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    My Epidemic: An AIDS Memoir of One Man’s Struggle as Doctor, Patient, and Survivor

    By Michele Karlsberg–

    Michele Karlsberg: When Dr. Andrew Faulk first learned that he was HIV-positive, he was devastated. At the time, the diagnosis could have meant imminent death for the outstanding young physician. That fateful day, he faced the great divide of his life. Due to the rigors and stress of his work, he considered abandoning his medical career. Instead, he dedicated the remainder of his life to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Being HIV-positive himself, Faulk could empathize with his patients in ways that other doctors could not. In the early years of the epidemic, this meant witnessing the deaths of numerous loved ones, including a partner. With intuition, insight, and compassion, however, he brought peace and comfort whenever possible to those he called “my guys.” After a long silence, he recounts those heroic years and tells this, his true story as doctor, patient and survivor. The following is an excerpt from his memoir, My Epidemic (Culbertson Publishing, 2019).

    In January of 1991, my world was crumbling around me—by then, Fred Lawrence was ill and Jack was undergoing chemotherapy at UCLA hospital. Chris’ downward spiral was another blow, albeit lesser, to my psychological equilibrium. The last time I saw him alive he was hospitalized in a large room at the Medical Center of North Hollywood.

    Although the sun had set, the shades were drawn. The TV was off and his hospital tray stand stood with nothing on it except a Styrofoam cup with a straw in it. The back of his bed was raised and there, silhouetted by the fluorescent light panel behind him, Chris sat in a space empty of sound and people and stared ahead into a vacant room and the desolate future before him. 

    He was bright enough to know medicine had little to offer beyond pain control, indeed he asked no questions about further treatment. Words failed in the tableau before me; offering hope to this man would have been an affront to his intelligence. Despite opiates for his pain, he lay awake, mentally intact and aware of approaching death. In our last days, most of us fear pain and loss of personal autonomy, but he had control of his bodily functions, so I asked him whether or not he was in pain. He replied no, but said nothing more.

    I couldn’t read anything in his face and although I’m comfortable with silence, the quiet here was agonizing. I was walking into a familiar situation yet it was unfamiliar at the same time. Often distant patients became surprisingly accessible when they’re confronted with approaching death, but this was not to be Chris Carley’s way. I began to see, however, that I didn’t have to say anything profound. I could give him quite possibly the most important gift any of us can give the dying—our presence. 

    In those days, before the advent of laptop computers and digitized patient records, physicians would sit at the centralized nursing desks and write out in longhand reports of patients’ progress and orders for tests and therapies. Nurses disliked any removal of patients’ charts from their stations because their absence could be a source of escalating confusion. I understood: I appreciated the need for a central location for information.

    But my connectedness with those in my care was paramount, and I felt it could best be obtained by charting in Chris’ room. I gathered all the records of my various patients and moved them into his room, sat down in a chair next to his bed, and began the process of charting. Whether it was due to social abrasiveness, or perhaps conspicuous eccentricities, there were always some of my patients who had few social skills and fewer friends; it was not unusual for many to face their illness more or less alone. 

    I believe that my quiet presence next to my guys provided what routine medical training and expertise could not. 

    Andrew Faulk, M.D., is a retired physician who specializes in HIV/AIDS. He lives with his husband Frank Jernigan in San Francisco, where he paints with shattered glass and is active in progressive politics. His memoir is available at independent bookstores and online retailers.

    Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity for the LGBTQI community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates 31 years of successful book campaigns. For more information: https://www.michelekarlsberg.com

    Published on December 5, 2019