That’s right, man. AIDS is scary, man. I took my AIDS test, passed it, got a 65. You know what’s scary about the AIDS test? What’s scary is you don’t get the results back for five days. Five days, that’s a long time. And you know what happens in those five days? You start reflecting. You start thinking about every nasty, skank-ass... questionable piece of sex you ever had... and everybody got a few.
And you’re like, God, what the fuck was I thinking? Oh, God! What the fuck was on my mind? It’s like the movie Scrooge, and the Ghost of Pussy Past comes.
Remember me? I’m Itchy, the stripper from Miami.
You know what else happens after you take an AIDS test?
You start caIIing up people to see if they’re alive.
-Hello, can I speak to Lisa?
-This is Lisa. CLICK!!
-Hello, can I speak to Tammy?
What happened? She got hit by a bus.
Thank the lord! Yes! Go Greyhound! Yeah, she got hit by a bus!
- Chris Rock for his Brilliant HBO Comedy Special “Bigger and Blacker”
A great part of the genius of Chris Rock is how he makes some the scariest, most serious situations funny. Well, this is a story about how a very similar situation wasn’t so funny. Not at the time at least. Now, I can laugh out loud, but it took quite a while to get here.
My sophomore year of college was an interesting time. The Greek origins of the term (Sophos and moros) translate loosely into “Wise Fool”. Well, with a little help from some less than diligent healthcare “professionals”; I truly punctuated my year of being a Wise Fool. I can totally see how the etymology of the term came to be, as after the freshman year one should be more learned in life but still hasn’t gained enough knowledge to not be considered foolish. Sophomore year was a great learning experience in and out of the classroom. It was my first year as a Resident Assistant (R.A.) which was instrumental in helping me further refine my approach to problem solving a communication. I gained an inside look at the inner workings of the university which would come in very handy in the following years. I also took a giant leap forward in breaking my shyness and learning how to balance my introversion with the need to socialize. While I’m still not quite an expert in navigating either, there were a number of lessons learned during this year that directed me onto the right path.
As one could imagine, all that learning inside and outside of the classroom coupled with a full roster of extracurricular activities and a healthy amount of girl chasing, I was pretty exhausted at the end of the spring semester. In retrospect, I had just worn down and certainly needed all the time off that I could muster before my summer job began. At the time, I thought I was dying. What started out as a poorly timed spring/summer cold turned into something MUCH, MUCH worse than just about any illness I can recall. I sporadically had chills and night sweats. I couldn’t stop coughing and breathing was laborious to say the absolute least. When I wasn’t dizzy, I had headaches that neither aspirin nor Tylenol would mollify. My appetite disappeared and reappeared through bouts of vomiting. I was pretty damn miserable. I was also in denial.
For some unknown reason, to this day I still believe that it’s best to not slow down when you are sick. Keeping it moving somehow keeps the sickness from settling in and gets you through it quicker. I’m not exactly sure when I developed this line of thinking or why, but I can’t remember a cold on this side of age 131 that I didn’t try to power through. I’m sure that part of it has to do with the rather poor state of healthcare in my neighborhood. Many laughed, but Flavor Flav could not have been any more accurate in Public Enemy’s 911 is a Joke. Hospitals, doctor’s offices and neighborhood clinics were all a mixture of apathetic doctors despondent because they didn’t have private practices on Park Avenue, inefficient government funding and guidelines and people trying to work the system. Then there were those that needed medical attention. They always came last at the time. I’ve never had patience for things that I deemed simple (See: Buying a bottle of water, not a drink that requires any human intervention, but just scanning and paying for a bottle of water at Starbucks in Richmond, VA. I’ll save that rant for another time) so the whole process of some apathetic triage/intake “nurse” asking you a number of halfhearted personal questions after ascertaining that you indeed did not have private medical insurance or cash coupled with an inattentive doctor barely examining you to just give you the medicine of the moment and sending you on your merry way should never have taken as long as it seemed to do. Now, I get some of the bigger issues that were at stake.
