Archive | On Scene With Bill Wilson

On Scene with Bill Wilson – Dr. Jill Biden’s SF Visit

By Bill Wilson
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson © 2012

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Dr. Jill Biden, wife of the Vice President during a visit to the Code for America offices in San Francisco Photo by Bill Wilson

Dr. Jill Biden, wife of the Vice President used her visit to the Bay Area to promote the Joining Forces initiative, a joint venture with the First Lady to promote efforts that support our troops and veterans and their families. After visiting the VA Palo Alto Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center, Dr. Biden traveled to San Francisco to visit the Code for America offices and learn how technology can be used to help veterans apply for jobs.

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Aneesh Chopra, United States Chief Technology Officer, joins Dr. Jill Biden in listening to presentations on “Apps for Heroes” during her visit to the offices of Code for America. Photo by Bill Wilson

Dr. Biden’s visit actually had two parts to it. First she was shown presentations by several people on Apps for Heroes. The presentations ranged from finding the job postings to notifying companies that they are eligible for tax breaks because they hired a qualified veteran.

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Jim Brikman, Sr. Software Engineer at Linkedin, shows Dr. Biden and Aneesh Chopra, US Chief Technology Officer, applications that can be used by veterans to locate job openings and other resources. Photo by Bill Wilson

Translating military training into marketable job skills that companies want can be daunting, but there is an app for that. Since so much of finding a job is about networking it makes sense to use technology to facilitate that communication.

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Peter Levin (left), Senior Advisor to the Secretary and Chief Technology Officer for the U S Department of Veterans Affairs and Aneesh Chopra listen as Gunnar Counselman, (seated) CEO of Fidelis explains a point to Dr. Biden.

The second part of Dr. Biden’s visit was a brief talk to an assembled group of Code for America members who are providing the technical skills and energy to come up with the programs that help people and cities connect with solutions for their common problems, which is what Code for America is all about.

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Dr. Biden talks with members of Code for America. Photo by Bill Wilson

I admit to being a tech dummy. So it took me a while to realize that Code for America is not only the name of the project, but a description of what they do. When you are writing a program you are basically writing code that tells the computer what you want it to do.

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Dr. Biden and Code for America members. Photo by Bill Wilson

Most of Dr. Biden’s time was spent meeting people who had come to the event and learning what they were doing.

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Craig Newmark and Dr. Jill Biden. Photo by Bill Wilson

On a personal note, after I had taken this picture of Craig with Dr. Biden I said to her, “This isn’t the first time I’ve taken your picture, the first time was at the wedding reception Senator and Mrs. Hollings gave for you.” She looked at me and said, “Oh my God!” Then as she come over and gave me a hug she said, “That was thirty five years ago.”

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BILL WILSON
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson is a San Francisco-based veteran photojournalist. Bill embraced photojournalism at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, SFist, SFAppeal. Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past seven years. Email Bill Wilson at wfwilson@sbcglobal.net.

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On Scene with Bill Wilson Buon Anno with a bang!

By Bill Wilson
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson © 2012

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The view from the balcony of my in-law’s apartment in Rome.

I know it’s when in Rome, but on New Year’s Eve my one resolution is to stay inside and hope my eardrums survive. It used to be that Italians greeted the new year by throwing old pots and dishes out the window. That tradition was discouraged as to dangerous and costly in damages particularly to parked cars. So now the tradition seems to be lighting fireworks from the roof or the street.

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The same view just before midnight on December 31.

This year the emphasis seemed to be on more of the loud concussion fireworks rather than the aerial displays of previous years. The most beautiful ones started about ten minutes before midnight.

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After midnight everyone joins in from the fireworks on the roof across Via Tiburtina and sparklers from neighboring apartments.

But since there was a person killed and several injured in Rome because of fireworks I suppose it is only time before this tradition is discouraged. Then I might think about sending it at the New Year’s Eve concert on the Via dei Fori Imperiali and have my eardrums assaulted in a different way.

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BILL WILSON
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson is a San Francisco-based veteran photojournalist. Bill embraced photojournalism at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, SFist, SFAppeal. Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past seven years. Email Bill Wilson at wfwilson@sbcglobal.net.


Buon Anno

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On Scene Bill Wilson Buon Natale

By Bill Wilson
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson © 2011

Highlights of any holiday night tour of Rome, Italy includes the manger scene at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square and

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The manger scene in Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City at night.

the traditional manger scene in light sculptures at the Piazza Venezia, Rome’s geographical center.

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Viewing the traditional manger in front of the Vittoriano.

However this year is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. The red, white and green colors of the Italian flag have been featured prominently in celebrations world-wide.

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The beginning or end depending on your point of view of the Christmas lights along the Via del Corso at Piazza Venezia.

With red and green being traditional Christmas colors is wasn’t much of a stretch of the imagination to find the Italian flag part of the Christmas decorations,

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Strings of Christmas lights in the colors of the Italian flag along the Via Del Corso.

but it was something to see it in lights the entire length of Via Del Corso from the Piazza Venezia to the Piazza del Popolo.

