By Thanksgiving in 1997, Gary was in rough shape. He struggled to study for the exam to keep up his certification to fly 727s. He couldn't get through the manuals. Fortunately, his exam wasn't for awhile. At the end of November, he flew his last flight for the month—a trip that, to his surprise, was his best and most enjoyable.
"I felt so sharp. I wasn't bored. I had a good time working with my co-pilot," he said.
At the same time, he felt worse. He spoke with such fatigue. The next day, he called in sick, a rarity for him. I urged him to see a doctor. He refused. If he were diagnosed with depression, he said his career would be over. If he could not fly for awhile, he would have to avoid telling his parents the reason because it would upset his mother.
Well, then, don't tell them. They don't have to know.
His voice was filled guilt, his obsessive thoughts poured out. Maybe I have AIDS. Maybe this is AIDS-related dementia. I had a blood test last year that came back negative. Maybe a life of sleeping around has caught up with me. I shouldn't have slept with all those women. I've been such a terrible person to so many women, Delia. I didn't call them back. I broke up with them. I didn't love them. I pretended that I cared for them. I'm ashamed of my behavior. That's why I stopped dating four or five years ago. I am not a good person. And, now I have AIDS.
It's probably not AIDS, I said.
How do you know? You don't, do you?
No, I don't know. What I do know is that you need to see a doctor. I could not tell my family that I have AIDS.
Geez, depression can make a person so goddamn stubborn and warp perspective. Why was I being so pushy and hanging in there like an attack dog with jaws clamped around a mailman's ankle? I persisted because I know what depression is and isn't. I have been treated for depression. I had lived for years in the shadow of my husband's depression for most of our marriage. I found him convulsing after he had taken an overdose of several months' worth of antidepressants. God, that was beyond awful. Friends of mine have also suffered from depression. I hate to see people get stuck in its grips and feeling so much inner torment, especially when therapy and medications can ease the emotional pain. But it is hard to break free. Depression holds onto its victim and the victim holds onto depression, refusing to let go of the sinking boat pulling them down deep into the dark, cold sea.
Just see a doctor, will you?
Look, it'll kill my mother if she finds out I have AIDS, Gary says.
It's going to kill you if you have AIDS. And, I think your mother would find out that you're dead.
Go see a doctor. Get diagnosed, get treated, screw stigma, I said. At this point, I was nearly shouting into the phone.
Gary relented. He went to a doc-in-a-box walk-in doctor's office in his Connecticut town. Doctors with no commitment, no patient-doctor relationship to develop. At that point, I was glad he saw a professional, even if the doctor might be no more a healthy choice than fast food.
Later that day, my phone rings. It's Gary.
He says that it might be a recurrence of Lyme disease.
That doesn't sound right, I said.
The doctor said to come back on Monday for a blood test to see if I have antibodies for Lyme disease. I got it a few years ago. I had been reading a magazine describing the bull's eye that shows up after a tick bite when I realized that was what I had on my thigh. A bull's eye.
When I heard that over the phone, I rolled my eyes. Time to stop my crusade. I hang up. But, I couldn't cease and desist. I called him back. With the last bit of rottweiler attack I had left in me, I convinced him to see a doctor up here in Boston. I promised him that this hospital really knows about patient care and is not like the doctors he was used to. I made an appointment for him for the next morning. It was a week before Christmas.
Next: Gary's appointment