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HIV and Death ... In Memory of Dr. Bob

By Ibrahim

October 14, 2011

Weeks ago, we were saddened by the death of Dr. Robert Frascino. Dr. Bob insisted on delivering a message of tolerance towards all people and not only HIV-positive persons, responding to questions that sometimes drifted away from medicine to politics. He was a firm believer that a doctor has no choice other than to eradicate any moral judgments on the human body. Dr. Bob decided to declare his status to everyone, hoping this will help fight the stigma and prove that "HIV is not a death sentence."

Many HIV-positive persons identified with him because "he understands what it's like." He exceeded his goal by declaring his status, and many stopped stereotyping an HIV-positive person as a synonym for drug addict or less educated person. He proved that HIV is not part of what decides your success in life. By doing so, he confirmed to many that we "the humans" were crafted so well, to succeed regardless if we are physically or "biologically" challenged. As long as the spirit of giving, happiness and belief is inside us, we can even become great doctors!

However, for some, the reaction to the news of Dr. Bob's death was shock and fear. Dr. Bob was the faith leader when it comes to the belief that HIV-positive persons should not expect much difference in their life span (if they commit to medications and other health issues). Many felt betrayed by his death. After all, Dr. Bob was the living proof and now the proof is gone. Little we know, when we say: how could he die? Didn't he promise that it will be just fine? Didn't he joke and make fun of every stupid concern we expressed? Didn't he smile a lot and post his pictures smiling at the face of death-threats made by this stupid Virus?

Some even went too far to state: How could he die when he himself was an HIV specialist? Or did he miss the math when he said that an HIV-positive person can live as normal a life as any other HIV-negative person? Well Dr. Bob certainly did not live a life as normal as many other HIV-negative persons. He lived a better life, filled with giving away hope and love to those who needed it most. His example should make us ask: Can an HIV-negative person live a life similar to an HIV-positive person like Dr. Bob?

The notion that death is attached to HIV is the essential point of complaint, which Dr. Bob made against the argument of stigmatizing HIV. Death is related to nothing but the natural and normal stage of every cycle in life. By moving beyond this reasoning and questioning death, we are doing exactly what Bob did not want us to do: panic and get scared. However, this in fact mirrors an important issue that we often do not talk about a lot: death! and how it is what really scares us most in this whole thing of HIV. Our fear of death would likely be much less were it not for our awareness of how ugly deaths due to HIV tend to be received by others.

Questioning the death of Dr. Bob revealed a fear that is entrenched in some of us, but we did not want to confront it yet: our fear to have a shortage of years we planned to live. Here the issue of living happily becomes irrelevant in our mentalities, which are already overwhelmed with measuring things by their numeric numbers. Life becomes measured by the hours, even those we spend sleeping. The concept of counting life in accordance to the happy moments becomes inefficient in our industrial world.

In the Middle East, there was a famous singer called Um Kalthoum; she was known to sing long meaningful poems. In one of the verses -- which became an adage -- she sings ( in Arabic): "Before I met my love, my years were a loss, how dare they count them now for me!"

When I was first diagnosed, I visited a group that helps dying people leave in peace! Yup, I was pretty dramatic even then. I was so sure that it would be a short time before I died. I could not trust anyone anymore, so being told that I will live long enough was just another lie. While I was so sure that within a few years I would progress to death, I was still worried about the ones I love: How can they handle not seeing me? In that meeting I asked about it, and the answer was interesting. The group leader asked me -- in response to my question -- if my love was tangible, or by the spirit. I responded: of course by the spirit ...

"Do you not love them now that you are far away from them and cannot touch them?"

I answered happily: "Of course, I still love them in spite of the distance."

And Voilà, here was the answer. Death can take away the touchable body, but can never take away the most important things, such as love, because they are not tangible. While we might not touch Dr. Bob again, his passion and spirit shall shine forever.

Ok, I am becoming too depressing again, let me switch topics. One thing everyone can agree with: Dr. Bob was the funniest doctor you could meet. He answered questions ranging from fear of having sex with a Zucchini and a pencil to even political questions that carried many crazy issues. I remember how one time someone posted a letter to Dr. Bob, filled with hate and racism towards Muslims and blacks. To my surprise, the answer that came from Dr. Bob was filled with funny spirituality ... and Dr. Bob promised the hateful writer to say a prayer for him so he can be healed from this hate. I guess it's time for us to say back a prayer for you ...

Salam to all, especially to the spirit Dr. Bob!

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I'm Ibrahim, a 35-year-old professional Muslim man from the Middle East, living in the US. I want to fulfill my big dreams while holding strongly to my culture. My new identity as HIV positive changed my life in a strong way that I am still trying to understand and deal with. By sharing my experience, I'm trying to help myself and others in similar situations to find some peace -- and working on bringing the good change I believe every human must bring to this world. In my attempt to introduce's readers to my part of the world, I won't be taking you far -- I'll start right here, in the US.

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