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A view from the Piazza Venezia of the lights along the Via Del Corso.

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BILL WILSON
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson is a San Francisco-based veteran photojournalist. Bill embraced photojournalism at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, SFist, SFAppeal. Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past seven years. Email Bill Wilson at wfwilson@sbcglobal.net.

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On Scene Bill Wilson Deaths in the Family

By Bill Wilson
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson © 2011

I’ve come across some letters from my Grandmother’s cousin, William Otis LaVake to his aunt regarding the death of his brother, Charles, of typhoid fever in 1895.

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William Otis LaVake, his brother, Charles J. LaVake and his sister Abbie taken in 1884. At the time they lived in Idaho.

On September 4, 1895 he wrote from Toledo, Iowa.
Dear Aunt Maria,
Have had a terrible misfortune come upon us. Charley died of typhoid fever at 7:47 PM September 2, aged 16 yrs. 7 mos. Funeral was at Montour the next day. Everybody was Charlie’s friend. Flowers by the bushel were at the Congregational Church. I had them all buried with my poor brother. Mother is a broken hearted. I will try to get her to go home with her sister who lives at Highview, Hamilton County and who was with us during the latter part of the illness. I was with him and nursed him about half the time. He seemed to like to have me handle him better than anyone else. Spoke to me three times by and name the last day. “Ma” was the last word he uttered. I am all broken up. I will write more in detail when I fully recuperate from the terrible ordeal through which I have just passed.
Love to you all, reserve the major portion for yourself.
Your Nephew,
Wm. O. LaVake

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William LaVake and his sister Abbie on horseback as Charles and their Mother look on.

He kept that promise with this letter dated October 3, 1895 also from Toledo, Iowa.

This is the fifth day I have sat up and now just getting so I walk across the floor with a very uncertain tread. I have been eating egg and milk toast for a week and am improving very fast. I fell off till I was below 100, hardly any flesh upon my body at all, in fact I thought I ought to secure good employment in some “dime museum.”
This morning I will try and write you an intelligent letter, if that is possible for me to do at any time, although you will see my handwriting is not very good, my arm is not strong enough to use the free arm movement with which I always write when I am in health.

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In a photo taken around 1892, William LaVake (on right), stands outside his uncle’s Millinery Shop on Broadway in New York City.

Now to go back a ways. During the latter part of August I took a trip up to Reinbeck in the county north of this one, drove up, and spent a few days with some classmates and when I returned I found Charlie sick with typhoid fever and delirious at times. I hardly slept or took my clothes off the balance of the time he was sick which was about a week He seemed to like to have me nurse him. Even though there were two or three others in the room, his eyes would follow me when he was semi-delirious. The last day the spoke to me by name three times and talked to me several times. I was the last one spoke to directly. “Ma” was the last word he uttered; it was a dying attempt to pronounce her name which he seemed unable to pronounce when he was calling me by name earlier in the day. We had a doctor from Traer twice in consultation. The morning of the last day he said there was a fighting chance, the others of the family were too discouraged. I says, “Doctor if there is a fighting chance I’ll take it. And fight for it.” And though half dead with a terrible headache and from loss of sleep I hardly left his bedside. He regained perfect consciousness shortly after the doctor left and I says to him, “Charlie the doctor says you have only a fighting chance, but I say you and I’ll take it wont we?” and he says yes, “and we’ll get well, Charlie.” and he answered me back “you bet we will”. The temperature run from 104 to 105 and a half and just before he died to 109, so you see he was literally burned up by the fever.

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Charles J. LaVake, who died of typhoid fever on September 2, 1895.

We had the doctor we had always had, a homoeopathist., but I’ll never have any but an allopathist in typhoid fever again. The former are too afraid of ice cold baths and the use of ice water on the head. I had a great portion of the funeral arrangements to look after. After the funeral was over I began to feel awful queer but I thought I would sleep it off but the next day I felt worse so after disinfecting all the bedclothes used on Charlie’s bed and after scratching off letters to those whom I cared the most about. I went downtown with Mother. I had an awful lot of business to look after which I intended to go and see my homoepathic doctor but several of my most intimate friends importuned me not to go to Doctor Morford but to go to Doctor Thompson an allopath. I argued with them for some time as I had confidence in Doctor Morford but finally gave in and went to him (Thompson) and he examined may have very carefully and says, “My boy your temperature is now hundred three and from your symptoms my judgment is that you have the fever now upon you” and so I had and a very violent attack too. I went home and at the supper table and told them that Dr. Thompson was coming out to examine the whole family and then told them that I was coming down with the fever. Mother’s sister tried to pooh-pooh the idea—-after a good deal of this I got tired of it, and says, “Oh, well now look here, I never was a hypochondriac but if I have typhoid fever in my system it has got to run its course and I’m going to bed tonight to stay there until I see what this amounts to. If I got the fever why I’ve got it and if I aint got it, while I’ll soon find out and that’s all there is to it. So now that’s settled.” Well I had one of the worst cases, that Dr T has had and he has had this year nearly 40 cases and he has saved every one.

