Friday, December 9, 2016

Reflections on "How To Survive a Plague": Hospital Rooms

I have started reading the recently released book, "How To Survive a Plague," by David France. In so doing, I am a student of a period of time in American history that I lived through, but was not a part of. The book is a history of people like me, who were born in the same time period in which I was born, who were raised and came of age in the same time period in which I was raised and came of age, and who were, like me, gay; but the difference is they came out and lived their sexuality, but I did not. And many of them died of AIDS, and I did not. And that made all the difference.

And so I read. To learn. To understand. To reflect.

Reflection came yesterday as I read the following passage:
"[In the early 80's] Most hospitals restricted boyfriends [of patients with the yet-to-be diagnosed AIDS] to formal visiting hours, if they let them visit at all, and no hospital in New York would allow them to enter the ICU; nationwide, only one hospital had a 'significant others' rule acknowledging gay couples" [emphasis added].
After I read this sentence, my thoughts turned turned a hospital room here in Salt Lake. It was October 2014. The United States Supreme Court had just rejected an appeal by the State of Utah to reverse marriage equality in this state as mandated by a Federal district court and affirmed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal. I had accompanied my husband, Mark - who 18 months earlier had been diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer - to the hospital for a surgical procedure.

Mark's intake nurse had gone through a list of questions with him while I sat by his side. I had not introduced myself, and at one point she started referring to Mark's "family." She hadn't paid much attention to me until she asked Mark whether he had an advance directive. He said he did. She asked if he had brought a copy with him because there wasn't one in his chart. He hadn't.

That's when I piped up and said, "I have a copy in my car if you need it." The nurse looked at me somewhat quizzically. I took the leap and said, "I'm his husband." 

From that moment, everything changed. Her face brightened and she said, "Congratulations." (I wondered if she thought we had just been married after the recent Supreme Court decision.) I smiled and replied, "Thank you. We were married in Hawaii, but as of Monday, our marriage is now legally recognized by the State of Utah." Once again, she said, "Congratulations!"

From that point forward, she included me in the conversation just as she would have done had I been Mark's wife. She asked my full name and wrote down my phone number. A warm glow spread inside of me, recognizing as I did that there would - thanks to the Supreme Court decision - be no issues relating to me being with Mark, no question of who was next-of-kin. The State of Utah (of ALL places) recognized me as Mark's next-of-kin. We were treated as a couple, as a family, not just two men who lived together.

That is why my breath was taken away when I read that, in the early 80's, at the dawn of the AIDS plague, only one hospital in the COUNTRY would recognize "significant others." There then followed a moment of mourning for all those "significant others" who had been denied so much, and a moment of gratitude for all those gay men who had gone before who made possible my moments of dignity and respect with my husband in that Salt Lake hospital room. 

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