If the drugs Dr. Usako had prescribed were the ones with the fewest side effects, I didn’t want to know what the others were like. Less than a week into my medication regimen, I was already sick to death of taking pills, then trying not to puke them up again.
I had spent the last few days going between my bed and the bathroom with what felt like the worst stomach flu of my life. I was nauseous all the time, and although Lauren kept trying to get me to eat, I had no appetite. “C’mon, baby, you’ve gotta get something down,” she insisted on the fourth day, bringing me a bowl of broth on a tray, but I stubbornly refused. I had realized that whatever I put in my body was just going to come right out again – probably out of both ends.
I wondered if Howie was having such a rough time with his meds, but pride kept me from calling to ask. Thanks to him, I’d gone from playing two hour shows in front of an adoring crowd every night to trying not to shit my bed. This sucked. Really sucked. I pushed the tray away and rolled over, burying my face in my pillow. In the last day or so, I’d started feeling dizzy, and even lying down with my eyes closed, it felt like the room was spinning.
Lauren sat down on the edge of the bed and put her hand lightly on my shoulder. “Nick, please,” she whispered. “You’re going to get dehydrated. At least drink some water?”
I heard the crackle of hollow plastic as she tried to hand me a bottle of water, but I just groaned, hoping she’d get the hint and go away. I loved her, but I wanted her to leave me alone.
She didn’t. “That’s it. I’m calling the doctor,” she said, standing up suddenly.
I rolled over again, ignoring the rocking of the bed. “No, wait,” I protested. “I’ll try to eat some soup.”
She shook her head. “This has gone on long enough. She’s gonna have to change something with your meds. You can’t keep living this way; it’s going to kill you!”
I sighed, but I was in no position to argue. I barely had the strength to get out of bed. Lauren brought her phone into the bedroom, and I lay there and listened helplessly as she talked to my doctor.
“Hi, this is Lauren Kitt, Nick Carter’s fiancée. I’m calling because he’s having a horrible time with the side effects of those medications you prescribed. He’s been taking them every day like you told him, but he’s been so nauseous, he can hardly keep anything down.” She gave me a look of concern, clutching the phone tightly to her ear. “It’s gotten to the point where he won’t eat or drink, and he barely gets out of bed. I’m really worried about him.”
“I told you not to worry about me, babe,” I mumbled, but Lauren shook her head and put a finger to her lips, listening hard.
After a long pause, she said, “Okay. I’ll do that. Thanks, Dr. Usako.”
“Do what?” I asked, when she got off the phone.
“Take you to the ER. She said it sounds like you’re dehydrated and to go there so they can give you fluids and a prescription of something called Compazine that’s supposed to help with your nausea. She’s going to call ahead to let them know we’re coming.” Lauren gave me a look, as if challenging me to try and argue against that.
I sighed, knowing I had no choice. I needed to go. It was the only way I would feel better. “Alright, fine,” I grumbled, struggling to sit up. I was so weak, Lauren had to help me get out of bed and put on a pair of sweatpants, which was humiliating. When we finally made it out to the car, she drove, while I sat pathetically in the passenger seat, trying not to puke.
In the emergency room, I was poked and prodded. As soon as I told the nurse who took my medical history that I was HIV-positive, she hooked me up to a monitor that measured my heart rate and blood pressure and all that stuff. It seemed a bit excessive, but I guess she didn’t want to take any chances.
“You’re definitely dehydrated,” said the doctor who examined me. “I’d like to run some tests, but in the meantime, we’ll start an IV and get some fluids in you.”
“Can he get something for the nausea?” Lauren asked. “I talked to his doctor on the phone, and she mentioned a drug called Compazine?”
The doctor nodded. “We’ll give him a dose of that through the IV, too.” Turning to the nurse, he added, “Let’s run in a liter of saline, plus ten mgs of Compazine, dip a urine, and order a CBC, lytes, BUN, and creatinine.” I didn’t understand a word of this, but basically, it meant I had to pee in a cup and have more blood drawn. I was so used to having my blood drawn by this point that I barely even flinched when the needle went in.
The IV was a different story. The nurse had to stick me about five times before she got it. “I’m so sorry,” she kept apologizing. “I’m having trouble finding a good vein.” I could tell she was flustered; her hands were shaking, and I was freaking out, worried she was going to stick herself. But, thankfully, she didn’t, and once the IV was finally hooked up and running, Lauren and I found ourselves alone for the first time.
“How are you feeling?” she asked, as she held my hand.
“Shitty,” I said. “This sucks so much. I don’t know if I can keep doing this.”
“Taking these pills. Not if they’re gonna make me feel like this. It’s not worth it. I’d rather just let the AIDS get me.”
“Don’t say that!” Lauren said sharply, shaking her head. “You just started taking them. Dr. Usako said it could take awhile to find the right combination of drugs, so give it some time before you decide you’re done with them all.”
I sighed. It was hard to stay hopeful when I still felt sick to my stomach.
Lauren seemed to understand. “Why don’t you just close your eyes and try to take a nap?” she suggested. “Give the medication a chance to work its magic, huh? I bet you’ll feel better when you wake up.”
I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep in that hospital bed, all hooked up to tubes and wires, but whatever they’d put in my IV made me drowsy, and I was able to doze off for awhile. When I woke up, I did feel a hell of a lot better. For the first time in four days, I wasn’t nauseous. My stomach was still a little rumbly, but not like it had been. “Dr. Usako was right,” I told Lauren. “This Compazine stuff kicks ass.”
She smiled. “I’m glad you’re feeling better, baby.”
After a few hours in the ER, we left the hospital with a clean bill of health – other than my HIV, obviously – and a prescription for Compazine tablets, which the doctor said I could take three times a day as needed to help with the nausea. “Yay… more pills to take,” I said sarcastically, as I added a dose to each compartment of my pill organizer at home. I was up to seven a day now.
Lauren came up behind me and kissed the back of my neck. “Hey, if it helps you feel better, it’s worth it. Don’t forget that.”
I swore I wouldn’t forget, but at the same time, I remembered Dr. Usako’s warning about sticking to my medication regimen. Now I understood why her patients would want to stop taking their pills. I was starting to realize what a pain in the ass this treatment plan was going to be. But like Lauren said, it would be worth it if it kept me healthy – at least, I hoped so.
That night, I took another dose of Compazine with my evening meds and a small sip of water, careful not to upset my stomach again. Then I crawled into bed with Lauren, looking forward to a full night’s sleep, uninterrupted by excessive trips to the bathroom. I slept soundly until just after four a.m., when I woke to the sound of my phone ringing.
“Who is it?” I heard Lauren ask groggily, as I reached for the phone.
I squinted at it, surprised to see Brian’s name. Why the hell would he be calling me this early? “Yo, Brian, this better be important for you to be calling me at fuckin’ four in the morning,” was how I answered the phone.
“Sorry, bro, didn’t think about the time difference,” he replied, but there was none of his usual humor in his voice. I could tell something was wrong. “Listen, I just got off the phone with Howie…”
In spite of how much hatred I’d felt for Howie lately, my heart leaped into my throat when I heard that. “Is he okay?” I croaked. “Is Holden okay?”
“He’s fine. It wasn’t about Holden. It was about Q.” I heard Brian take a breath before he told me the bad news. “Nick, Q passed away this morning.”
It took me a second to process what he’d said, but when I did, it felt like all the air was suddenly sucked out of my lungs, and I slumped over, deflated.