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William Otis LaVake in a photo taken 1895 the year he graduated from law school.

I had a violent headache such as leads to delirium. Doc had my head shaved, had a hot water bag filled with ice water under my head all the while the fever lasted, and a cloth saturated with the same on my forehead. So the fever was kept up out the head and of course there could be no delirium. He had a boss combination of tartaric- acid and various other ingredients to reduce temperature and the combination does not oppress the heart in the least as a great many of the fever reducing remedies are apt to do. Doc had no idea of the fever leaving me before the end of the fourth week but it dropped right off short a couple of days before the third week was up. We learn some things very dearly. I now know that if I had got doctor Morford, I would now be dead as a doornail because I would have been delirious and the fever would have burnt me up. Doc says to me after I began to get better, yours was the worst case I had, but that no case has responded perfectly to my medicines as yours. In fact Will it was impossible for you to have done better than you did do it. Mother is about brokenhearted Charlie was sixteen years and seven months and was 6 ft. tall and of low vitality on account of overgrowth. But we all realize that had we known of Doctor Thompson then Charlie in all probability would be alive today and none realize it plainer than mother and that’s what makes it harder for her. Father had barely more than the symptoms and got out soon and has been outdoors for a week. While I won’t get outdoors till about next Monday and Tuesday I do so hope that Cousin Cash will entirely recover. I am considerably worried about him. I had a letter from Gertie while I was sick written from JGJ Bros. Surely you tire of all the details of my sickness. I’m going to be very cautious about getting out.
Love to all,
Folks send love,
Your nephew,
Will Lavake

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LaVake Family photo taken some time after 1898 because the photos in the background are of two deceased family members Charles and William.

The next letter in the file folder was from William in December of 1895 writing to his Aunt Maria about his decision to practice law in Dubuque, Iowa. He wrote her of the new office he and his law partner had leased. On March 16, 1898 while working in that office William Otis LaVake was shot four times by the disgruntled son of a former client. It was believed he died instantly.

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BILL WILSON
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson is a San Francisco-based veteran photojournalist. Bill embraced photojournalism at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, SFist, SFAppeal. Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past seven years. Email Bill Wilson at wfwilson@sbcglobal.net.

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On Scene with Bill Wilson Rebuilding Italy 1945-46

By Bill Wilson
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson © 2011

During World War 2 my uncle served as a conscientious objector. He had several assignments here in the United States, but when a cousin became an ambulance driver in Europe with the American Field Service my uncle decided that was something he wanted to do. He eventually got an assignment overseas. He was among the first to liberate the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. That experience forced him to reevaluate his beliefs on a fundamental level. So when the opportunity presented itself for him to go back to Italy and help the reconstruction effort he jumped at the chance.

The following is taken from a chapter of an unpublished memoir my uncle wrote in 1996 some fifty years after the events. The quotes are from letters he wrote home. The photos were in an old shoe box I discovered while going through some file cabinets.

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US navy Blimp over Toulon, France November 1945
Photo by Conrad Wilson

In November of 1945, I was sent back to Italy, where I joined a small group of AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) volunteers working together with the British Friends Ambulance Unit in the Abruzzi region in the southeastern part of the country. I traveled over on a small merchant vessel called the SS Imbodensee, an American ship which was carrying a small number of passengers. The trip was a very different from my earlier crossings. The ship had a grumbling crew and an evil- tempered captain who seemed to resent the few passengers aboard.

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Heading toward landing at Genoa, Italy
Photo by Conrad Wilson

We entered the Mediterranean through the Strait of Gibraltar and headed northeast past the Balearic Islands, to Toulon near Marseillles, where we pulled into the harbor but did not go ashore. Finally we landed at Genoa which was where Columbus came from, originally.

From Genoa I traveled by land that along the coast through the Italian Riviera which had not fared as badly as southern Italy in the war. On my way to Rome I stopped in Florence to spend an afternoon the Peterichs , who seemed truly delighted to see me. I promised to try my best to return for Christmas, then continued across Italy to the Adriatic coast where at a place called Ortona Al Mar – Ortona by the Sea- I was stationed with an international group of volunteers.

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Ruins at Ortona.
It took me a long time to realize there are three groups of people in this photo. The child in the center. the group of people on the left are evident, but you have to look closely to notice the young and old people standing on the pile of rumble at the right of the photo.
Photo by Conrad Wilson

The focus of our project was the Aventino Valley, a remote mountainous area which opened into the Adriatic at Ortona. Two years earlier, in November of 1943, a group of mountain villages in this area had been intentionally leveled by three retreating German army to prevent the Allied forces from finding winter quarters. The villagers were not taken prisoner, but taken out of the village by the Nazis who then destroyed everything with land mines and dynamite.

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What the Nazis left of the Cupola of San Tommaso in Ortona. The words. SANTVS DOMINVS DEVS are Latin for Holy Lord God
Photo by Conrad Wilson

Thousands of these villagers had fled to refugee camps elsewhere in Italy. Now they were returning. I remember seeing women, many of them barefoot, carrying huge burdens on their heads- one woman who stands out in my memory was carrying a sewing machine in this fashion. There were also villagers who had remained, and had been living in great hardship among the demolished buildings.