The streets of Harlem were still rather bloody in those years. Gone were the days where civilized hustlers met behind closed doors and conducted business in an amicable manner. The new breed of hustler was brash and violent. They didn’t see the benefit to keeping murders to a minimum. The mantra was get money fast by any means necessary. Bodies were dropping at an alarming rate. And then there was the AIDS epidemic. At this point, we were just 4 years away from Magic Johnson’s announcement that he was HIV positive and retiring from the NBA. While activist had pushed for recognition for the seriousness of the disease more than a decade before Magic’s announcement, it took one of the biggest NBA stars of the time contracting the disease to raise the national consciousness. In some cases, the consciousness was heighten way more than it needed to be.
Take the hypochondriac walking around Harlem in a sweatshirt, jeans and a hat … in 85 degree weather in mid-May. Since I decided to power through this bout of whatever ailed me (aka existed in denial) and go about my daily routine, I made some questionable choices. I only thought as far as fighting off the chills neglecting the heat and humidity of New York in May. My defiance only exacerbated the issues at hand. I managed to dehydrate myself by excessively sweating and not taking in enough fluids all while sporadically throwing up. I was such a dream! My mother suggested, pleaded then finally threatened my life to get me to go to the doctor and finally I begrudgingly did. The wise thing would have been to go to the emergency room and wait all night to be seen, but that would have been way too easy for me. I waited until the next day and went to the clinic since I thought I’d get seen faster. I was right about being seen faster (my ordeal was only about 6 hours as opposed to 12+), but what would ensue made me wish that I had dealt with the long wait at the hospital.
I’ll skip the first three hours of waiting time and get right to the part where my “health care professionals” seemed way more interested in the fact that I had not had a physical in a few years than the death hastening illness that had beset upon me at the moment. Some genius decided that it was a need to draw blood and examine my vitals in that state. I didn’t protest too much as I hoped that the blood would give some clues as to the hell that my body was experiencing. Said hell was never actually diagnosed, but I was given an antibiotic (one that I’m allergic to – one would think with that examination of my files that someone would have paid attention to the warning stamped on most of the pages in red, but alas) and a directive to get lots of fluids. A trip to the pharmacy and back and back to the pharmacy to get the right medicine later and I finally went home and slept. And I slept and slept and slept some more. I probably slept more that week than I had in about a month. And I genuinely began to feel better until I listened to the answering machine2 one Thursday afternoon.
I hit play and heard the most ominous message that anyone had ever left me: “This message is for Derrick Logan, can you please come back to the neighborhood clinic3, we need to discuss an issue with your blood with you.” I got this message on Thursday afternoon and of course, the clinic was closed on Fridays during the summer so the earliest I could address this “issue” was on Monday. As Chris Rock stated, it took about 5 days for blood test results to come back in the 90’s. Because I was too busy sleeping off the antibiotic, I never considered that there was anything wrong with me other than the hot death that the doctors didn’t address. Now, I had 96 hours to think of every possible bad thing that could be wrong with me. My stomach sank and I got dizzy again. What the hell was wrong? I mean, I was starting to feel better but an “issue” was found so whatever they didn’t want to discuss while I was in the office had some empirical evidence behind it now. While there was no WebMD for me to peruse and tell me that I was dying, I did have the nightly news discussing the AIDS epidemic. This is the first place my mind with. In addition to the news, I did get about 40 pamphlets while at the clinic for HIV, AIDS and every STD known to man. That had to be the answer.
