Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ROBERT JAMES FRASCINO, M.D.

On Saturday, September 17, 2011, there was a death that has gone entirely unnoticed by the press, or maybe they know but decline to report it.  I wouldn’t know myself except that I subscribe to TheBody.com, which is a source of information about the management of HIV-AIDS.  I do this because I was writing with a group of boys with HIV.  No panic: they are in Europe and on the East Coast.  And, since you asked, since 2007 their care has improved enough that they’ve stopped dying so much.  
I do NOT have HIV.  I have diabetic metabolic syndrome (mostly because I’m 72), and I write about sex as a nonparticipant (in the contact sense).  I am not gay -- I’m solitary and celibate.  Viruses are part of our global environment.  Hanta Virus, West Nile Virus, rabies -- they’re right here in Montana.  HIV-AIDS has had an impact on the arts only matched by tuberculosis in the 19th century or smallpox among the Native Americans a little earlier.  I’m old enough to remember the polio epidemic, which was deeply sympathetic to most people because it struck kids and a president.
Robert James Frascino, M.D. was a prize-winning concert pianist as well as a specialist in fatigue, anemia, rheumatology, and immunology.  These are slippery vague afflictions that seem pretty widespread (unlike HIV in Montana, which is probably exceeded by Hepatitis C, another deadly virus).  The cutting edge research is on the molecular and sometimes atomic level, deep in the machinery of the cell.  When the cure for AIDS is discovered (and it only lacks money and a few lucky break-throughs) it will be a “convergent” cure for many other diseases as well, possibly even cancer and diabetes.  The research is that basic.  
“Dr. Bob” was gay, married to another male doc for 18 years, and acquired the virus in 1991 when a blood sample in a biopsy needle was accidently driven into his hand.  He died from bacterial sepsis, aged 59.  AIDS is a disease of vulnerability, but they are saying the “blood poisoning” was not from the virus.  People die from bacterial sepsis in major numbers.  They say in the US, there are more MRSA (antibiotic resistant infection) deaths than AIDS deaths.  You don’t catch MRSA from sex -- you catch it in the hospital.  
Dr. Bob’s first response to HIV infection was to start a series of benefit concerts.  His second was to begin answering questions in a Forum on TheBody.com.  Even I read all the questions (some of them so crazy off-the-wall that most people would have just thrown them out) in part because HIV is as much an environmental issue as, say, grizzly bears, and in part because he was so full of tender and funny common sense.  HIV-AIDS is almost as much a mental disease as a virus.  People get so paranoid and denying about it that they think they’ve caught it from walking past men in pharmacies who look effeminate and part their hair on the wrong side.  When there was a contest for the funniest and most out-there question to the forum, it was hard to choose.
Dr. Bob was consoling.  But funny.  “Really,” he assured the questioner, “You are not the only person who has had sex with a Republican bisexual transgendered Mormon midget with webbed feet wearing a strap-on.”  His main casualty was political correctness, but people who are desperate for truly scientific advice relevant to their problem tend to be so paranoid about where they got the virus and so likely to blame those they believe hate them, that only jokes could carry the info into their brains.  (Anyway, you can tell the category Dr. Bob describes here -- the marker is that they’re all running for Congress.  That’s a joke.)  The questions and answers are still posted on TheBody.com, if you’re not too paranoid about your computer being hacked to go read them.
My issue, my focus (which is hard to pick out) is not AIDS or viruses.  I am a “whole-ist,” an “everythingist.”  What I see is a world of woven forces that travel through each other, morphing as they go, forming patterns that we mistake for permanent realities, and always creating stories.  It’s overwhelming to think about.  One hardly knows where to start except that the general rule in life is to start where you are, to hone your own perceptions and attitudes into instruments of perception.
I want to leave you laughing.  Here’s Dr. Bob’s answer to a seasonal question.  You can figure out the question:

You haven't seen a question that discussed worms growing in the vagina after masturbating with a zucchini??? Gee, I wonder why.