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Church at Ortona in ruins.
Photo by Conrad Wilson

With a war over people were eager to rebuild their homes according to centuries-old methods, with the walls of stone and traditional fluted-tile roofs. The factories that made the tiles and other building materials were located in Ortona, but they’ve had no fuel to run their furnaces and kilns. The people in the ruined mountain villages didn’t have much, but they did have access to timber that which could be used as fuel to get the factories back into production. And the AFSC devised a barter system, in which the people in the mountain towns agreed to cut the wood and load the logs onto our trucks in exchange for roofing tiles, bricks, cement and other materials they needed to rebuild their homes. I was to be one of the group of AFSC drivers providing transportation for this enterprise.

The truck I drove was a ten wheeler, a Studebaker, one of a fleet of half-ton truck the Quakers had acquire from the British army after the war.

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Twisting mountain roads
Photo by Conrad Wilson

Each day I would out from the coast with a load of building matrerials and travel up the Aventino Valley to the farthest village – Palena I think it called. The valley was only 50 are 60 miles long, but the mountain roads were tortuous – steep twisting corkscrews that you sometimes had to back up to get around. The workdays were very long. We awoke early in the morning, had breakfast at six and left by the seven for the day’s work. “By the time we get back to Ortona it is dark and we are tired. Often we do not return until eight pm or later”

It was early December when I arrived. The city of Ortona had been heavily damaged, but there were enough buildings standing that our group as able to find shelter for the winter months, though our main work was in those destroyed villages back in the Aventino Valley.

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Street scene.
Photo by Conrad Wilson

“We are living in Ortona for the winter. Snow has begun today in the mountains, but here by the sea there are still some flowers in bloom and oranges on the trees. It is rather damp and cold, however, and I am glad that I bought some good, warm clothes. We are living there with a unit of International Volunteer Service for Peace which is doing similar work. They are mostly English. The unit consists of four women and six men. They are leaving in January, so that will leave just our unit in the area. The IVSP had a group here when I arrived., students from the University of Rome who came out for ten days of volunteer work. We had t great fun in the evening singing and talking and playing games. I was sorry to see them leave.

Meanwhile, the United Nations was getting its own reconstruction work under way. I hadn’t been on the job too long when some people from a U.N. relief agency called UNRRA – the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency – visited Ortona to observe the experiment the American Friends Service Committee and the British Friends Ambulance had started. When they saw how well it was working, they offered to take the project over and extend it to other regions of the country.

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People of the town of Ortona.
Photo by Conrad Wilson

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BILL WILSON
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson is a San Francisco-based veteran photojournalist. Bill embraced photojournalism at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, SFist, SFAppeal. Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past seven years. Email Bill Wilson at wfwilson@sbcglobal.net.

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On Scene with Bill Wilson Life and Death in the Age of Aids

By Bill Wilson
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson © 2011

The 30th anniversary of the first report of what would become known as AIDS has made me pause to reflect and re-live, in my mind some of the events that I experienced at the beginning of the crisis. I’ve only been present at the moment of death on two occasions and both involved people who died from complications associated with AIDS.

John Warren was the most direct and honest person I ever known. Once, when I was picking up his prescriptions at the drugstore, the person filling the order yelled from behind the counter, “You should be glad you have insurance this package alone is over $300.” I couldn’t believe he had just told half the store I had over $300 in drugs in my possession. When I was telling John about this he interrupted with a question, “Did you tell the manager?” When I answered no he said, “Then why are you telling me? The manager could do something about it, I can’t.”

That razor focus helped John in many of the difficult decisions he was faced while I knew him. He was transitioning from an independent creative person to a person dependent on others. John was able to move forward and never second guess himself traits that made him his best advocate right up to the end.

One Friday afternoon John informed me that he had a doctor’s appointment to see about a treatment for his CMV retinitis. He called me from the doctor’s office saying that it was taking longer than they expected. He called a second time saying that they had decided that he was going to be hospitalized overnight so they could install a catheter in his chest. When I went to visit him the following Monday afternoon he had a catheter in his chest used for the administration of the drug, DHPG. I expressed my amazement at how fast he was able to make his decisions. He said that there had really been no decision to make because the drug would not restore the sight he had already lost, but only slow or halt further deterioration. He didn’t intend to go blind, so there was no choice but to get the drug as soon as possible.

He was very willing to fight to keep his sight because he was a very creative and wonderfully gifted artist. I have a painting he did of an orchid that every time I pass it I have to remind myself that it doesn’t need water, even though it seems to be growing right out of the frame, it is so real looking.

