Help! I Need Somebody!
Asking for Much-Needed Help Is Difficult
by Hank Trout
When my father died in 2010, I didn’t raid his house and confiscate everything I wanted before his coffin was even in the ground, as two of my sisters did, but I did manage to salvage Dad’s favorite t-shirt before the rest of his clothes went to Goodwill. The t-shirt has three large trout on it (fish, not relatives), and it reads, “The Trout, The Whole Trout, And Nothing But The Trout, So Help Me Cod.” Dad was an avid fisherman and, well, Trout just came with the package. The shirt is an XXL so it fits me like a tent, but I treasure that shirt—it’s my go-to t-shirt for sleeping in on cold nights. It’s like a warming comforting hug when I need one.
I’ve been thinking about Dad a lot lately because of something else that I got from him—a fierce sense of independence. My dad was a go-it-alone, do-it-yourself, don’t-bother-people-with-your-problems kind of man, and he passed along to me that fierce independence. He instilled in me the belief that we are put on this planet to help other people, not to burden them with our own problems; no matter whether they are financial problems, marital/relationship difficulties, or health problems, you deal with them on your own, period. This wasn’t some kind of “man-up” advice; it was simply a recognition that we all have difficulties in life and don’t need to ask people to carry the weight of our problems.
Dad was, bar none, the most incredibly generous man I’ve ever known. He did indeed practice what he preached, often giving of himself until it hurt.
I’ve been thinking about all of this lately because as my health declines, it becomes more and more obvious that I simply can’t go it alone, can’t handle the debilitating effects of being HIV-positive by myself.
For more than a handful of years, my fiancé Rick has been absolutely angelic about supplying all the help I need. Even though he has a very demanding full-time job—he is a K-12 special education teacher—he has had to assume ALL of the tasks that I used to perform, such as grocery shopping, cooking, house cleaning, and laundry and ironing, in addition to assisting me with personal hygiene and having to push my 128 pounds around town in the wheelchair. He has done all of this with great care and without complaint. To the contrary, just yesterday, he acknowledged that “I took it for granted when you did all of this!” But lately, all of that work has become just too much for him in addition to his paying job. I simply cannot expect him to deal with this alone.
And thus, like so many other long-term HIV survivors, I find myself needing more help than one man alone can give. Even though I would rather have my liver ripped out, I’m going to be forced to ask for help. For Rick’s sake as much as for my own.
I can’t help it—I’m embarrassed to admit that I do indeed need help. It feels like burdening someone else with the crap I’m dealing with; worse, it feels like giving up, throwing in the towel.
I cannot help wondering if other long-term HIV survivors have similar difficulty asking for help when they need it.
The Shanti Project is a renowned organization that has served people living with HIV and women living with breast cancer for some three decades now. Among their many services, they will provide a volunteer companion for folks like me. I have known many men who benefited from having a Shanti volunteer assist them with those very kinds of things that Rick has been so diligently and selflessly doing. All of them have praised Shanti and their volunteers as lifesaving and a great enhancement of their lives, easing some of the burden we face daily.
And so, sometime this week, I will call my friends at Shanti and begin the process of acquiring a companion for a few hours once or twice a week. (To their credit, Gregg Cassin and others at Shanti have urged me to do this ever since I fell in October 2018 and spent a month in a rehab facility.) I will swallow the shards that are left of my pride and ask for help.
I’m sorry, Dad, I hope you’re not too disappointed in me. But I’ve tried, I really have tried to get through this life without burdening anyone else with my problems. But now, I cannot escape the fact that I definitely need help. And I promise, this will be my last plea for help.
So help me Cod.
Hank Trout, Senior Editor, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a forty-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.