Wednesday, December 4, 1996

Christmas 1996

I can’t remember ever feeling as far behind at Christmas as I have this year. Usually my letters and cards are mailed in the first two weeks of December.

The Christmas cactus has bloomed and, unfortunately, seems done for 1996. Would that I had been ready so early! I suppose I could have put a string of lights on the plant. It’s certainly big enough. I’ve been growing it for over ten years. The cuttings I planted at that time were from a plant I trimmed in St. Catharines. It was over forty years old then. A sorry slip of a prayer-plant, which I rescued from a Jesuit retreat centre in Guelph last spring, has begun to thrive. “Thrive” is probably overstating it.

“What does it all mean?” he asked rhetorically.

I promised myself that I would tone down the cat talk in this year’s letter. Past notes seemed to bring on a mini-avalanche of cat-related gifts! I no sooner get this typed out and Emma is stretched out, purring, in front of me on a rolled up afghan at the end of my couch (I’m at the other end with my lap-full, i.e. a word processor two times bulkier than a lap-top) and Blue seems to be sharpening her tongue on my right arm. Emma takes a dim view - literally (she’s squinting) - of Blue’s proximity. ‘nough cat talk! I’ve just been reminded of their important companionship and I shouldn’t apologize for that - even if we all know that I was always meant to have a dog!

I have two rather telling year-end stories, both signs of the times. With any luck I’ll still manage to get a couple of chuckles out of you.

First of all, Santa Claus has been evicted from this housing co-op (of which - for now - I am still a board member and, therefore, bound by rules of confidentiality). He was a chubby elf, if not always jolly, who played a prominent role at our Christmas parties past. Unfortunately he had trouble with commitment to his rent, despite two good incomes in the household, and his arrears got way out of hand - which the slackers on the last board should have dealt with. We’re hoping to garnish his supply of “Tickle Me Elmo” dolls! I hasten to add this wasn’t a heartless December eviction. Mr. Claus skipped out in the autumn. He still lives and works in the neighbourhood. See ya in court St. Nick!

The Christmas party in the lobby would have been one of his evenings to shine. We held our first annual dog pageant last week, and had plenty of cider and Christmas goodies to munch on. Everything, from two great danes wearing antlers to a dog and his owner dressed like angels, showed up!

I came back from the soiree and had a choice between watching Kathy Lee Gifford’s Christmas show or the umpteenth PBS fundraising presentation of “Les Miserables - Tenth Anniversary Concert“. (Before I could say “membership break” Channel 17 had snared me.) Kathy Lee didn’t ever stand a chance!

Story Number Two involves the fellow many of us would hold largely responsible for losses of shelter - and jobs - far more tragic than our Santa’s. For the second year in a row I have received a properly addressed fundraising letter from “Mike Harris - M.P.P. - Premier of Ontario”. I don’t know what mailing list he found me on! All I can say is he’s peeking up the wrong kilt sending such an appeal to me. I don’t expect, nor do I plan any attempts, to outdo last year’s response which was to enclose a couple sheets of toilet paper in his postage-paid envelope. Nothing too gross, just an extra little rub! Yet he wrote back this year! Evil? Marbles-deficient? Moi? Save the speculation for my eulogy which - miraculously - I expect much later than ever before in the history of my illness.

Periodic ultrasounds and, more recently, a CT scan of my uncomfortable guts have shown no trouble my doctors and I weren’t already aware of. I had almost forgotten the stress of awaiting test results. It seems to have been a recurring theme this year. Each test raises my anxiety level, to the point where I imagine worst-case scenarios, only to be given the good news that nothing new has been found. Prayer is seen to work most clearly in hindsight! I get more exercise sighing of relief than from any other activity, with the possible exception of walking. Just this week my T-4 count came back showing me at 56, low to be sure but five times greater than October! The increase is significant because it came just a month-and-a-half after I changed from Indinavir - one of the new protease inhibitors - to another, Ritonavir. This seemed to confirm that the new drug “cocktail” is working, and my specialist added Saquinavir to the pot for more effect. (I’d been on it before, and tolerated it, but switched to Indinavir because it was free while experimental. That’s what brought on the kidney “gravel”.)

Breakfast consists of milk, maybe a banana, and - as of last week - seventeen pills or capsules, about half of which are repeated in the evening. When that seems like alot, and it often does, I just remind myself that many folks who couldn’t - or wouldn’t - try new treatments are now dead. Millions more, in Africa and Asia, don’t have acce$$ to these promising medications. That was made clear at the AIDS conference last summer in Vancouver. Simple aspirin isn’t even available and palliative care consists of a warm hand to squeeze. I try to remind myself of that whenever I get discouraged. Goodness AIDS can be self-absorbing!

The trip to Vancouver was one of the highlights of my year. I am so grateful that I had leisure time before, during and after the conference. I can’t imagine flying into such a beautiful city, particularly since it was my first time there, then flying out on the last day of meetings. Many of the delegates did just that.

It’s only been in the last month or so that I’ve managed to put all of the pictures from the trip into one album, some 148 of them. A drawback of travelling alone is that I only managed to appear in a handful of shots, barely evidence that I was there!

Another honour in 1996 was to speak at the church’s AIDS vigil in September - “A Service of Remembrance, Hope and Healing” (or was that the one in Vancouver during the conference? It doesn’t really matter. Both emphasized the hope that’s come to light recently.)

With the hope of new treatments, I must confess, has come a feeling of being less certain than ever of what the future holds (as if any of us are!). I may just have to be prepared to live a lot longer, one day at a time. This may take a lot of adjusting, financial and otherwise. It’s only been the last nine months or so that promising new medicines have been available.

On the other hand the advances being made may be most helpful to the newly diagnosed (notwithstanding the doctor’s good news this week). In any case I’ve lived longer, and better, than I ever would have thought possible seven years ago. I think that’s the fourth year in a row I’ve written that at Christmas!)

The specialist I saw was very pleased with my state of health - the T-4 increase and a weight gain of three kilograms. I can attribute some of the weight gain to the time of year. On the second day of the church’s bazaar I bought six dozen home-made cookies for gifts. Well I have eaten these gifts - every last one of them! Could this be where the three kilos came from?

So many haven’t survived, as was poignantly clear at the Washington showing of the AIDS quilt. I understand it will never be displayed in one location again because of its unruly size. Many panels from it were in Vancouver for the conference, a selection of tributes from all over the world. They were unfolded in seperate panels of four all around the “500″ level of BC Place Stadium. Panels were also hanging in a beautiful atrium at their new public library.

As “The National” and Maclean’s are reporting this week we can only hope something in 1997 lifts us out of this stressful, uneasy mood Canada seems to be in. A little snow on the ground for about three days around Christmas would help for awhile.

Well I hope this finds you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and that the holidays are as happy as we can make them. Thanks for your love and support over the year. May God continue to “bless us every one!”