When John was admitted to the hospice they wanted to stop his treatment with DHPG for his Cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis. At first the social worker told him hat it was against policy because they didn’t allow “curative” therapies under the hospice philosophy. John explained, “I don’t have much sight left, but I am not willing to sacrifice what sight I have because of your rules. I don’t want to go blind because of your rules. Either you change your rules or make an exception in my case.” When the next person came and tried to talk him out of the treatment that person explained that the hospice personnel weren’t trained to give IV drug treatments. John told them that, before he had agreed to come to the hospice, he had talked with his visiting nurse and she had told him she would come to the hospice to administer the drug, if necessary. By this time they were high enough up the chain of command that when the next person arrived to tell him that they weren’t going to allow the treatment to continue, he said, “It is not a question of if I get the treatment, it is only a question of where. The visiting nurse has said she would come and administer the drug. The only thing that you have to decide is will she give it to me here in the comfort and safety of this room, or will I have to wheel myself across the street so that she isn’t on hospice property?” The treatments continued up until the day before he died.

I got call from John’s mother at 6:30am on a Saturday morning in January of 1989. She said that the doctors had just told her that if she wanted someone with her when John died she should call them now because they didn’t expect John to live much longer. I got dressed and arrived at the hospice around 7. I sat on one side of the bed and his mother sat on the other. John would exhale and we would listen to hear if he took another breath. Then just as you began to think that was it, he would draw in another breath. There really wasn’t much to say. John had been a fighter, but it was clear that he wasn’t long for this world. After two hours John’s mother said to me, “This could take forever.”

In my mind, as clear as could be, I heard John say, “See I can’t even die soon enough for my mother.” I asked if she wanted me to bring anything to her from vending machine down the hall. I wasn’t gone for more than a few minutes but when I came back the nurse was straddling John with her head on his chest. She looked up at me and said, “We think he may have taken is last breath.” He had.

John’s mother gave me a list of people that she wanted me to call to notify them of John’s death. His lawyer informed me that he didn’t make “hospice calls” and told me to tell John’s mother that they would meet later at John’s apartment. John’s sister, Anna, eventually arrived around noon. I gave her some time with her mother in private and then John’s mother told me that Anna wanted to see me. As I entered the room she asked, “John looks bad. Did he look this bad before he died?”

It took me a moment or two to realize she expected an answer from me. I looked at the bed where John was lying with the sheet tucked under his chin so only his head showed. I looked at the watch on my wrist. I did a quick math calculation in my head and finally said, “He died three hours ago. He didn’t look this bad twenty minutes ago.”

The first memorial service I attended for a person who died of Aids was for Dirk Difenbach in June 1983. I know he was the sixth person to die of Aids because that it what the headline on his obituary said. After the service Reverend Larry Uhrig and David Brown, Dirk’s partner, stood at the back of the church and shook hands with people as they left. Because I really had no idea what to say to someone who had lost his partner I held back and tried desperately to think of something to say. I ended up being the last person in line. As I took David’s hand in mine I said I would do everything I could to make sure that this didn’t happen to others. As I was talking David leaned closer to me and I instinctively put my hand on his shoulder the same shoulder, I would be holding six years later as he took his last breath.

There was an interval of five years before I went to work for him as a chore aide. On one of my early visits to David he told me a long story of how he had assisted a friend to end his life. I realized about half way through the story that he was telling me this with an ulterior motive. He wanted to know my reaction, so he could judge whether I would be the one to do the same for him. That was the thing about AIDS it sort of blurred ethical boundaries. It was about pain and suffering and doing what little you could to minimize both. So there was no doubt in my mind that the answer to his question was that I would be willing to help him, but I was never given the chance.

David had watched so many of his friends die that he knew what was in store for him. As a medical professional himself, he understood better than most what was happening. He was a practicing dentist until he was fired for having Aids. The obituary for Dirk Difenbach in the Washington Post used both David’s name and the address where they lived. It didn’t take long for the company that owned the practice where he was employed to call him and tell him not to come to work. In a long and detailed letter written in legalese they explained the consequences of his not going quietly. They told him they would call in the loan he had on his dental equipment and he would be forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars. Like the police at Stonewall on June 1969, they didn’t understand that they were dealing with a person who knew the only shame was in the way he was being treated. The company’s fear of publicity led to an out of court settlement that led to the founding of the Aids Education Fund of the Whitman –Walker Clinic.

David was adopted. I have no doubt that his parents loved him and supported him just as if he was their biological son. I only mention it because I think it explains why his mother was so defensive and unable to listen to what David wanted in terms of his end of life. He wanted to die at home. He wanted to be surrounded by loved ones. He did not want to be hooked up to tubes, wires or machines. Some of those wishes were honored, but not all.

When David was in the hospital to have his medication adjusted, he told me that he had called his parents and invited them to come for one last visit. He said that he planned on them staying for two weeks and then they would go back to Colorado. Unfortunately, when his mother arrived she was so upset by the way he looked that she vowed she would not be going home because the end was near. David had instructed us when he died to remove his journal from his bedside and give it to the person who had urged him to write about his feelings, because he didn’t want his mother to read it. We didn’t act quickly enough, because on the first night his mother noticed it on the bookshelf by David’s bed and said, “Oh this is something I have to read.” She took it and put it in her suitcase.

