St. Vincent's Remembered
By Out.com Editors
If someone didn’t have a healthcare proxy, and there was a disagreement between the lover and the mother, we knew that the lover had been there all the time and the mother had just arrived and was trying to take over. We wouldn’t say it out loud, but we would sort of ignore the mom.
But sometimes the partner and the mom were best friends, and how nice was that for us, right? And we saw many people mend their relationships with families who may have ostracized them. Every family member who came to see a patient came to realize to some degree that this was not a gay man’s disease and not a lifestyle choice -- that this was a human being with a terrible disease who needed to be taken care of.
The day my lover, John, died, he was on a respirator. I knew it was time. I was his medical proxy, and he had always said that when it was time, to please stop the meds and the machines. The respirator was the only thing keeping him alive. But how was I going to remove the tube?
This guy was walking through the halls, his name was Richard—tall, longish blond hair, someone we knew from Provincetown but hadn’t seen for 15 or 20 years. He saw me in the room and stuck his head in. I said, “What are you doing here?” He goes, “Oh, just visiting a friend.” And he sized up the situation immediately. “I’m going to take the tube out of his mouth, OK?” And I said, “Please.”
Somehow the AIDS ward being set up so that he could be walking through the hall—there was that kind of freedom—and just the coincidence of it all made hearing John take his last breath more bearable.
We could usually tell within a few hours of when someone was about to die. Sometimes the patients told us. I’ll never forget our first lesbian, and she was so angry, and she felt AIDS should never be happening to gay women. She came in with a throng of her friends, an entire entourage, who were just as angry as she was. She was released and stayed out of the hospital for a long time. But then she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she was in and out of the ward until the end of her life. The friends got to know us and calmed down.
At the end, this woman who had been morbidly obese was down to 90 pounds and on a morphine drip. I went in to turn her and make her comfortable, and she said, “Can you close the door? I just want quiet to die by myself.”