Robert's Walk With AIDS (Part 3): The Homecoming

Published 26, Dec, 2012

This is the third installment in a series of blog posts chronicling life with my partner, Robert, who died of AIDS March 21, 2002.

After any traumatic event, we all yearn for a place of comfort, that place we call home. Even the most abused child will talk about wanting to go home, no matter how bad it is. The reality is that in most cases there is a huge disconnect between our perception of home and what home is really like, as Robert was about to rediscover. 

Plans were made to get an apartment fairly close to the family "compound." The family compound consisted of a 900-square-foot home and three trailers for other family members. Two of those trailers had their own source of electricity. The other one was fed by a couple of those heavy orange extension cords, which ran from the side door of the main house to the trailer.

About five miles from home, the chosen apartment had two bedrooms with a bath between them, a laundry closet, a living room, and an eat-in kitchen. The second bedroom was to be occupied by Amanda, Robert's 12th-grade niece. If you asked Amanda, it was her job to take care of her Uncle Robert, who believed his job was to exercise greater control over Amanda's social life. Despite the potential for conflict between the two, they maintained a mutual respect for each other.

Behind closed doors, Robert continually complained about the depleting inventory of toilet paper, laundry detergent, soap, and paper towels. According to him, family members would stop by and help themselves to the paper products and take advantage of the laundry facilities, as the apartment was much more comfortable than the laundromat by Food Lion. You could sit yourself down in one of the comfortable recliners and help yourself to whatever beverage and snacks were in the fridge. Who could ask for anything more?

The move home also brought with it new challenges when it came to health care and money. There was no money coming in, and with no job, there was no health insurance. This is definitely a bad place to be in life, especially when you have a serious disease. Robert, however, still had money from Jim's life-insurance policy, so he felt he'd be fine, at least for a while. His body had recovered from the pneumonia, and he had started taking the miracle drug, AZT, which promised to delay the symptoms of AIDS and prolong the lives of AIDS patients.

From the late '80s through the early 90's, AZT was the drug of choice for AIDS patients. One of the most expensive drugs manufactured at the time, AZT was a blessing to Burroughs Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline), which held the exclusive rights to manufacture the drug for the next 17 years. With the cost of roughly $10,000 per patient per year, there was a potential for hefty profits.

The blessings came with a caveat, though, for the patient in this profitable equation. There were side effects to AZT. Sometimes, after walking just from one room to another room, Robert would get fatigued and need to sit for a while. Not being one who goes to the doctor for every little thing, Robert started a vitamin regimen after a self-diagnosis of "iron-poor blood." He had seen the infomercials on TV that would address any kind of problem he was having at the moment, so he was sure the vitamins would work to correct his bad blood. Besides, the trip to his doctor in D.C. was going to have to wait. 

He wanted to go see Tia in South Carolina. She needed a new van. He had money. For once in his life, maybe he could actually do something to get the respect and love from his family that had been so illusive in the past. It was Robert's time to shine.

To be continued...

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