Life Support How a dedicated nurse and a constant companion helped Donald Krinkey Jr. bear the unbearable pain of AIDS. BY PATRICK A. MCGUIRE

September 20, 1992

In the ambulance that Monday last July, Rose looked into Donald's eyes and saw the wild look of panic and terror. He had been dying of AIDS for months, but right now, at this very moment, he was really dying. His skin was as pale as paste, the disease had shrunk him down to almost nothing. A tangle of tubes extended from his chest, an oxygen mask was held close to his mouth and nose. He gasped desperately for a breath, his eyes pleading with Rose.

He shouldn't die like this, she thought, gently stroking his hair. Not here in the ambulance, not frightened like this.

The powerful antibiotics she had helped pump through those tubes in recent months had already destroyed most of his hearing, so when Rose spoke to him she did so with her eyes. And her eyes lied: You're OK, Donald.

Donald Krinkey Jr., only 28, had been a waiter when he found out four years ago he was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In February of 1991 he suffered the first of several infections that signaled the presence of acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Last fall he took full time to bed, cared for by his constant companion, Christopher Camp. It was Chris who arranged all of Donald's care, including the daily visits -- through Care Consultants and Staff Builders -- of a home care nurse.

She was 39, a veteran of 18 years of nursing, a woman who considered herself a rebel, sick and tired of hospital rules and regulations. But the home nursing field had somehow renewed her. Though physically demanding, though it offered no vacation, no sick time, though it heaped on responsibility and expected coolness under fire -- and there was plenty of fire -- there was something else. "I was always fighting with somebody at the hospital," said Kathy Rosemary, known to the world as Rose. "But now, out here, I feel like I can breathe."

Last October, when she began her new career, treating almost exclusively home-bound AIDS patients, she met Donald. He wanted to know from the first day how much longer he had to live. "I'm not gonna be the one to tell you when you're gonna die," she challenged him. "You're the one who's gonna tell me. And you're gonna tell me by your actions, by your state of mind, by how comfortable you are with the whole thing."

By his actions, Donald told her he wasn't comfortable at all. Over 10 months -- five times longer than her average patient's life span -- he survived a series of deadly infections and hospitalizations.

"You make the choice at some point to let it go," she said later. "Some people fight kicking and screaming all the way because they haven't accepted death. It's a scary process. We don't know what it is to die. Actually it becomes a comfort at some point, because the discomfort or the pain or the debilitated state they are in becomes so horrible that death becomes a friendly thing."

Donald was fighting it and Rose understood completely.

"I want to help these people not to be terrified as they go out the door," she said. "To help them fight as long as they want to fight, and then as we get down to the end, to help them see it's not a bad thing."

The fight seemed to come to an end that Monday morning last July when Donald suffered a recurrence of pneumonia. His temperature shot up to 102. His pulse was 150. He was going bad and going bad quickly. Rose, who sees seven to eight patients a day, quickly called an ambulance.

"The look on his face was awful," she recalled. "I looked at him and he looked me dead in the eye. And he held that contact, almost like he was holding onto this side of life. I knew he'd decided, 'I ain't goin' yet. I ain't ready.' "

By the time they reached the hospital, Donald had fought his way out of yet another crisis. Rose went back to her office and when she thought of how close he had come to dying in a state of fear, she did something she almost never does. The rebel broke down and cried.

PROPPED UP IN A HOSPITAL BED in the living room of his home near Memorial Stadium, Donald had a clear view of the television and the wildflowers and the future. "I'm comfortable now with dying," he said.

He still wore the oxygen mask and he'd "put on his ears" -- special headphones that enhanced his severely damaged hearing. "Before last Monday I was really scared of dying," he said. "Rose and I were able to talk about it. After that I can say to myself I'm gonna be OK, this wasn't as bad as I thought it was."

Sitting next to his bed, Chris Camp didn't seem quite as accepting. "As many times as you think you've dealt with it, when you witness this every day, you realize you haven't really dealt with it," he said. "I don't think there's anything you can do to completely prepare yourself."

They met one night about four years ago in the Mount Vernon section of Baltimore. Chris, 36 and a longtime employee of various AIDS support groups, stopped his car and offered Donald a ride home. They've been together since.

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