Category Archives: Mental Illness, Addiction, and Health

For Uncle Jimmy: AIDS, Schizophrenia and Addiction

 

I always knew my Uncle Jimmy was different. He was my mother’s brother. He would just show up at our house sometimes and my mom would feed him, let him take a shower, and drive him back to where he came from. There were times when we would come home to find him sleeping on the neighbor’s lawn or in the back of my dad’s truck. The neighbor’s were not happy.

My father always seemed angry when he showed up. When I was little I didn’t understand why. As I got older I began to figure it out. It’s difficult being so aware sometimes. There are still things I know that other people in the family don’t. If I disclose them now they won’t believe me. The only other people that could back me up have passed away. The one’s that could tell the truth never will. They would rather have me look like a liar or crazy if it suits them.

These are the facts about my Uncle Jimmy. When he was a teenager some friends dosed him with large quantity of LSD and he was in the Hospital for a week. He was also in a very bad car accident and was in a coma for a month. These 2 things could’ve both contributed to his mental illness. My mother’s side of the family is also prone to mental illness so the genetics were there to begin with.

I remember he would grind his teeth horribly. It got to the point where they were nubs and he had to get dentures. I remember he had tremors in his hands that were quite bad. He would say whatever popped into his head. He did have some control. My father hates swearing. He doesn’t tolerate anyone dropping the F bomb constantly in his house. No matter how many times you tell some people this they still do it. My Uncle Jimmy managed to remember this rule out of respect for my Dad. (My brother still can’t do it) He laughed a lot and never got my name right.

I found out he was diagnosed as Schizophrenic and was an IV drug user. I also found out he was what they called a “ward of the state” for many years, and he was homeless. The Schizophrenia explained a few things. I didn’t think President Reagan had landed on his roof in a helicopter to talk to him but who was I to say he was lying? I thought he was harmless. I had never seen him be violent. My Grandmother lied and said he attacked her in the middle of the night so the state would take him.

How could a man be violent once in 50 something years? I didn’t buy it. She had abandoned her children before, lied before, swindled the system to get money for her children and Disability, and didn’t want responsibility. I apologize, but I place a lot of what my mom had to deal with on my Grandmother’s shoulders.

The medications given to my Uncle either didn’t work or the side effects were too much for him. I remember him pacing, his tremors were worse, he didn’t laugh anymore. So he would go back to using drugs. The drugs made him feel better than any of the medications.

My mother was the contact person for the Social Worker assigned to my Uncle. My mom would always find him every couple of weeks to give him cigarettes and food. She wouldn’t give him cash because it would go to drugs. Other people gave him cash because they didn’t realize. My brother in law would see him often and give him cash. He was with his friend from a popular band worth a few million when they saw my Uncle one day. The guy from the band gave him money. I didn’t even want to know how much. But the nicest thing he did was give his time. He stood there and TALKED to him like a human. Not many people do that and I thank him for it. Of course my Uncle had no clue who he was and why people were taking pics of him. lol

My mom found out from the Social Worker that my Uncle was HIV positive about 15 years ago. My Uncle gave permission for him to discuss it with her. After this my father put his foot down about him showing up at the house and using the shower. In a way I understand. 15 years ago people thought differently about HIV. I don’t know how much those views have changed. I don’t think they’ve changed enough. But my Uncle did have a habit of using whatever razor was in the shower. One time he entered the house when no one was home and took a shower. I do understand where my dad was coming from but at the same time my mom was put between a rock and a hard place.

HIV: Starts with an Acute Infection, most people have flu like symptoms but not all. HIV reproduces at very low levels and is still active as you move into the CLINICLA LATENCY PHASE. With proper treatment you can live at this stage for several decades. HIV is ONLY SPREAD THROUGH bodily fluids directly being exchanged usually through UNPROTECTED SEX, IV DRUG USE, BLOOD TRANSFUSION (Not as common now), etc. AIDS is when your CD4 cells fall below 200 cells/mm when this happens you are considered to have progressed into the AIDS phase.

The lifespan of someone with HIV/AIDS varies. Depending on the person’s genetic makeup, how their overall health was before being infected, how soon they were diagnosed, adherence to a medication regime and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

I can tell you my Uncle Jimmy did not have a healthy lifestyle. He smoked like a chimney, didn’t eat right, I believe he was still using drugs, and he was living on the streets.

When I received the phone call from my Aunt that my Uncle Jimmy was in the Hospital and not doing well I felt overwhelmed. His lungs were filled with fluid. She was trying to reach her other siblings to see what to do. Like I said my mom had the responsibility up until she died in 2008. I didn’t know who had taken over.

I asked if he was awake and she said yes that he was having the time of his life with a comfortable bed and cable tv. I gave her what phone numbers I had and told her to keep me updated. I wanted to go see him. The problem was it was Saturday, I was urinating blood and had a fever. His Immune System was compromised and so is mine. I didn’t want to cause harm to either of us. The thought of him being there alone gnawed at me. First, he has a mental illness, second he’s a drug addict, third he has AIDS. How much human contact or sympathy do you think he was going to get?

My Aunt called the next morning but my father picked up the phone. I could only hear his side of the conversation. He went on and on about himself and his birds. I wanted to smack him. When he hung up I asked him what my Aunt had said. My dad said that my Uncle had COPD and they were moving him somewhere else to recover. I thought this sounded odd.

About an hour later my Aunt called back to ask for another phone number. She sounded like she had been crying. I said “Auntie J what the hell is going on?” She told me Uncle Jimmy was in a coma and she had signed DNR papers. I didn’t get to go see him. I couldn’t understand why my dad was given such false information. Did he not hear correctly because he’s so focused on himself or did she not want to bother him?

This morning my Uncle Jimmy passed away peacefully. He will no longer have to worry about where his next meal, fix, or shelter will come from. Society will no longer have this man child to abuse or ignore. Doctors will have to find someone else to experiment on. His siblings will have to find a way to deal with their guilt. My mother will have her baby brother with her once again. She took care of him for most of his life when she could, now they can take care of each other.

Mental Illness and Addiction is such a difficult struggle. I still have not found a medication that makes me feel as good as alcohol did most times. Of course I could be lying to myself. I’m good at that. As far as HIV/AIDS I hope the medical profession is compassionate and have changed over the years. I would hate to think of people dying alone without anyone to give them comfort because of 1 very misunderstood disease. I’m trying so hard to hold it together. If I think about this too much I will break and I don’t know what will put me back together.

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