Buddies 'Give Of Their Hearts' They Volunteer As Companions To Aids Victims

Posted: July 27, 1987

On days when David is feeling low, his buddy Anne knows how to perk him up. She brings him cut flowers and freshly snipped herbs from her garden in Mount Airy. She gives him a pep talk.

Sometimes she marches him off to a shop called "Nuts to You."

They met in November through Action AIDS, an organization that pairs people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome and AIDS-related complex (ARC) - like David - with people who want to help them - like Anne.

In Philadelphia there are about 150 trained buddies, men and women whose ages range from 18 to 77, who work through Action AIDS, and an additional 120 volunteers who have trained as buddies through the Philadelphia AIDS Task Force.

What buddies do, Anne said, is "give of their hearts."

David T. Chickadel, 34, was diagnosed as having AIDS-related complex four years ago. He has been in and out of hospitals, has lost 80 pounds and is often bedridden. His symptoms include diarrhea, bursitis, arthritis, swollen lymph glands and an ulcer. He is on disability leave from his job as a radiologist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

"Anne entered my life at a real hard time," Chickadel said. "I was living with a man dying of AIDS, and I was pretty sick myself. Thomas, my lover, and I would get invited to parties and then disinvited. We lost 99 percent of our friends to AIDS hysteria."

In January, Chickadel lost Thomas as well. He is grateful that Anne Greenberg, 44, divorced mother of four and one of a growing number of heterosexual women in the city's buddy force, was there for him.

"She got me through some real rough times," Chickadel said. "We've created a friendship out of this, even though she ruins my laundry."

Said Greenberg cheerfully, "I ruined his best shirt when I put bleach on it, and he's never forgiven me. We've had some major tiffs."

The reasons Anne Greenberg volunteered and trained to be a buddy have something to do with her own health history, something to do with a television movie and a great deal to do with the outgoing, upbeat kind of woman she is.

"Two years ago I was diagnosed as having lung cancer, and shortly before I

went into the hospital for surgery I saw An Early Frost, which is about a young man with AIDS," Greenberg said. "Sylvia Sidney, who played his grandmother, said that the way people with AIDS are being treated today - the isolation, the fear - is the way cancer patients were treated years ago.

"Now, here I was with cancer, and my kids were kissing my feet, my ex- boyfriend was coming back, my ex-husband's wife came to visit, and I thought to myself, 'This is the way to be treated.' Something clicked. I decided, 'When I get better, I'm going to be nice to somebody who doesn't have that kind of support.' "

Greenberg likes being a buddy, she said, because "there's no party line to follow. I don't have to formulate a policy. I can just be a warm, caring friend."

There is no exact definition of the word buddy, said Anna Forbes, services coordinator for Action AIDS. "It has been deliberately left open and left flexible. Some buddies help with paper work, apply for medical assistance, find transportation, housing, food stamps and new doctors for their people. A buddy provides support.

"We have a person who just got out of a nursing home who has AIDS dementia and is not eating, and we've arranged for seven buddies to take turns sitting with him at dinner, one a night."

For David Funkhouser, a bilingual Episcopalian minister whose buddy is a 3- year-old Puerto Rican boy with AIDS, "what's important is not so much having a personal relationship with the child as trying to help his grandmother get a house. The boy's mother died of AIDS, after passing it to him and his little sister. She caught it from his father, a drug user, who died. The grandmother is raising the children. It's a challenging case."

Mostly, Forbes said, "a buddy is a safe person for a person with AIDS or ARC to talk to. AIDS is such a loaded thing that people who have it often can't talk to family and friends and lovers about it. Every time they talk about it, they're talking about their own death, and those who are closest to them shy away from that.

"A buddy has a little more distance and objectivity," Forbes said. ''Buddies often become the sounding boards for both sides - the person with AIDS and the person's family."

This has been the case for Maria, 39, a Hispanic social worker, who asked that her real name not be used to protect her buddy's confidentiality.

"I'm the buffer between the buddy and the family," said Maria, a single parent of three sons - all of whom, she said, "are sick of hearing about condoms from me."

Maria, who said the growing menace of AIDS in the Hispanic community motivated her to get involved with the buddy program, said AIDS had stripped her buddy of spouse, children and friends and had left family members distraught.

