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Sainthood

I RAN INTO MY RESIDENT on my way to rounds the next day. I told him I had admitted one of the patients with AIDS whom I was following. “Which group of the ‘4-H’ club does he belong to?” he asked. According to the house staff, the “4-H club” stood for the four groups at risk for AIDS—homosexuals, Haitians, hemophiliacs, and heroin users. I admonished him not to be so cynical and told him that this patient was special to me. I told him how Régis had worked as a dentist in Haiti, how that was probably how he got his disease, and how we ended up being “blood brothers” as a result of the marmoset experiment. I then told him the circumstances of Régis’s admission—how the blindness had been developing and how he had been beaten at the Immigration and Naturalization Service Office.

Régis had spent the night in the emergency room because there were no beds available on the medical service. I had to admit him through the emergency room and declare him life-threateningly ill in order to get him into the hospital, since he could not prove that he was a legal resident of Dade County, Florida. After spending most of the night on a stretcher in the emergency room, Régis was brought to his room on North Wing II. This was the oldest part of the hospi-



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The Zombie Curse: A Doctor’s 25-Year Journey into the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic in Haiti Sainthood I RAN INTO MY RESIDENT on my way to rounds the next day. I told him I had admitted one of the patients with AIDS whom I was following. “Which group of the ‘4-H’ club does he belong to?” he asked. According to the house staff, the “4-H club” stood for the four groups at risk for AIDS—homosexuals, Haitians, hemophiliacs, and heroin users. I admonished him not to be so cynical and told him that this patient was special to me. I told him how Régis had worked as a dentist in Haiti, how that was probably how he got his disease, and how we ended up being “blood brothers” as a result of the marmoset experiment. I then told him the circumstances of Régis’s admission—how the blindness had been developing and how he had been beaten at the Immigration and Naturalization Service Office. Régis had spent the night in the emergency room because there were no beds available on the medical service. I had to admit him through the emergency room and declare him life-threateningly ill in order to get him into the hospital, since he could not prove that he was a legal resident of Dade County, Florida. After spending most of the night on a stretcher in the emergency room, Régis was brought to his room on North Wing II. This was the oldest part of the hospi-

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The Zombie Curse: A Doctor’s 25-Year Journey into the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic in Haiti tal still being used for patient care. It was depressing just to be there. It was darker than the rest of the hospital, the rooms were smaller, and the paint was flaking off the walls, which were colored a hideous green. Régis was deeply depressed and was sure he was not going to leave the hospital. When I approached from the left side, he could not see me. I asked him how he was. He told me he was tired of being constantly asked if he was a homosexual. Evidently, his treatment in the emergency room had not been kind. Something about his mannerisms made me worry he was going to snap under the strain. His hands trembled when he reached for something and when talking to me he would play with his bed clothes or sheets between his fingers and avoid eye contact in a manner that was new for him. I knew how much the blindness frightened him. I asked the house staff to call Jeanette, our Haitian-American psychiatry liaison, to ask if she would see Régis for emotional support. Later that day I saw Jeanette at a distance down one of the corridors and waved to her. I asked if she had seen Régis yet. “Oh, I certainly have.” “What did you think?” expecting an outflow of empathy and amazement. “Unbelievable.” “I know.” “He is a phenomenon.” “Yes, he is,” I said, but did not really follow her. “I mean, I have heard about cases like this, but I’ve never actually seen one. He really is extraordinary.” “What do you mean?” “I really don’t know quite what the word for it is. It’s not quite ‘social climber,’ but he is acting so much out of class. He comes from poor rural Haiti, you know. He would only talk to me in French. He would not talk in Creole, in spite of the fact that I speak Creole fluently. And this business about dentistry by correspondence. He is really trying to make it.” “Jeanette, I asked you to see him because he’s depressed and suf-

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The Zombie Curse: A Doctor’s 25-Year Journey into the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic in Haiti fering. What do you care if he didn’t go to Harvard Dental School?” “Because I think he is lying to you. I think you’ve been had.” “What do you mean ‘had’?” “I think he is gay.” “Gay! You think that’s how he became infected don’t you? I’ve asked him about this over and over. He’s a dentist. He leads the life of a saint! The man’s a saint!” “How many saints do you suppose were really gay?” “Do you have any proof?” “No, nothing specific, just a feeling. With these sociopathic personalities you can’t take anything they tell you at face value.” “Sociopathic!” I screamed. “The man spent five years of his life pulling teeth in the backwoods of Haiti. I’ve seen the pictures.” “You poor bleeding heart. You idealize everyone. Besides, I’ve heard of this character from the Haitian community. He is aloof. He takes a superior attitude.” “Jeanette, did you do anything to help him?” “Oh, yes. I was very supportive of him in his struggle against his illness, but I just wanted you to know he’s not who you thought he was. I’ll continue to visit him daily. Perhaps I can find someone in the community who will take him in.” I left for my office upset but realizing that Jeanette’s assessment had to be accounted for. After all she could talk with him in his own language and I could not. She knew the culture and I did not. Worse yet, she had nailed me with a variation of my old college canteen theory. Alina was waiting for me when I got to my office. “Did you talk with Jeanette?” “Yes, I did. Art, I can’t stand it. I can’t stand being taken advantage of and lied to.” “How do you know you were lied to?” “She says he’s gay, Art. I believed every word he told me.” “He’s one of the few patients with a negative test for syphilis,” I responded weakly. “She’s from his own culture.”

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The Zombie Curse: A Doctor’s 25-Year Journey into the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic in Haiti “Yes, but I’ve known him for over two years. He’s just a gentle, intelligent man. I’ve seen the pictures of him performing dental extractions. It was the tainted blood of one of those extractions that infected him. She is a human being just like us and just as likely to be wrong.” “I can’t bring myself to go and visit him.” “Because he might be gay or because he might have lied?” “No. If he were gay I could understand why he might have to lie.” “Look, let’s suppose she’s right, and he led us down the garden path for all these months. He is still sick, suffering, and destitute. Does it really make any difference? Why do we keep trying to make AIDS someone’s fault?” Although Régis received seven days of a new intravenous antiviral, his vision did not improve. My resident was on my case. He told me that my “blood brother” was trying to use the hospital as a hotel and that I had to help get him discharged. I talked with Régis privately and told him that there was little else I could do for him. I asked him to investigate all of his resources and see if he couldn’t find someone he could go home with. He told me he had no one. Reluctantly I told him that perhaps it was time to think about returning to his family in Haiti. At least they could give him food and shelter. He looked at me in despair and said, “I came here to succeed. If I go back, I go back in disgrace. I surely will die.” The next day on rounds Régis told me he had found somebody to go home with. I was surprised by this and didn’t quite believe it. I told him I wanted to see him in my office in a week. The housestaff had already written his discharge order.