On Saturday, September 17, 2011, there was a death that has gone entirely unnoticed by the press, or maybe they know but decline to report it. I wouldn’t know myself except that I subscribe to TheBody.com, which is a source of information about the management of HIV-AIDS. I do this because I was writing with a group of boys with HIV. No panic: they are in Europe and on the East Coast. And, since you asked, since 2007 their care has improved enough that they’ve stopped dying so much.
I do NOT have HIV. I have diabetic metabolic syndrome (mostly because I’m 72), and I write about sex as a nonparticipant (in the contact sense). I am not gay — I’m solitary and celibate. Viruses are part of our global environment. Hanta Virus, West Nile Virus, rabies — they’re right here in Montana. HIV-AIDS has had an impact on the arts only matched by tuberculosis in the 19th century or smallpox among the Native Americans a little earlier. I’m old enough to remember the polio epidemic, which was deeply sympathetic to most people because it struck kids and a president.
Robert James Frascino, M.D. was a prize-winning concert pianist as well as a specialist in fatigue, anemia, rheumatology, and immunology. These are slippery vague afflictions that seem pretty widespread (unlike HIV in Montana, which is probably exceeded by Hepatitis C, another deadly virus). The cutting edge research is on the molecular and sometimes atomic level, deep in the machinery of the cell. When the cure for AIDS is discovered (and it only lacks money and a few lucky break-throughs) it will be a “convergent” cure for many other diseases as well, possibly even cancer and diabetes. The research is that basic.
“Dr. Bob” was gay, married to another male doc for 18 years, and acquired the virus in 1991 when a blood sample in a biopsy needle was accidently driven into his hand. He died from bacterial sepsis, aged 59. AIDS is a disease of vulnerability, but they are saying the “blood poisoning” was not from the virus. People die from bacterial sepsis in major numbers. They say in the US, there are more MRSA (antibiotic resistant infection) deaths than AIDS deaths. You don’t catch MRSA from sex — you catch it in the hospital.
Dr. Bob’s first response to HIV infection was to start a series of benefit concerts. His second was to begin answering questions in a Forum on TheBody.com. Even I read all the questions (some of them so crazy off-the-wall that most people would have just thrown them out) in part because HIV is as much an environmental issue as, say, grizzly bears, and in part because he was so full of tender and funny common sense. HIV-AIDS is almost as much a mental disease as a virus. People get so paranoid and denying about it that they think they’ve caught it from walking past men in pharmacies who look effeminate and part their hair on the wrong side. When there was a contest for the funniest and most out-there question to the forum, it was hard to choose.
Dr. Bob was consoling. But funny. “Really,” he assured the questioner, “You are not the only person who has had sex with a Republican bisexual transgendered Mormon midget with webbed feet wearing a strap-on.” His main casualty was political correctness, but people who are desperate for truly scientific advice relevant to their problem tend to be so paranoid about where they got the virus and so likely to blame those they believe hate them, that only jokes could carry the info into their brains. (Anyway, you can tell the category Dr. Bob describes here — the marker is that they’re all running for Congress. That’s a joke.) The questions and answers are still posted on TheBody.com, if you’re not too paranoid about your computer being hacked to go read them.
My issue, my focus (which is hard to pick out) is not AIDS or viruses. I am a “whole-ist,” an “everythingist.” What I see is a world of woven forces that travel through each other, morphing as they go, forming patterns that we mistake for permanent realities, and always creating stories. It’s overwhelming to think about. One hardly knows where to start except that the general rule in life is to start where you are, to hone your own perceptions and attitudes into instruments of perception.
I want to leave you laughing. Here’s Dr. Bob’s answer to a seasonal question. You can figure out the question:
“You haven’t seen a question that discussed worms growing in the vagina after masturbating with a zucchini??? Gee, I wonder why.
“First off, can I ask why you decided to go all the way with Mr. Zucchini? Did you get bored and/or horny while shopping in the fresh produce aisle at Whole Foods?
“Your worries about worms in your vajayjay after your sex date with the squash are unwarranted.
“Next, you wonder why after your vegetable love-fest your nether regions were a bit sore. Hmm. Sweetie, you shoved a zucchini up your serpent socket. Don’t you think that might account for the discomfort?”
I’m guessing this is probably not among the countless zucchini jokes one hears this time of year. And I’m not resisting the use of the word “interpenetration” very much, or asking the age of this adventurer, but it is pretty typical of the questions that can torment young people in particular and much safer than trolling the bus terminal. I know this person was concerned about safety because she says she washed the squash carefully. And don’t tell me a boy wouldn’t do that. In Somalia no one would do such a thing because they would immediately eat the zucchini to fend off starvation.
Dr. Bob and his partner had recently gone on a long trip around the world. They were not impoverished or uneducated but they did not shut the inconvenient and scary others out of their lives, nor did they go to the other extreme and devote themselves to carrying bedpans for the afflicted. The intelligent thing to do was write funny but true answers on The Forum and intelligence was the name of the game. When such a mind is lost, we should all grieve.