As the visit stretched into a month, things became more stressful for everyone involved. David’s father was running out of his heart medication and was having trouble filling his prescription. On the day that David died I arrived at his apartment around 9:30 am. He sent me to the store to get some items. When I came back his mother was in near hysterics. David had fallen in the kitchen on his way from the bathroom to his bed in the living room. His mother had been unable to lift him and his father wasn’t any help because of his heart condition. David managed to get back in bed but his mother was being insistent that he go to the hospital. She was on the phone talking with his doctor. I was trying to think of how to bring up that David didn’t want to go to the hospital, when she practically screamed into the phone, “I don’t care what he wants. I am his Mother and I want him to go to the hospital. I’ve already called the ambulance. They are going to be here at 1. I expect to see you at the hospital.”

The ambulance attendants were David’s worst nightmare incarnate. It just seemed that they were there to reinforce every reason David didn’t want to go to the hospital. They parked the ambulance at the entrance most distant from David’s apartment. When I pointed out that the service entrance was just two doors from David’s apartment they said that there was no place to turn around, so they would have had to either back in or back out and they didn’t want to do that. When I pointed out that the Connecticut Avenue entrance was only four doors from David’s apartment, they told me they couldn’t block traffic on such a busy thoroughfare. They didn’t bring a stretcher, just this saucer type thing that David had to sit in as they carried him down the hallway. As we started down the hallway with me carrying the oxygen tank I was upset. By the time we had gotten about half way down the first of two long hallways, one of the attendant said to the other, “He is a lot heavier than I thought, I think I’m going to drop him.” I was livid.

I drove David’s parents to the emergency room and let them off while I went to park the car. After spending time in the waiting room the social worker came out and told me that David’s parents had told him to tell me that they would take a taxi back home when they were finished so I didn’t have to wait. I told the social worker to tell them I wasn’t going anywhere. I would wait for them so that they didn’t have to take a taxi home. About five minutes later David parents came out told me that I should come with them and wait next to David. I didn’t now at the time why I was allowed to go back to where they had taken David, but I found out later. We stood around the stretcher used to bring David in, because they thought that he was so near death they didn’t want to move him. So we waited and watched. His mother was crying and David was not aware of much if anything. We again just listened to the breathing. Finally the nurse decided that we had to move him to a bed. She got the attendant to actually help her lift him and put him on the bed, but she asked me to help as she had to change the sheets. It involved rolling David on his side and me holding him while he tucked the sheet under him. He was facing me as I supported his shoulder with my hand. I don’t know how to explain this except to say it was obvious to me that he had taken his last breath. There was only a flimsy privacy curtain separating us from the rest of the room, so I very calmly and quietly said to the nurse, “I think he just took his last breath.”

Her reply to me was, “I want you to now come on this side and we’ll roll him over towards you.” That was not the response I expected and I was taken aback so I said a little louder, “What difference is it going to make? He isn’t breathing!”

The shock on her face couldn’t have been more obvious. It was as if I had slapped her across the face. She started rushing around the bed and yelled, “Get your parents in here!”

That of course was not the time to correct her, but it did answer the question of why I was allowed in the emergency room and not left in the waiting room.

On our way back to David’s apartment his mother did ask me if I thought David was aware that they were with him at the end. I knew what she was asking, because obviously she had heard me tell the nurse that he had taken his last breath. However the way she asked the question, there was no doubt in my mind that David was aware, so I could honestly answer that I thought he knew that she was there with him.

David had been right about trying to spare his mother the pain of reading his journal. She wrote to me several times that after reading the journal she had lost sleep agonizing over how David had suffered.

At David’s memorial service I found out from the social worker that the reason the nurse panicked was that she was new to the emergency room and David’s was the first death that she had happened on her watch. We both were experiencing life and death in the age of Aids.

See Related On Scene with Bill Wilson Archive

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BILL WILSON
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson is a San Francisco-based veteran photojournalist. Bill embraced photojournalism at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, SFist, SFAppeal. Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past seven years. Email Bill Wilson at wfwilson@sbcglobal.net.

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On Scene With Bill Wilson Conquering Fear: My Response to Aids

By Bill Wilson
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson © 2011

I know the exact moment when confronted with the fear of contracting Aids I decided that I would not let that fear deter me from doing what was right. The occasion was a memorial service for James McCann at Metropolitan Community Church of the District of Columbia. I ended up by chance sitting next to Randy Brown who was sitting next to Jack Mitchell. Both were members of a support group that Jim McCann had also attended at the Whitman-Walker Clinic. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it must have been for them to attend a memorial service for someone who had the same illness they did. I had brought a handkerchief with me because I knew I was going to need one, I always cry. At one point near the beginning of the service I noticed out of the corner of my eye that there were tears just streaming down Randy’s face. My impulse was to reach into my pocket to get my handkerchief to give to Randy. As I started to pull it out of my pocket I paused as I realized tears were bodily fluids and you could get Aids from bodily fluids, but did they mean tears? Almost as quickly as that thought came, I realized that I couldn’t refuse to respond to someone in need because of my fear of Aids. So I handed Randy my handkerchief and he used it to wipe away his tears before handing it back to me. The irony was about two weeks later there was a front page story in The Washington Post that was headlined “Aids Virus Isolated in Tears.” By then it was too late to worry about it and I took on a more fatalistic approach. The damage of not being able to help someone in need was in my mind was greater than the risk of contracting Aids. I had made a conscious decision not to let fear be my dominate response to Aids.

