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The first volunteer I ever remember seeing was my Mum. After all her kids had grown up and left home, she started doing some volunteer work at the private hospital opposite her house in Armadale, Melbourne. I can't remember how long she did it, but to the observer it was clear that she was getting a lot of pleasure in return for doing something for nothing.
The next lot of volunteers I remember dealing with were those older men and women who would push around the book trolleys and the man at the paper shop at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. This goes back to 1973, when I was admitted under observation for a nervous breakdown. I was there for a month, and met selfless people whose twilight years were spent helping those less fortunate than themselves. Always pleasant, they provided a break in the otherwise mundane routine of ward life. Still to this day, these ageing "angels" can be seen doing their thing at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Then in 1987, I was diagnosed with HIV, or as it was known then, HTLV111. I went through an amazing sequence of events in the next few years, but the best thing that happened for my piece of mind was Fairfield Hospital, and the VAC volunteer drivers who ferried me from the high rise in Fitzroy out to the hospital for treatment or check-ups. This began when I needed a lot of follow-up treatment after being diagnosed lithium-toxic in August 1991. It so happened that a regional support officer from VAC came to see me and it was like a breath of fresh air. She mapped out the volunteer services available and decided I really only needed driving to Fairfield.

The volunteers began phoning up and confirming appointments. Many of them I still see eight years later. Most of all, I remember one man: he was tall, well-spoken and the most patient gentle man I ever met. He had rung me the night before my scheduled appointment on a Wednesday night. I met him on the street outside the flats and immediately learned not to take him for granted. He introduced himself and we took off for Fairfield. The car seemed to run well, and I began a tentative conversation. Harold appeared controlled, friendly and very good at making light of nay faux pas I may have made. Then I saw a cute butt in Collingwood; I made a comment that was totally gay in context, fully expecting a reply in a similar vein. To this day I still remember his reply: "I like boobs and motor cars." I was absolutely knocked for a sixer. Not only was he straight, he had one of the best senses of humour that I have ever struck. We both laughed, but I went very red, stammered an extremely sincere apology and shut up.


It was about this time that, whilst enjoying reasonable health and having a great friend both in Harold and his wife Jane, that I learned what it was to live with HIV. A little mate of mine called Jason was in Ward 4, long-term. I was admitted to the room next to him. As my condition improved, I started visiting Jason. We had known each other since 1985 and here he was six years later, dying. I got to know Jason's family too at this time. He had a brother and three sisters Jenny, CeeCee and Muriel.


Jason died, as we had known he would, but then his brother died as well. The family were bound up with their grief. I didn't see CeeCee again until Christmas 1997 ,she greeted me at the door of a hospice in Melbourne's east when I was visiting a friend in respite. Following the deaths of her brothers, CeeCee began volunteering at the hospice. One would think that a family who had suffered so much through AIDS would like a break! No, that was not the case. Almost as soon as Jason's brother died, CeeCee would turn up at the hospice to do a day's voluntary work.

By Gerry

This story has been kindly sent by PLWHA Victoria, Australia. Added to the site September, 1999.


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