"It hurts me to see them going through what they're going through, and to see them so unprepared for any of it, simply because they weren't aware that heterosexuals are at risk for AIDS," Maria said. Her role, she said, is to act as "facilitator, educator, and support person to each family member."

Last week, Maria's buddy, whom she calls "fantastic, a very brave person," took a turn for the worse, and Maria spent time at the bedside, sharing talk and tears. It was, she said, "horrible."

Although she had steeled herself for the inevitable health crises, Maria said, "actually living through this is a lot different than I expected."

Maria said she felt compelled to spend more time with her buddy now, and when she is home she converses by telephone for hours at a stretch with her buddy's family. The amount of ignorance about AIDS, especially in the

Hispanic community, stuns and angers her.

"Some extended family members think that they'll be contaminated if they come in contact with my buddy's tears. That probably bothers me a lot more than it bothers my buddy, who is extra careful of contact with people."

Recruiting Hispanic and black buddies is a high priority for both groups. ''We are always looking for minorities," said Bernice Louden, client services director for the Philadelphia AIDS Task Force. "When I first started working here in December, the majority of buddies were gay white men. Now we have nuns and brothers and a growing number of women. We're still having a problem bringing in heterosexual males, though. And, although we have people of all races now, we could use more minority volunteers."

Eric Brown is a minority volunteer. Thirty and black, Brown, a registered nurse, used to visit his buddy in prison.

Brown met his first PWA - a term people with AIDS prefer to victim or patient - 2 1/2 years ago at the nursing home where he works. When he saw how the patient isolated himself, and how hospital workers avoided him, Brown said, "I became the AIDS nurse on the floor. We became close friends, and at the time of his demise I said I would never do this again. And 2 1/2 months later I got another one."

Brown said that even though his work normally involved helping those with AIDS, he signed up with the Action AIDS buddy program "because I wanted to help someone in prison."

"Having AIDS in prison is very complicated because, first, you're incarcerated, and secondly, you're treated as if your AIDS was a crime, too," he said.

His buddy was kept in isolation and forbidden to use the commissary, Brown said. When he became sick, he was sent to the James C. Giuffre Medical Center, where "he lay in bed in a room with a urinal in it, with no TV and no radio and a guard outside the door."

"It doesn't seem to me it's a fair way to treat someone dying of a terminal disease," Brown said. "But I guess the authorities feel this is prison, so why give them all the niceties and the ambiance."

A few weeks ago, Brown's buddy was released. "I'm glad he's not going to die in prison; he got his wish," Brown said. But the buddy did not tell anyone, including Brown, where he was going, and Brown is worried about him.

"I know that he liked the idea that someone took the time to see him in prison, because his family didn't and he was quite alienated," Brown said.

"The buddies in my support group tell me not to worry, that he'll contact me if he needs me. I hope he does. I'd like to be there with him, and help him in any way I can."

At Action AIDS, volunteer buddies meet monthly to share strategies for untangling red tape, to let out their anger and be comforted in their grief.

Don Rogers, 34, showed up at the July meeting puffing on a cigarette - a habit he had kicked before his buddy died a few weeks ago.

"He was a young black man from North Philadelphia," said Rogers, who is white and lives in Center City. "He asked for a buddy because he wanted a friend. That was my role. I did laundry and cooking, but friendship is beyond that. We spent one very crazy Saturday at Great Adventure, but most of our time was just sitting together. We met once a week, and it became a friendship in and of itself. It's very difficult to talk about."

This was the second buddy Rogers had watched die. He said he is going to take a few months off to grieve, as he did the last time. "Then in September I'm going back to the hypnotist to stop smoking, and back to Action AIDS for another buddy," he said.

Being a buddy, said Forbes of Action AIDS, is "a compassionate response to a health crisis that would be otherwise overwhelming. A lot of these people need to confront AIDS as a way to come to terms with fear and anger."

Buddy Anne Greenberg, who is "outraged" by society's treatment of people with AIDS, said, "I feel so intensely that people have to be educated.

"Somehow people have to understand that this is a great human crisis. It needs more than people saying, 'Oh, isn't that a shame.' "

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