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My friend Randy Brown.

I know that others made a different decision even those within the health care profession. It resulted in the way I was treated by one phlebotomist at National Institutes of Health (NIH). I was part of a vaccine study and because they wanted to be sure I was HIV negative I had to have my blood tested once a week for about a month before getting the vaccine and then once every other week for several months more to see if the vaccine had produced the hoped for reaction.. I had become very familiar with the phlebotomy department on the first floor. On this particular day when my number was called the phlebotomist indicated I should sit next to this person she had been talking to. All the time she was sticking me and filling the necessary vials with my blood she continued her conservation with him. I was more upset by what she was saying than by the fact she was totally ignoring me. She told him that she didn’t like the rubber gloves they used in this department so she went and “stole” (her word not mine) gloves from the third floor operating room because they didn’t irritate her hands as much. After she was finished she gave me a piece of gauze to press against the wound on my arm where she had inserted the needle to draw the blood. After a few minutes she put a bandage on my arm and told me that I could go. When I lifted my arm to get my coat from the coat rack I noticed that the bandage was red from my blood. I turned back to her and said, “I’m still bleeding, I think you need to do something.” She stood there for what seemed an eternity but in reality was probably about 10 seconds. I realized, remembering what she had been telling the person seated next to me, that she had already taken her gloves off and she didn’t want to touch anything with my blood on it. I could have been there for any reason as far as she knew.

So I said, “I’ll do it, just tell me what to do to make the bleeding stop.” She handed me another piece of gauze and then bought a discard bucket over for me to put the bloody bandage in. I sat and applied pressure to my arm. This time I waited long enough to make sure it had clotted enough before I left. It made me mad that she has just stood there doing nothing while I was bleeding.

As I waited for my turn on the next visit two weeks later I hoped that I would not get the same person. But of course even though there were six or more people working I could have gotten, I got the same person. As she indicated where she wanted me to sit I said to her, “You probably don’t remember me but the last time I was here you were so busy talking to the person next to me that you sent me away before I had stopped bleeding.” She said, “I can’t be everyone’s best friend. They don’t give us time for that.” I shot back, “I don’t want you to be my best friend, I just want you to do your job.”

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Author kneeling next to panel he made for John Paul Warren

You would think that people in the medical profession might be immune to fear, but you would be wrong. When my friend John Warren was in the hospital to get his medication increased, his doctor suggested that he might use the exercise bike in the physical therapy room. The first time he went there he was told that he needed a doctor’s prescription to use the physical therapy room, so his doctor wrote a prescription. Then he was told that they didn’t have enough therapists to watch wile he was using the exercise bike. Then they told him that they didn’t want him to use the therapy room because his CMV was contagious. The doctor explained that 90% of the people have CMV in their blood, so there was no way people where going to get it from John being in the room. He suggested that the next time they denied John the use of the exercise bike that John just ask that the reason and the names of the people denying him be put in writing for his lawyer. The next day he made that request and within twenty minutes the head of the physical therapy department was in his room explaining that they never had a person well enough to use the equipment unsupervised. I asked John if he thought that was true. He said it didn’t matter because he was getting to use the equipment. He did use the equipment and it really made a difference in his strength.

I don’t write this with any sort of superiority. I was familiar with the damage fear can do because for so long it was what kept me in the closet. The only thing I “chose” about my sexual orientation was to not live in fear. It was all happening at the same time because I didn’t come out to my parents until 1983.

See Related On Scene with Bill Wilson Archive

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BILL WILSON
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson is a San Francisco-based veteran photojournalist. Bill embraced photojournalism at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, SFist, SFAppeal. Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past seven years. Email Bill Wilson at wfwilson@sbcglobal.net.

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On Scene with Bill Wilson Ethical Realities in Shades of Gray

By Bill Wilson
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson © 2011

Now that Aids has been around for half of my life time, it is difficult to think about death as I experienced on such a personal and massive scale. Yes, there were relatives and close friends who died but there was a time that death seemed relentless. Who would be next? Is that a birth mark or a KS lesion? Will it be me next?

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My first client Tom pursuing his study of bamboos before I knew him.
Copyright New York Botanical Garden

Sometimes for all the theory and conjecture of what if this or that occurs, the reality is just what is practical. Before I finished my training to become a home health care aide, I was asked to take care of my first client, Tom. He suffered from Kaposi Sarcoma lesions in his throat. He had had radiation treatments that basically burnt his throat so that it was painful for him to swallow. When the pain became unbearable I was to give him a dose of morphine. His friend showed me how to mix it. I don’t remember the exact measurements, but the morphine was measured with an eyedropper. When I mentioned that I didn’t think it was legal for me to dispense morphine, it was explained to me that technically I was correct, but that if I didn’t do it then they would have to put Tom back into the hospital and he didn’t want that. Eventually Tom ended up getting care in the Hospice, which is where he should have gone from the hospital, but those things take time to arrange so I was glad to be of help.