For the next 4 days I couldn’t eat and the headaches worsened. I was despondent. I thought I was dying. I couldn’t wrap my head around what I thought was happening. All I could do was think about every possible place I could have contracted something and none of it was reasonable. While I wasn’t terribly educated about AIDS prior to this episode, I did spend the next few days in the local library learning all there was to know and replaying every episode involving any sort of physical contact that I had with anyone over the years. A more rational mind would have limited its thoughts to any sexual contact but I had convinced myself that there were some kisses that could have led to my current perceived predicament. I managed to convince myself over the course of 4 sleepless days that just about every woman with whom I shared more than a handshake had given me a death sentence. How was I going to explain this to my family? I was the last person that this was supposed to happen to! I was away at college for God’s sake! Yet and still, I was going down the path that so many who never left the ‘hood before me had gone down. As we saw with Magic Johnson, this wasn’t something that discriminated. College or no, I was a goner. Sex (or a make out session) had done what drugs, violence and poverty couldn’t. There was no way I could look my mother in the eye and tell her this so I spent 2 days writing and editing a 10 page letter explaining to her that I was dying and apologizing for letting her down.
Monday finally came and I groggily made my way to the clinic before opening. There as another guy there that I remembered seeing the week before and he looked as stressed as I felt. He looked to be about my age and had a slight build. I couldn’t focus on him as I had issues of my own. We both made our way in as the door opened for the day and we sent in different directions. The triage nurse was expecting me and had no details other than a doctor would talk to me soon but they needed more blood. My heart raced and my stress was evident. My blood pressure was sky high. I complied with the request for more blood and was escorted to a room where the guy from outside was sitting. Before I could question why we were in this room a very nervous young doctor came in fidgeting and looking everywhere in the room refusing to make eye contact with either of us. In retrospect I feel badly for the guy. I’m not sure how he drew the short straw but he certainly earned his money that day. He rambled through introducing himself and talking about the volume of patients they see at the clinic each day/week/month and how fastidious they are with everyone’s information and samples. He went into how they diagnose all types of ailments and do help a great many people in the community. My pulse sped up even more. At this point I was convinced that I had something worse than AIDS. And this guy must have had it too, that’s the only reason we were in a room together. We couldn’t further infect each other but needed to be quarantined.
Then the doctor lowered the boom: “There was a mix-up with some samples that day and we aren’t sure which sample belongs to each of you. We’re pretty sure that the samples that we tested belong to you two, but there were some discrepancies between the A&B samples that lead us to believe that some of the vials were mislabeled.” I waited for him to deliver the death sentence, but he seemed relieved and please with himself that he had gotten through his obviously rehearsed yet poorly executed speech and asked if we had any questions.
Immediately I asked if I was dying and what was the culprit. He jumped to assure us both that neither of us had any terminal diseases but cautioned that one should watch his cholesterol as it was approaching the upper reaches of the high end of the acceptable spectrum. The next 30 minutes were spent screaming at this poor yeoman about how horrible both of our weekends were and how they should not leave such nebulous messages on answering machines. The doctor assured us that all caution had been taken with the current samples and that they would put a rush on the results. True to his word he personally called on Wednesday to deliver a clean bill of health and implore that I get more regular checkups. He also said that the hot death was a probably just a bug that had been worsened by lack of rest and poor nutrition. I hung up the phone and tore up my 10 page letter. If you've ever wondered why i am so insistent on annual physicals and potentially a little overzealous when the results come in, now you know why.
This was one of those seminal moments in life where I declared that I would do all I could to escape the clutches of the public healthcare system. That said, I did go get a few more HIV/AIDS test over the next few months as I had no faith in the results that had already been provided by a clinic that proved to be incompetent. Thankfully, results come out in 24hours these days, getting you to the celebration of a clean bill of health that much faster! As unnecessarily harrowing as those weeks were, it did help me look at life in a very different way. That led to one of the better summers in D. Logan history and a pretty legendary Junior Year. The wise fool was no more!
1When I was in 5th Grade I tried to push through a flulike episode during citywide achievement test and ended up getting my lowest scores ever. Still north of the 80th percentile but that was atrocious for me. The next three years would more than make up for that.
2For the uninitiated: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Answering_machine
3I forget the exact name of the place, I do remember that it was on Lenox Ave and it was affiliated with one of the hospitals and was supposed to reduce emergency room crowding.