Kevin's last day with AIDS (6/30/98)
Kevin, 31, leans on his cane as he waits his turn to climb into a green leather dental chair at the San Antonio, Texas, AIDS Foundation. He will soon know if his mouth shows any signs of AIDS or HIV-related problems.
He sips from a giant container of Pepsi he bought at the Stop Ďn Go on the way to the clinic. "Iím here because my regular dentist said heíd prefer not to treat me," Kevin says. He seems nervous. He doesnít like to go to the dentist anyway, he says, and now heís afraid of what the dentist might find when he looks in his mouth.
When Kevinís turn nears, one of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonioís consultants invites the young man to sit beside her on the overstuffed tweed sofa in the waiting room that doubles as a conference room and sometimes, a storage room. She begins asking Kevin questions and writes the answers on a form attached to a clipboard in her lap.
Kevin has improved recently. The former accountant used to be a resident of one of the AIDS Foundationís Casas of Care Ė homelike hospices where AIDS patients with no place else to go can live under medical supervision. Although he has developed a brain tumor and takes more than 40 pills every day, Kevin improved enough to return home again. Now he comes to the foundation only for medications and, today, for his dental screening.
He tries to pay for 20 percent of his medical costs, although since he was diagnosed HIV- positive five years ago, his health care bills have skyrocketed.
When his turn arrives, Kevin makes his way into the dental office and sits in the chair. Two dentists and a third-year student take turns pointing a hand-held light into Kevinís mouth as they probe and comment.
Many times it is the dentist who picks up the first signs that an HIV-positive patient is beginning to have problems. They look not only at the oral mucosa, but at the mucous membranes around the eyes and at the skin for other manifestations, such as Kaposiís sarcoma.
No AIDS-related problems are found in Kevinís mouth today, although he is advised to get attention for a decayed molar. He gets out of the chair with the aid of a cane. He seems in good spirits. Heís had a reprieve of sorts. Tonight, he can go home and worry about simpler things for a while, like dinner.
Kevinís biggest fear was that he would become an invalid, that he would be unable to walk or care for himself. He neednít have worried. Two weeks later, he walked to the AIDS Foundation and was waiting to see a videotape in which he was shown speaking to the Health Science Center dental students about AIDS. He died while sitting in a chair, waiting for the tape to be shown.
(Almost 650,000 people in the United States have contracted AIDS in the last 15 years, and about 385,000 have died. Authorities speculate that another 700,000 to a million are infected with the virus.)
Contact: Mike Lawrence, (210) 567-2570