The Compassion of AIDS Patients

As I said yesterday, the novel No-Accounts resulted from the five years I spent taking care of AIDS patients. Each of my seven patients was different from all the others. And yet, I found in all of them a kindness and generosity that surprised me. They didn’t fit my stereotype of gay men as self-centered and mean-spirited. They expressed concern for my welfare and went out of their way to thank me for the help I gave them. But mostly they had great empathy for other men suffering from AIDS.

In No-Accounts, I tell of the intervention of Peter, the principal gay character dying from AIDS, to stop his friend Billy from leaping to his death from the Calvert Street Bridge in Washington, D.C. after Billy is diagnosed. Billy is on the bridge railing. Peter stops Martin, his buddy, from approaching Billy. Peter knows Billy will let go if Martin gets too close. Instead, Peter, who’s too weak to pull Billy from the rail, grabbles himself on the rail and tells Billy if he lets go, Peter will, too. Peter leans forward as if to hurl himself from the rail. Billy, horrified, stops him and in the process falls back onto the pavement of the bridge. Peter has saved him.

I witnessed events like that several times with my patients. And their caring for others was a common trait among them all. I concluded that their closeness to their own deaths relieved them of the focus on the self that is so natural for us human beings and gave them the grace to put others first.

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