I’m depressed—and have been for several weeks. I was told yesterday that I was probably going through a grieving process for my friend Barry, who died a month ago. I certainly don’t feel as if I’m grieving.
I have known Barry since 1995. I met him in a twelve-step fellowship. Both of us were working on our drug addiction—me with crystal meth, Barry, opiates. We have always had a thing for each other. We have never been able to consummate that, because I’ve been in a relationship with Michael for most of the time we’ve known each other.
Barry left Fort Lauderdale to move in with a boyfriend in Houston a few years back. Things didn’t work out so well and Barry wound up back in Fort Lauderdale. I had heard about his return, but didn’t get a chance to catch up with him. Before long, I heard that Barry was in the hospital, for pancreatitis; brought on by his HIV medications.
I finally got the nerve up to ask his roommate, Carla for his room number at Imperial Point Medical Center. I stopped by for a visit. He was delighted to see me, so much that he ran to the bathroom—to put his teeth in. I spent much of the afternoon there with him, catching up on our lives. We enjoyed each other’s company so much that I went back the next day to spend some more time with him.
We had begun making plans for when he was going to be out of the hospital when he developed a staph infection. He had fever spikes of close to 104°F (40°C) and developed a severe allergic reaction to the antibiotics. They dosed him with Benadryl and Demerol, a combination that made communication with him difficult at best. At one point Barry told me he had a conversation with an Angel of God, who told him that God would be coming for him soon and to put his affairs in order.
After that, spending time with Barry was bittersweet. We still enjoyed each other’s company, but he had come into the hospital off of his anti-depressants, and his morale continued to sink. I had come to really love the guy, and did everything I could to bring his spirits up, but it seemed it was always after he’d been given another big dose of Demerol; and I think that very little of what I said actually got through to him.
Learning to eat again had proven too much of an effort, and he received his nutrients through an IV tube—the likely source of the initial staph infection and those subsequent ones. The nurses were free with the painkillers, too; and Barry wasn’t stopping them from coming. He had already decided, it seemed, that life was too difficult; and at this point nothing anyone said would get through to him.
I am certain that up until his last week at the hospital, if they had stopped feeding him pain meds and had given him counseling, Barry would still be alive. I cannot be convinced otherwise. But even I had to admit he was gone when I visited him at home, under the care of a Hospice agency. I walked in the door and he briefly glanced at me in recognition before he returned to frolic in his morphine-induced Elysian Fields. Maybe he heard me when I that I wouldn’t think less of him if he decided to leave, but I thought he could still come back. I went on to thank him for the time we spent together, and how glad I was that we managed to become a part of each other’s lives.
Then I left; angry at the hospital, his doctor, all of his nurses, the hospice agency…and I held them responsible parties in Barry’s suicide.
He died the next morning. Not of pancreatitis, a staph infection, or any other AIDS related illness but starvation and dehydration. His body simply stopped functioning.
I didn’t attend his memorial service a few weeks ago. I had to stay away.
I hate Imperial Point Medical Center right now—Barry is not the first person I’ve loved who died while in their care. However, the only thing I can do is ensure that I, myself will not be given any mentally debilitating painkillers to ease my journey to the River Styx. I believe in miracles and the mind, and that our mental attitude is a source of healing strength as much as any medication.
I will also not want to deny my loved ones the opportunity to commune with me should I truly be mortally ill.