"First off, can I ask why you decided to go all the way with Mr. Zucchini? Did you get bored and/or horny while shopping in the fresh produce aisle at Whole Foods?
"Your worries about worms in your vajayjay after your sex date with the squash are unwarranted.
"Next, you wonder why after your vegetable love-fest your nether regions were a bit sore. Hmm. Sweetie, you shoved a zucchini up your serpent socket. Don't you think that might account for the discomfort?"
I’m guessing this is probably not among the countless zucchini jokes one hears this time of year.  And I’m not resisting the use of the word “interpenetration” very much, or asking the age of this adventurer, but it is pretty typical of the questions that can torment young people in particular and much safer than trolling the bus terminal.  I know this person was concerned about safety because she says she washed the squash carefully.  And don’t tell me a boy wouldn’t do that.  In Somalia no one would do such a thing because they would immediately eat the zucchini to fend off starvation.
Dr. Bob and his partner had recently gone on a long trip around the world.  They were not impoverished or uneducated but they did not shut the inconvenient and scary others out of their lives, nor did they go to the other extreme and devote themselves to carrying bedpans for the afflicted.  The intelligent thing to do was write funny but true answers on The Forum and intelligence was the name of the game.  When such a mind is lost, we should all grieve.

9 comments:

brenda w said...

My favorite bit of writing in this is the everythingist paragraph. Yep, that's me. Poetic bit, there, I enjoyed it.

Thank you for recognizing Frascino, and bringing him to my attention.

Brenda Warren

Anonymous said...

Bob Frascino was my doctor for many years, and my friend after he left his medical practice for health reasons. He was a unique and wonderful man who touched countless lives. I am devastated by his sudden passing. Thank you for remembering him so eloquently.

prairie mary said...

Dr. Bob Frascino was a trustee of Oberlin College. Their remembrance of him is at this url:

https://oncampus.oberlin.edu/source/articles/2011/09/21/oberlin-college-trustee-robert-frascino-74-1952-2011

Prairie Mary

Anonymous said...

mary,your note shows clearly,in describing the questions dr.bob got presented,and the humorous and never ill-advised ways he answered them,still the misconceptions there are at topics like these. i had to laugh hard,being homosexual myself,at the effeminite man in the drug store with his hair parted the wrong way. i always try to do a "garbo" or "dietrich" and paint it jetblack. but you wrote a nice homage to a wonderful man. aad

Anonymous said...

PrairieMary,

Good for you for honouring this wonderful person. If you visit the following page you can see how his death has shattered people all over the globe.

I myself alerted local gay press, here in the UK, to this sad news, but they have decided not to report it. I believe they don't want to associate their papers with death/HIV - which makes them guilty, in my view, of lessening HIV/AIDS awareness and do something that would reinforce the message that safe sex is the only kind of sex to have.

http://www.thebody.com/content/64008/remembering-robert-frascino-md.html#commentAdd

Best wishes to you.

Peter, UK.

prairie mary said...

By denying the death -- and thereby the existence -- of a man who was so deeply loved and so great a contributor to our modern lives, those who sell "propriety" are simply widening the gap in our society between one kind of person and another -- even though AIDS is an equal opportunity infector. When even the gay community rejects one of their own heroes they reveal the reservoir of guilt and shame that still prevents a cure. They are ostriches who reveal their plumed rears.

Prairie Mary

Anonymous said...

Mary, you have pinpointed a very real problem in saying "When even the gay community rejects one of their own heroes they reveal the reservoir of guilt and shame that still prevents a cure."

People just don't want to acknowledge "their burning house", or even a house which is now just "smoking". HIV organizations, including many HIV doctors, have become TIRED by HIV/AIDS.

Their message now amounts to "Here, take these drugs, they'll stave off death for a good few years, and as for the continuing of the effects of HIV on the body and the side-effects of the drugs, please, just be grateful!"

Recently, a person posted a very well-reasoned article on the need for a cure, and the need for people to press for a cure for HIV. I observed that only half a dozen took the trouble to comment and/or agree. For some inexplicable reason, there just doesn't seem to be any WILL to eradicate this disease.

I can only imagine that this is because of the disinformation, the false message that having HIV is no longer a big problem, as it used to be.

Peter.
UK.

prairie mary said...

Peter, I work with two groups. One is Tim Barrus and his group of boys with HIV-AIDs and the other is Blackfeet. The dynamics are similar in some ways. Denial is a big part.

Another faction (Factions are part of the problem) has a kind of hostage syndrome: they think that unless they imitate the groups that despise and stigmatize them, they will be attacked. They find safety in denial, in pretending to be just like everyone else. The more outrageous and outspoken among them are discouraged and shushed.

Prairie Mary

Anonymous said...

Dr Bob R.I.P, you will always stay in my memory.

Bird Shit Guy