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I haven’t done a blog anywhere recently. Life has a way of carrying one forward at a breakneck pace sometimes. And then, all at once, you trip over a stone in the road and come to an abrupt stop. This is what happened to me today.

My friend and co-worker, Robert (not his real name), came to visit at the office today. Robert is 44. He’s been out sick for several weeks. I have been encouraging him for some time now to go see a doctor. He has been suffering from recurring sore throats, low-grade fevers, aches, pains, chills, headaches, coughs, and the list goes on. Each time I would suggest he visit a doctor, he would say, “No, I’ll be ok.” Then, about 3-4 weeks ago, that all changed. I don’t know exactly what drove him to seek medical help, but he wound up in the hospital. He was severely anemic, so much so that they had to do a blood transfusion. They started doing tests, CT scans, MRIs, blood work, X-rays. They found what they believed to be lymphoma (a type of cancer that attacks the lymphatic system). They also found what appeared to be a tumor in his lung. Robert is a long-time smoker, so naturally the thought there was lung cancer. He’s been in the hospital up till either yesterday or today.

I am a non-practicing nurse, specializing in long-term care. There are many things I see that can start a warning bell ringing in my head. I tend to watch people, and learn about them from their behaviors and other things. One of the things I noticed about Robert was that he would notice physical beauty—not just of women, but of men, too. And that little bell began to ring. I tried to ignore it. He’s married with 2 or 3 kids, been married to the same woman for nearly 20 yrs.

Then, one day, I got up from my desk to get a camera out of his desk to take a new employee's picture. Robert had left an e-mail open on his computer. An inadvertent glance nearly sent me tumbling back into my chair. I quickly reached over and shut off his monitor so nobody else would see, but what I saw confirmed what my warning bell had been tolling in my head: Robert is gay . He hides it well, but suddenly a lot of things made perfect sense. Little things. Things like his fashion sense, which was all out of proportion to who and what he appeared to be. He* would give *me  advice on clothes, my hair, etc. There were other things, too, but it would take too long to go into much more here. Suffice it to say it was a bit of a shock to my system.

It made something else make sense, too; his constant refusal to go to the doctor. I asked him one day, while we were talking quietly, the real reason he wouldn’t go to the doctor. He told me, “Honestly, I’m afraid of what they will tell me.” I tried gently to lead him to admit that he was afraid they would say he had AIDS, but he never got to that point. He alluded to the deaths of two of his brothers, both from cancer, but wouldn’t say anything else.  

I had been watching the progression of the symptoms he kept having, and it became more and more obvious that he was seriously ill. Then, he wound up in the hospital.

When he came to the office door today, I am truly ashamed to say I didn’t recognize him. A small consolation is that neither did most of the rest of the office, some of who have known him for well over 10 years. I looked up and I saw this frail, elderly-looking man, thin, sunken eyes, standing at the office door. I smiled at him and said, “Hi, may I help you?” He pushed the door open and said, “Don’t you recognize me?” And in that instant, the world temporarily fell in on itself. My mouth dropped open and I gasped out “Robert?!” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Just two months ago this had been a 44-year-old man, in pretty good physical shape (to all outward appearances), happy and vibrant. The man that stood at my door could pass for a great-grandfather. He was so thin and frail, and his eyes are sunken. His voice is weak and reedy. His color is pale and kind of yellowish.

I jumped up from my chair and rushed over to give him a hug. I hugged him very gently, because he looked as if he would break with too much pressure. My co-worker, who’s known Robert far longer than I have just sat there stunned, with her mouth hanging open. Then she got up and hugged him, too. And then she started to cry. Now, this woman is a former construction worker and truck driver. It takes a lot to make her cry, but she sat down and sobbed. We, of course, were still thinking cancer at this time, and her mother died of cancer. She flashed back to her mother’s illness when she saw Robert.

He couldn’t stay long. He was being taken to a doctor’s appointment by his son. Later, after they left, and we had all made the rounds, crying, talking about his appearance and how foolish we had all felt for not recognizing him, I was passing my boss’s office when she flagged me down and had me come in and close the door. She was already aware of Robert’s “other” life. She then told me that he had confirmed to a select few people that he does, in fact, have AIDS.  

We don’t know how much time he has left, but the way he looks, I’m not sure he will make it much longer. It is so sad. I just hope he can bring himself to come clean with his wife about this before it’s too late. There may be some hope for her. As for his other “friends“, I hope he can get messages to them to go get tested, too.

We never judged Robert, even when speculation was running high at times. He has always been a great guy, and we will all miss him—his laugh, his personality, his stories. I realize he’s not gone yet, but he won’t be back to work. His days are numbered.

And all we can do for him now is pray.

Thank you for letting me tell this story. I tell it in honor of the friend who will soon be moving on to another place. Goodbye, Robert.



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Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Vikki Hall wrote Jun 5, 2009
    • Thx for sharing this tribute to your friend.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Lazylola wrote Jun 5, 2009
    • So sorry about your friend, my thoughts reading this to the end was his wife, I hope she can recover from this, I cannot imagine her not knowing on some level. Thanks for sharing your story.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      L J wrote Jun 5, 2009
    • that is so sad.. for him and the wife when in fact she does find out, if she doesn’t already know...
      she probably knew a long time ago even if she did not admit it,. but tell your friend(robert) that we are all rooting for him and we will see him one day on the other side too!!!!
      i have a freind thats gay and she is a good person and i would hate to see something like that happen to anybody...
      i wish him all the best and you can tell him that for me



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Coachmombabe wrote Jun 5, 2009
    • I’m so sorry, Mystic. It’s never easy to lose a friend, for whatever reason. Sounds like you’ve both been blessed by each other’s friendship. In time you will remember more of him as healthy and vibrant. For now, it’s your time to grieve.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mysticalceta wrote Jun 6, 2009
    • Thank you all. It is a difficult and painful time for all of us.

      Huggs.



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