CAMPOut: Fay's Rehoboth Journal She's Not Just My Friend, She's My Partner
|by Fay Jacobs|
As you may have heard by now, this CAMPout columnist has been camping out in various hospital rooms for the last month, keeping my ailing spouse Bonnie company. It all started with a fall she took while painting our condo and has turned into a frightening and complicated medical mystery. From a relatively simple knee injury, she progressed to scary blood clots in the lungs, spleen and kidney. It has been suggested that the vitriolic screed I recently penned about the evils of HMO's contributed to this mess. It makes as much sense as anything else relative to this disaster.
And as I sit in her flower and card-filled Annapolis hospital room, Letters deadline hovering ominously and laptop computer screen staring me in the face, I've decided to go ahead and write this columndespite the fact that we have yet to have a diagnosis for Bonnie, let alone any suggestion of when she might come home. Suffice it to say that she's feeling much better, starting to pace up and down the halls, and is getting so bored we're thinking of keeping her in bed with bungee cords. Unfortunately, her team of very smart, very competent, and even prestigious doctors, including several top blood and kidney specialists, cannot put a name on her particular syndrome. I've always told her she's one of a kind, but I really didn't mean relative to her hematology.
At any rate, more important than the diagnosis is the fact that the docs have yet to get Miss Bonnie's blood thin enough to insure that she won't throw another blood clot at some upcoming tea dance. I agree, let's keep her here until they're sure they have a handle on this thing.
But in the meantime, there are some things I want to say and some things that are too important NOT to say.
First, if something like this had to happen to us, I'm glad it occurred when we were part of the Rehoboth community. I can't tell you how much it has meant to both of us to have the support of our friends and family of affinity. That means you guys, our wonderful friends, lots of Letters readers, and the folks at our favorite shops and restaurants. Although it does give one pause when the most stunning floral arrangements come from our favorite drinking establishments...(just kidding, we love that honor!). Absolutely everyone has been just terrific, and the sincerity of the offers of help and all manner of assistance have absolutely floored usand made us feel so lucky to be part of that can-do Create a More Positive Rehoboth community.
But the most important message I have concerns a piece of paper and peace of mind. It's called a medical power of attorney. Bonnie and I have always had our legal paperwork handythe documents that show, in lieu of a marriage certificate, that we are life partners and next of kin. Having that piece of paper means that there's no question that I'm the person the doctors consult, I'm the person with permission to visit Bonnie's room at all hours, and, frankly, that our relationship deserves recognition on an equal footing with married patients and kin.
Recently in Common Grounda SHOWTIME original movieVanessa Redgrave played the long-time spouse of a woman who was hospitalized and their relationship was denied by hospital staff and her lover's family. To me, that was a horror story worse than anything Stephen King has ever come up with.
When our own nightmare began, our legal paperwork (Medical Power of Attorney, Living Will, Durable Power of Attorney, etc.) was just back from our Delaware attorney's office, having been redone since our move from Maryland. It was completed but not signed and notarized.
In a scenario that is not yet, but may someday be funny, we had to call our favorite notary public to the Beebe Medical Center's emergency room to get the patient's signature. There she was, with the trauma team, hooked up to oxygen, morphine and goodness knows what else, and we're asking her to sign on the dotted line. It was a tough sell getting her to believe she wasn't dying, but that we needed the signature so Beebe would know we were married. Not to mention that I'd be able to write checks from her business account to pay the phone and gas bills.
I have to say, that even without the signed paperwork, Beebe staff members were, overall, very sensitive to our situation. On a couple of occasions, though, I had to set some records straight (if you'll excuse the expression). One of Bonnie's doctors kept saying, "Well, your friend is very sick," and "your friend this, and your friend that..." Finally, I had to say, as nicely as possible, "She's not just my friend, she's my partner." To his credit, he got the message. When the hospital chaplain visited (now there's a scary thing, too) and started with the "your friend" routine, I really had to explain it again. While everyone was nice as can be, I think some sensitivity training is still in order for Beebe.
One thing is true, though. At Beebe, when we saw other gay people in the elevators or working in the hospital, they were all super friendly and warm to us. Rehoboth's sense of community really does extend to Lewes as well.
Here in Annapolis, it's a little different. We made our relationship clear to the doctors and staff from the very beginning. Bonnie always says, "We're partners of 18 years," hoping that the longevity adds credibility. While we've been warmly received (everything from "Oh..." and dropped eyes, to "Really? What's your secret for a such a long and happy relationship?") it's clear that here they are not used to such openness. In fact, we've spied lots of folks who made our gaydar twirl, but eye contact is usually avoided. I always felt that Annapolis was a homophobic town, and I'm even more convinced now.
The arrival of hordes of our visiting friends is really good for this hospital's growth and development.
But the subject of being out is very important to this situation, too. Now I know that many, many people feel that they cannot afford to be out of the closet at their jobs and with their employers. I'm so lucky that my employer and co-workers know my situation and have been nothing but supportive. I cannot imagine the unspeakable horror of going through a situation like this while trying to keep your reason for absences and emotional turmoil a secret. As I said, everyone's circumstances are different. And there are surely some cases where honesty may not be the best policy. But I beg you all to assess your personal situation carefully and make sure it's not internalized homophobia that's keeping you in the closet. Being open and honest may just save your sanity some day.
So that's the message. And please, please, whatever you do, consult an attorney and take care of the legal work necessary to protect you, your partner, your possessions and your peace of mind. If you don't know where to start, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll point you in the right direction.
Meanwhile, I hope Bonnie will be recuperating at home by the time this issue is published. Thanks for all the kind messages, support, flowers and care packages. And, by the way, the dogs are at the breeder's home, happy to be visiting with their biological parents. Thanks to all of you who have inquired! Before now, we were always pretty sure we knew who our friends were, but it's times like these when you really find out for sure. We are truly blessed. We love you all.
Fay Jacobs, a Vice Versa award winning columnist, is a regular contributor to Letters from CAMP Rehoboth. You can find more of her CAMPOut columns at www.camprehoboth.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 10, No. 8, June 30, 2000.