabbed it out of my hands. She didn't know a thing about it, and when I said it was the same as AZT [another AIDS treatment], she bolted out of the room. I guess she realized I was HIV-positive.
"At about 6:30, a young girl came into my room and said, 'We have to put you on IV,' and she stuck the needle in my arm as fast as she could and walked away. I got the impression the staff was flipping a coin and the loser got me. The IV caused me excruciating pain. I took it for two hours, then I couldn't take it anymore. So this older woman, in charge of the IV unit, came in and she said, 'This needle is too large,' and she took it out and put in a new one.
"At 11:15, this orderly comes in and says, 'I gotta take you to the emergency room for chest X-rays.' He took me down in a wheelchair.
"I got the X-ray real quick, but then he left me in the hallway for a half-hour. Finally, I pushed myself to the elevator and another orderly stopped me and said, 'You can't do that.' So I waited longer until this woman -- not a nurse -- wheeled me back to my room. People like that, like the woman who changed my bed, treated me better than the nurses and the so-called educated people.
"At midnight, my nurse comes in and says she needs 14 vials of blood and she starts ripping my vein again, putting it in at a bad angle. Now it's obvious that they're just afraid to touch me. Finally, she stabs me with this needle one last time, and I say, 'That's it. Goodbye! I came here because I was in pain, not because I was looking for pain!'
"I never got breakfast. I left the hospital the next morning. I told my doctor that, when my time comes, just hook me up to a morphine drip at home. That's the way to go, the way some of my friends did.
"I don't want treatment thrown in my face like this. I don't want neglect. I don't want death with dignity. I want treatment with dignity."