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Kennedith Brown (lower photo left) and Bill Wilson (upper photo second from right).
Copyright Washington Post

Another person I helped was actually a buddy assigned to my partner, Fernando. Ken suffered from anemia even before he had AIDS. The insurance had stopped paying for transportation to have his blood transfusions. (It doesn’t make sense but that story is too long to add here.) So I became his transportation to and from the hospital for his transfusions and the day before to have his blood tested. On the day that he died he was scheduled to have a transfusion. There was a nurse’s aide staying with him. The front seat of my car could be lowered so that it almost lay flat as a bed. We got him into the car even though he was very weak. I was convinced that he was going to stop breathing before we got to the hospital. The first aggravation was that when we got to the place they do the transfusions they told us since we had not come in the day before and had his blood typed that we would have to go to a different place and come back. We did. When we got back they told us that we would have to wait until the blood was delivered and see if there was enough room to actually do the transfusion. At that point I exploded. I told them that I knew that they had a bed for Ken because we had an appointment from 9 -12. I wasn’t going to tell Ken that he had to wait because they were punishing him for not coming in yesterday. I could see two empty beds and I expected that when I came back Ken would be in one of them. At that point I left because I realized I was looking for something on the nurse’s desk to throw I was that mad. I walked to the end of the hall, took a long drink of water, took several deep breathes and walked back to the room. They had put Ken in a bed and the nurse’s aide was sitting in the waiting room. She told me that the staff had asked her who I was. She said she told them that I was a friend who was having a hard time dealing with the fact that Ken was dying. “I’m not having a hard time dealing with his dying,” I said. “I’m having a hard time dealing with the fact they are treating him as if he is already dead!

So while we were waiting I asked the nurse’s aide what we were going to do if Ken died while he was still in the car. She said, “Well we would just continue to drive back to his apartment. When we got there we would put him in the wheelchair. If we saw anyone we would tell them that he was sleeping. Then we would put him in his bed. Then we would call whoever you are supposed to call and tell them he died in bed.” Fortunately we never had to try out the scenario because Ken was still breathing when we got back to his apartment and put him to bed. His mother came that evening to stay with him. She said that around 8:30 pm he told her he loved her and was going to sleep. When she woke up the next morning he wasn’t breathing.

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Chuck Bailey and Jack Mitchell from Jack’s memorial service program.

It is difficult to know if you are going to get support from medical professionals because there are some professionals willing to bend the rules and others not. It wasn’t difficult to find the willing doctors because they were the ones with large number of AIDS patients. But the most willing doctor was only as good as the nurse who follows their instruction. There was one time when a nurse refused to listen and actually expressed her disapproval of why we were there. It happened at the Washington Home and Hospice. I had known Chuck when he was with his first partner, Jack, who died of AIDS. Jack’s death was long drawn out and painful for all involved. After Jack died Chuck met Terry and they became partners. Then Chuck became ill and gradually lost the use of his left side. When home care became impossible he was admitted to the hospice. I spent a few hours a day just being there because the promise had been made to Chuck that he would never be alone. One day Terry comes in and asks Chuck if he needs anything for pain and Chuck said that he wanted some morphine. So Terry asked the nurse to get Chuck some morphine. The nurse came back and said that it hadn’t been four hours since Chuck had gotten his last dose so they would have to wait another hour. Terry said that Chuck’s doctor had prescribed morphine as needed. The nurse said no that she couldn’t give it to him. Terry said it wasn’t her decision to make that he was telling her to give Chuck more morphine. The nurse said she wasn’t going to do it. Terry told her to get someone who would. She said, “You just want to give him morphine so that he will die sooner.” At which point Terry yelled at her to leave the room and never come back.

The next morning when I arrived at the hospice the executive director asked me to come to her office so I could explain to her what happened. I remember telling her there where two separate things I needed to say, “One, there is no one who wants Chuck to die. So for the nurse to express that even if it was what she believed was out of line. Since that was her expressed feeling I didn’t see how they could allow her to continue to work in a hospice because there were plenty of other hospitals were that attitude would be acceptable, but a hospice was about making people comfortable in the last whatever time they had left of their lives. Second, Chuck knows what Terry is going through because Chuck went through the same thing with his first lover. Terry and Chuck have an understanding and if you can’t provide the care Chuck needs, then don’t for a moment think Terry is bluffing when he says that he will take Chuck out of here and find another place, or take him home.”

Fortunately it never came to that because Terry was able to get what he wanted for Chuck when he wanted it.

See Related On Scene with Bill Wilson Archive

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BILL WILSON
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson is a San Francisco-based veteran photojournalist. Bill embraced photojournalism at the age of eight. In recent years, his photos capture historic record of the San Francisco LGBT community in the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, SFist, SFAppeal. Bill has contributed to the Sentinel for the past seven years. Email Bill Wilson at wfwilson@sbcglobal.net.

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