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Lespwa (Hope)

A YEAR HAD PASSED SINCE Régis left. The legal status of Haitian refugees was still unclear. Although they had been released from the Krome Avenue camp, a bill to grant them legal residency was defeated in Congress. The Coast Guard was intercepting their sailboats in the Windward Passage and returning the passengers to Haiti. Occasionally there were stories on the news of Haitians marooned on desert islands or drowned in the process of “interdiction.” No one seemed to know how many made it to Miami or how many were lost at sea. For the most part, the issue of Haitian refugees had been removed from the national consciousness.

I asked Margaret if she had ever heard anything about what happened to Régis. She had contacts on the island, which she had established during her trips there.

“Yes, I did,” she said and bit her lower lip. “He just went to his room and closed the door. He refused to see his family or friends. Finally, after several days, when they heard no further noise, they went in and found him dead.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

The Special Immunology Clinic continued to meet each Thurs-



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OCR for page 68
The Zombie Curse: A Doctor’s 25-Year Journey into the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic in Haiti Lespwa (Hope) A YEAR HAD PASSED SINCE Régis left. The legal status of Haitian refugees was still unclear. Although they had been released from the Krome Avenue camp, a bill to grant them legal residency was defeated in Congress. The Coast Guard was intercepting their sailboats in the Windward Passage and returning the passengers to Haiti. Occasionally there were stories on the news of Haitians marooned on desert islands or drowned in the process of “interdiction.” No one seemed to know how many made it to Miami or how many were lost at sea. For the most part, the issue of Haitian refugees had been removed from the national consciousness. I asked Margaret if she had ever heard anything about what happened to Régis. She had contacts on the island, which she had established during her trips there. “Yes, I did,” she said and bit her lower lip. “He just went to his room and closed the door. He refused to see his family or friends. Finally, after several days, when they heard no further noise, they went in and found him dead.” “Are you sure?” “Yes, I’m sure.” The Special Immunology Clinic continued to meet each Thurs-

OCR for page 68
The Zombie Curse: A Doctor’s 25-Year Journey into the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic in Haiti day. The waiting room was now “standing room only,” and we were thinking of holding the clinic more than one day a week. I finished each session exhausted. Hope, however, was beginning to return. The virus that caused the disease had been isolated. A vaccine was being considered, and the first drugs that we hoped would kill the virus were being tested. I’d begun to tell patients in the early stages of the disease that there might be a treatment or possibly a cure in the near future. Annie came to the office for me to sign a form. She had just been discharged from the hospital after treatment for her fourth episode of pneumonia. The form she needed to have me sign was necessary in order to place her child in foster care. “Can you hold on for a few more months? I think we may have a treatment.” “I don’t think so. I’ve lost all my strength. I can’t keep anything down.” She looked at me directly. Her face was gaunt, and she was beginning to lose weight. She neither smiled nor cried but stated calmly, “I know I won’t be alive in two months.” Other patients in the waiting room heard her say this, and suddenly everyone was watching her. She gave me one more look that said simultaneously “Thanks” and “its okay if you can’t do anything for me anymore.” She folded her form, tucked it in her purse, and left. I never saw her again. I had seen Lee off and on for two years. Originally, he was one of the “worried well.” He had a lover with Kaposi’s sarcoma and he would come anxiously with every new bump or freckle. Now he had two weeks of fever and sore throat. His examination showed thrush. He took the news quietly. Then he told me he would take any risk necessary to have a chance to be spared the agony he had seen his lover go through. Although he was white and American, something about Lee reminded me of Régis. He dressed meticulously, as Régis did, and he spoke with a natural eloquence. I excused myself to find Margaret. She had spoken with someone at the National Institutes of

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The Zombie Curse: A Doctor’s 25-Year Journey into the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic in Haiti Health the night before. Dr. Anthony Fauci was looking for volunteers for Phase I studies of an antiviral agent that held the promise of actually killing the virus. Previous drugs had merely stopped its growth. Phase I studies at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, were designed not for treatment but to measure toxicity. Lee would need to go to NIH and stay there for four weeks to submit to the tests. If the drug proved safe, he could continue it in Miami. He qualified because he was in the early stage of the disease. He happened to have two weeks of vacation coming and could take time off from work. When we offered Lee the chance to enter the study, he said he needed to talk with his family first. Two hours later he called me back and said he would go. Although I hoped that the drug would live up to its promise, I had lingering doubts. At the very least, I hoped it wouldn’t hurt him. Meanwhile, it was Thursday, and there were seven patients waiting for me at the Special Immunology Clinic. I told Jeanette Margaret’s account of Régis’s passing. “It’s probably not true,” she said. “There’s a rather infamous gay—very wealthy—with the same last name as your patient Régis. He died recently under similar circumstances. I’m sure that’s who her contacts told her about. I told you that Régis was from a poor part of Haiti. Once he returned there, I’m sure he was never heard of. Who’d care? For all you know, he could still be alive, up there in the mountains. It’s healthier up there, you know.” “Who are you kidding?” I thought. There’s no way he could still be alive. Hope is a funny thing, though. In spite of all I knew about the disease, I hoped against hope that Jeanette was right. At the very least, I hoped Régis hadn’t died alone, as Margaret had described it.