Lying is wrong, or at least, it should be. A lie can be a tool to escape the monotony of a normal life but, sometimes, it is the only way to pretend to have one. Nevertheless, the hardest thing is often being able to survive your own lies. The truth, good or bad, cannot be buried for too long. To live is to crochet according to a pattern we are given Fernando Pessoa wrote in his Book of Disquiet. Should lying lead to good or bad outcomes, it definitely complicates everything.
When you work in a ward, there are a limited number of situations that you are trained to manage. All your knowledge, all your background will eventually be called into question and torn to pieces. Your way of thinking, as well. Meeting something you don’t expect, receiving news that you wouldn’t like to hear. It is not all. Because sometimes, in a room of a hospital, you can find a problem bigger than a pathology.
First year of training, a rota in a busy infectious diseases department, a young man admitted for a pulmonary problem. More or less of my age, as far as I can remember. I started to take his medical history; he was clearly uncomfortable. Hard to speak about his diseases and about the events that led him to that point. He had done it, several times before this, several times with the same discomfort in the heart. Homosexual, HIV-positive patient, a long history of lies to his parents and friends. Hiding medicines, attending medical appointments covertly, the gauche attempt to live an ordinary life without raising too much suspicion around him. “My ex boyfriend didn’t tell me that he was positive and now things are going this way” – a story like many others, the life of a human being who copes every day with the ghost of an unfair disease. Pretty quiet, his voice didn’t have any trace of resentment or anger. He told me about isolation, disappointment, fear to be judged by a society which is scared by its own children. Trying to find every day the right compromise between lie and desperation, trying to go ahead. That time, however, there was something different.
A nervous smile, the will to be understood and, in some way, to be forgiven. “I am in love”. A special person, someone who could take his breath away more than any organic disease, had suddenly arrived in his life. They had met just once before, they lived very far from each other, but this love just nurtured with words whispered through a phone had touched him deeply. For him he had given up any physical relationship, taken the drugs regularly, for him he desired to be a different person. Nevertheless, an important part of his life had been voluntarily omitted until now. Because it had arrived the time for him to be the dissonant chord in a perfect harmony, and to admit that his story was doomed.
His partner was seronegative and that was enough to be sure that their love would have been impossible. Like people who live in different worlds, to them it was forbidden to be close for too long. Just a night from seeing him, a long night to enjoy the sweet pain of a hopeless love. He confessed that he would prefer to continue to live on the edge, deceiving himself in the wait of something happening. “What can I expect from him? Comprehension, reassurance? I am waiting for the end, that’s all. And while I wait, I can still hope”. For the first time in his life he felt dirty, not able to measure up to him.
I tried to explain to him the situation from another point of view, I tried to encourage him to live with his pathology before building a relationship. Could love be possible without trust? I left this young man alone with his troubles, too severe a punishment to be deserved. In the silence of the aisle I thought for a while about how many stories we miss every day for the hurry or just because we don’t pay attention to the details. I continued the round as usual, replacing his notes on the trolley. Nevertheless, when I went home, an unpleasant sensation passed through my body. I didn’t really know how a young man, so pleasant and fragile, could go on with this heavy burden. What would I do if I were him? Would I be able to look forward? Sometimes it is difficult for people to
understand how much sorrow lies behind some lives, words and behaviours. Secrets, lack of direction, keeping a straight face while the days go by and you aren’t sure about the duration of your life as well. Maybe he was right, it would be better to keep things suspended in order to preserve some pleasant memories at least. These thoughts were drifting around my mind and made me sleepless.
The weekend ended and on the next Monday I came back to the ward. When I was on his room doorstep, I hesitated for a while. After few seconds, I found the courage to say hello. A great smile, a different person from whom I left on Friday was waiting for me. Even without pronouncing any word, I had the impression that the storm had gone. “I told him the truth. He already knew and he doesn’t care. We’ll fight it together”. I felt relieved and unexpectedly happy. His eyes seemed shiny and almost touched. Life surprised me again. A hospital room, where people struggle every day against diseases and solitude, for one time was full of joy. Not a traditional TV fiction, not the usual environment for a happy ending. Despite the barriers, hesitations and problems, dreams hadn’t disappeared. The love for life, after all, carried on.