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Tests for Jane

By ROY PETER CLARK
Special To The Times

Jane Morse sat in a darkened room and tried to remember the last time she and her husband, Mick, had made love. Was it months or had it been years? The blackness of the room and of her memory turned her stomach into a tight knot. Mick's drifting away, his lack of passion, had caused her great suffering. She complained about it to her girlfriends in Rio de Janeiro. But she loved her family and the life of leisure that Mick had given her. Leaving him had been out of the question.

Now, in her darkened bedroom, melancholy thoughts about a dying love seemed trivial. Yesterday Mick told her he had AIDS. She had awakened in a panic, her heart racing. It finally hit her that she, too, could be in danger. So now the AIDS charade would begin. She would get the girls off to school this morning, and every morning, wearing a mask of calm.

Meghan, age 13: "How's daddy?"

Erin, age 11: "Is he coming home soon?"

Jane avoided her daughters' questions and deposited the girls at the American School in Bilbao, where their father was headmaster.

Then she pointed her car to Las Cruces hospital and floored it. As the car accelerated, she could almost hear the blood coursing through her veins.

The receptionist at the hospital read the look of urgency and determination on Jane's face. She rushed to get Mick's doctors, Alfonso Alvarez and Natalia Gil.

"I want to be tested," Jane told them. "I want to be tested now. And I want the results right away."

They took her into a lab and drew a vial of her blood. Jane was struck by how casual the technician seemed. Didn't he know that this meant her life or death? Jane returned to the doctor's office to wait for the results. She knew that it usually took a couple of weeks, but today she would know in two hours. The doctors would not deny her.

While she waited, she thought back on the last two weeks, how her husband had come home so weak and sickly from a business trip to Portugal, his body wracked with fever and coughing. How the hospital had run more than a week's worth of tests on him, and how naive she had been not to recognize the clues.

First there had been the odd interview with the doctors. Dr. Alvarez, an internist, could understand English but not speak it well. But Dr. Gil, his young assistant, spoke good English and would translate for her. Jane thought their questions were bizarre:

"When you lived in Brazil, did you ever travel into the interior of the country?"

"Did you have parrots in the house, or any other kinds of birds?"

"Did you and your husband ever use any drugs?"

This last question upset Jane. Of course they didn't. They were educators. Responsible people. What was the doctor driving at?

During one visit to the hospital, Jane had gotten off the elevator just in time to run into Mick's doctors. They looked at her nervously. After a brief conversation, they rushed off. They knew, of course, that Mick had AIDS. They already had told him, but it was clear to them that he had yet to break the news to Jane. She was about to find out.

Mick had told her yesterday. Today, as Jane waited for her test results, Dr. Natalia Gil came in to check on her. Jane threw herself into her arms and wept bitterly. The young doctor comforted her, promising to help Jane deal with the difficult months ahead.

"You can call me at any time," she said, "if you have a problem or a question."

Jane waited some more, another hour perhaps. This was indescribable agony. Yesterday she learned that her husband would die and that their marriage had been a lie. It was like one of those movie scenes of an earthquake, when a deep fissure splits the ground. Today, if she tested positive, if she too was infected with the AIDS virus, she would fall into that chasm. The world would just swallow her up.

She tried not to think about it. Then she thought how crazy it was to try not to think about something like that.

The door opened. It was Dr. Gil again, and Jane could tell by the look on her face that the results of her AIDS test were in.

THE SERIES: This is the second installment of a 29-part story.
Next: Chapter 3, Stupid Little Games.


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