(Continued from Tuesday . . . )
My volunteer work with men who were HIV-positive (they’d tested positive for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus) or had full-blown AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) began in the late summer of 1988. I continued it for three years and then, wearied by deaths and by being present to these men, I ceased to volunteer.
By that time, I’d attended thirty or so memorial services. I’d also come to know three men well—Lon, Robert, and Andrew. And I’d learned from Lon just how important definition is. But more about that in another posting.
Today I’d like to describe a typical Tuesday to you back then.
Freeway into downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.
The drive into St. Paul from Stillwater took a half-hour, but I can’t remember what time the AIDS clinic started or ended. The clinic itself was square shaped.
On its far left side were the spacious waiting room and the receptionist’s desk.
In the middle section were six examination rooms—three on each side of a long aisle.
At the square’s right side were the supply room, x-ray, and staff waiting room. A hall separated them from the exam rooms. Various machines and other paraphernalia the nurses and doctors had to use made this hall a maze to negotiate. The lighting seemed dim everywhere except in the windowed reception area.
Throughout the day I visited with patients and tried to help them feel comfortable as they waited for one of the two doctors. Volunteers always chatted with the patients in an exam room, not in the waiting room.
Joanne—the nun who’d accepted me into the program—had emphasized during our interview that patient conversations were confidential. I was not to talk about anything I heard at the clinic to any of my friends. “You are like a priest in the confessional,” she said. “What is said is between that patient, you, and God.”
Sometimes, a patient would share something I thought the doctor needed to know. When that happened I asked the patient for permission to tell the doctor.
Every Tuesday I worked with another woman. For the first two years that was Darlene. During the third year, Mary volunteered and so we changed off and I attended the clinic only every other week.
Darlene’s serenity spoke to the patients, all of whom responded wholeheartedly to her. Kindness softened her eyes whenever she visited with anyone for she saw and understood beyond the spoken words. I know that the patients could feel her acceptance and nonjudgmental stance toward life. Toward them. She simply enjoyed people.
My first Tuesday, Darlene, who’d been volunteering for some time, introduced me to the “regulars”—those men who came to the clinic each week. In the following weeks, I came to know their names, their hobbies, their humor, their fears, their dreams.
As time passed, I began to pray before knocking on each examination-room door. The prayer was always the same: “Oneness, listen in me and speak through me.”
I had to listen on the knees of my heart. Then I had to trust that my words would be whatever the man inside needed to hear. Words of healing of the spirit perhaps. Or laughter. Or simply words that kept him from thinking about the coming exam.
Some men wanted to talk. Other chose to remain alone in the exam room. When they politely declined my presence, I simply closed the door and waited until a nurse escorted another patient into one of the six rooms.
St. Paul-Ramsey Medical Center was a nonprofit organization that served the needs of the community, especially on the east side of the St. Paul where many low-income people lived. Nearly all the patients in the clinic were poor or had little. Some were still able to hold down jobs. Others were fairly destitute so there was always a social worker available to work with these men.
I’ll introduce you to Lon—the patient who became a good friend—in my Tuesday posting.
(Continued on Tuesday . . . )
THANK YOU TO ALL HAVE COMMENTED TODAY.
SO MANY OF YOU HAVE RESPONDED TO ONE SENTENCE:
I HAD TO LISTEN ON THE KNEES OF MY HEART.
I'M TRULY NOT SURE
IF THAT CONCEPT IS ORIGINAL WITH ME OR NOT.
I THOUGHT IT WAS WHEN I WROTE IT TODAY.
BUT WHO KNOWS? I DON'T.
PERHAPS I READ IT SOMEWHERE IN THE DISTANT PAST,
AND IT JUST CAME TO ME TODAY FROM THAT PAST.
LIKE A MELODY THAT STAYS WITH US ALL OUR LIVES.
IF IT IS ORIGINAL
THAN I'M GLAD TO HAVE SPOKEN THE WORDS
BECAUSE THEY TRULY SHOW
HOW I TRIED TO LISTEN TO THE MEN AT THE AIDS CLINIC.
IF THEY ARE NOT ORIGINAL,
THEN LET US ALL PRAISE THE PERSON WHO FIRST SPOKE THEM.
FOR THAT PERSON--WHOEVER SHE OR HE IS--
HAS GIVEN US WORDS THAT SPEAK TO THE HEARTS OF ALL OF US.
Housekeeping: This past Wednesday, I did a guest posting on the blog Tossing It All Out. In it, I shared my thoughts about the difficulties of getting published the traditional way and about what self-publishing asks of writers if they want to reach a wide audience. If you’d like to read that posting, please click here.
Pictures from Wikipedia.