|by Vern Smith, continued...|
Rudie started spying for underground AIDS
cures right about the time he sold his insurance. After watching Robin develop skin cancer, brain tumours and go blind. After that spring morning.
My aging Mr. Coffee machine was angrily churning out a fresh pot, while I sniffed out a strawberry candle Serena had left burning all night, and blew it out. I was easing into the couch, listening to a Branford Marsalis CD when the phone rang. Rudies voice stammered into the receiver. Seconds later, I was stumbling into his unlocked apartment next door. Sun crept through white, metal blinds. Branfords gentle sax leaked through vents along with blended coffee and strawberry scents. Rudies knees curled forward beneath a white sheet, spooning Robins body. Rudies hand caressed skin that was no longer warm. Veins that no longer pulsed.
A month later, tests showed Rudies immune system deteriorating along with his T-cell count. The doctor suggested AZT. Rudie refused, telling her about the Now article claiming that AZT kills not only infected cells, but healthy ones, too. The article said using AZT was like poisoning the water supply to stop a serial killer. Rudie had been taking a wonder drug called DDI, but she told him it wasnt having the desired effect. And so he left without a script.
Instead, he jacked up his vitamin C intake to something like 5,000 milligrams a day, even though he was pissing most of it away. More importantly, he decided to try any experimental treatment, no matter how risky or expensive.
The best tribute I can make to Robin is finding a cure, or the closest thing to a cure...a way to live by cheating death, Rudie told me the day he bought the Mustang. People with AIDS are fighting drug companies. Drug companies are fighting doctors, who are fighting experiments, and everyones fighting the government. Being a guinea pig...its the only way, he said with a forced, exaggerated overbite.
Robins life insurance, plus the cash from Rudies own policy, was enough to buy the Mustang and bankroll his wild-eyed, worldwide pilgrimage. It even paid for the tickets he seemed to get every time he parked in front of the Cabbagetown building we were living in on Parliament Street.
At first, he was just hanging out in Toronto and dabbling. Dabbling with Chinese medicine and nutrition programs. Seemed reasonable enough. But within weeks, he was contacting underground buyers clubs in San Francisco, Amsterdam and London. He was buying into miraculous and secret treatments he discovered while surfing the internet.
He deadheaded the Mustang through the night to Fort Lauderdale, dropping $600 for Car-T-Cell pills containing shark cartilage. Then he rush-ordered New Age tapes from a group named Positively Healthy. When the internet brought propaganda pushing the IMMUNE POWER PACK, Rudie was jetting to London in search of the pack and its 1,200 assorted pills. Another month without progress, and the Mustang took him to an underground lab in Los Angeles. There, a woman licensed to practice veterinary medicine pumped his veins with plasma from healthy HIV carriers. After that, it was a month of camping on Muscle Beach, and treatment at the nearby Centre of Immunology and Wellness. He started north again after three patients died within days of each other.
But there were other stops on the way home. Viroxin injections in San Francisco left lumps of dead tissue on his hips. Command Control capsules from Buffalo gave him the runs. The herbal shampoo he bought in Niagara Falls caused a rash. I hoped Rudie would get discouraged and drop his mission. But there were other road trips and wacky treatments. And with every failure, he became more obsessed. Travel, combined with all this poison, was making him sicker. Thinner. He was too busy hoping to ask questions.
It was frustrating because Rudie was no bag of hammers. He was studying radio and television arts at Ryerson before testing positive in 90. After that, he turned away from school, moving in with Robin and a life of rich food, moody music and trashy novels.
I tried shaking Rudie out of his medicine jar once. But he brought out the big friendship crutch, launching into some bent speech. He said Id never judged him, and the message was not to start. For the first time, I heard his voice crack as though he was going to cry. I knew I would have broken down if I spoke. And he didnt need that. So I stopped asking tough questions for a while, donning on a mask of hope each time he rooted out bumf on a new, improved snake oil. He must know Im role playing, I thought, during his hopeful rant about the Freedom of Choice Committee at a Tijuana Hospital.
Still, it was Rudie who watched Robin die. The one who was dying himself. And he was simply demanding no restrictions. The right to fight. Access to unproven and unapproved treatments. Thats how I justified my silence when Rudie described the injections he took in some grubby, West Coast washroom.