I was on my way for a hair-cut this morning when, at the corner of Sherbourne and Gerrard Streets, I momentarily took flight. Picture Peter Pan on his worst day. While still airborne I thought of Craig, of the 24th of April, 2007. But I was still conscious. I managed to land without breaking my wrist, as had happened in 2003 when I was struck by a cab. I rolled to the sidewalk on my rain parka and didn’t damage my femur,as I had in the same incident. Still thinking of Craig, but recognizing that my head was working, I yelled.
A man dragged me to the steps of the pharmacy and applied an oversized gauze bandage to the right side of my forehead. A nurse practitioner on her way to Mount Sinai Hospital on her bicycle rushed to our side. 9-1-1 was called by a female by-stander. The n-p took my pulse (100). The pharmacist came out and, with the others, helped me into a chair in the lobby of his business.
I laughed when I was asked if I was on any medication. I widgeted out a used blister-pack from my jacket which had labels of all my meds taped to the cover. (Medic-Alert in long form.)
The ambulance arrived, siren silent, and the interviews began anew. Had I eaten? Had I checked my blood sugar (it was now a whopping 24.3!) Where was I going? Day and date? A pain inventory was taken. My head, yes. Skinned knuckles, yes. A bloody knee under torn jeans. My civilian helpers said their goodbyes as the ambulance attendants strapped me into a chair in the back and rode off, again sirens quiet, traffic lights being obeyed like all the other morning rush hour chumps. This underlined how lucky I was.
Another indication that I was a low-priority arrival came as I waited to be seen by a doctor. It was not, notes this enthusiastic lover of Canada’s health system, an unreasonable wait.
I was given a couple of extra-strength Tylenols, when offered, and a tetanus shot was administered (“cuz you never know what was on that sidewalk”.) The attending physician, the son I never had, repeated all the interview questions and examined me from head to rolled up jeans, dabbed my head with a combination disinfect and adhesive.
“So I’m good to go?”
“Yes, pay attention to any lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea – but I think you’ll be fine.”
With the help of two of my own Tylenol-2s I have been.
Grateful. But thinking of Craig.
And I walked to get my hair-cut.
I Googled my name today, for the hell of it, and came across this article I wrote for the June, 1986 edition of “The Body Politic”, Pink Triangle Press’s forerunner to Xtra! I was up to my arm-pits involved in this using the pseudonym David Coleman to disguise myself to my employer, CKTB, and talk-show host John Michael, the defendants in this case!
Usually no fan of John Michael, for some reason I was listening the morning he started going on an anti-gay, anti-AIDS tirade. I had the presence of mind to slap a cassette tape into my landlord’s radio-tape deck. That tape, and the formal copy provided by the radio station later, was the basis of the case to the CRTC.
I wrote the letter to the CRTC, inserting transcribed comments which I thought would carry the greatest weight. These were exciting times. Warren Hartman and I worked hard, me speaking as David Coleman and Warren as his out, proud, gay old self! Now don’t get me wrong. I was out at work, and so I’m sure there were suspicions I was involved, but I couldn’t use my real name and plot against my employer, now could I? It wasn’t so much of being in any closet of my construct as much as it was muck-raking anonymously. I was to use the pseudonym a few more times before leaving St. Catharines.
This coming Thursday I am having a number of teeth and partial teeth extracted as my mouth make-over goes into high gear (This is the work that is more typically done by the fifth year of one’s sobriety but, as I didn’t think I’d live long enough to bother, I’ve waited until the tenth.) Yesh to life, as it were.
I am reminded of an occasion several years ago when I had both of my front teeth extracted. I distinctly remember going to see Les Miserables on stage with my friend William sans teeth and under the influence of a couple of Tylenol 3s.
No such plans this Thursday evening. Perhaps I’ll rent the forgettable film version of Les Mis.
It is a measure of self-compassion on this Bell Let’s Talk Day when I can slow down and remind myself of where I am and where I’ve come from.
I have a long history of, and recovery from, substance abuse – chiefly, but not solely, alcohol – begun shortly after a period of sexual abuse in my adolescence – which followed an elementary school teacher experience with hell.
Since I was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1989 I have been treated for depression, and later bipolar II which is treated with medications and talk therapy.
I have been through a lot but I’m always gratified to hear of other people’s struggles on days like this.
I describe myself, rightly so I think, as a long-term survivor of AIDS and HIV. I offer as evidence my being diagnosed with HIV in 1989 and my long, slow recovery from AIDS-related Cryptosporidiosis in the early 90s – the effects of which shadow me to this day.
Over the years, due to a serious accident and other incidents, I have also been treated for major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II.
My mood has been mostly stable, arching towards a bit of depression after Christmas.
With the approach of Bell Let’s Talk I find myself taking stock of my mental state and wondering, what’s next?
While the good folks at the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry work on my smile in a major . long overdue way, I feel optimistic, not having realized how isolating broken teeth have affected me.
But now what?
I sometimes still tie my survival, and my right to pull the plug, to my mother’s life (no pressure, Mom!), having made a commitment to myself to live as long as she does.
But if I get a nice set of teeth after all this oral surgery is over, I won’t want to squander all that with a shortened life – certainly not of my own doing.
The blank page stares up at me, “World AIDS Day 2016”. That will be Thursday.
It’s not like it used to be when life was much more urgent, desperate. I think of the dead. I still sorely miss my friends, friends from our twenties and thirties. Gone. It’s like Remembrance Day, but I don’t like the war analogies that go along with that. I wonder what they would have been like had they lived with me into my upper fifties. If only treatments could have saved them. It’s been twenty years since the 1996 World AIDS Conference in Vancouver which was bursting with excitement over the promise of new treatments, combination therapies nicknamed “the cocktail”. I was on three, and then four drug combinations as soon as they became available, eliminating ones with severe side effects only to find new side effects with the alternatives. Lipodystrophy – fatty humps – and lipoatrophy – loss of muscle mass in my face, limbs and butt. So I sit on a cushion a lot. It’s chronic but manageable, don’tchaknow? I remember World AIDS Day 1993 when I took a bouquet of wild flowers to the AIDS Memorial. CBC News followed me around as I placed single flowers by the names of individuals I knew until I tearfully ran out of flowers before I had finished. That was the year of Jim’s last Christmas and I went home and wrote the first of many annual holiday letters in hopes of cheering him up. There was the year I put a call out for writers to submit stories of how HIV/AIDS affected them – and was pleasantly surprised with the response.
HIV is still here and, despite some attempts to downplay it, so is AIDS. HIV, and expectations that I would not live long, have rotted my teeth. As a yes-to-life gesture I am endeavouring to get my teeth fixed which will probably be a wholesale replacement with dentures. This is not merely cosmetic, though it is that, too. I am not eating as well as I could were I to have a full mouth of comfortable teeth. So the good folks at the U of T School of Dentistry have begun to fix me up. I can no longer deny that I might live long enough to need these damn teeth. All that remains is to come up with the funds.
My friends didn’t live long enough to have dental problems. I didn’t think I would either. As crises go, I’ll take this one.