Jacobson, Mark A. “Sensing Light”, Ulysses Press, 2016.
Three Doctors and AIDS
Mark A. Jacobson’s novel “Sensing Light” follows the lives of three doctors who are very different people and who have come together as they try to find out what is killing so many young men. It is 1979 in San Francisco when we meet Kevin Bartholomew, a gay medical resident from Boston and who has just moved to San Francisco as he searches to find acceptance as a gay man and future doctor. He meets Herb, the supervising physician who is also struggling with his emotions and Gwen, a divorced mother with a teen daughter, who too is struggling to find a sense of self and security as she finishes her medical training.
I can only imagine how hard it was to write this book by someone who lost so many. Still to this day, I think about the many friends that I lost to AIDS, young beautiful men who had so much to give to the world but did not have that chance to do so. Writer Mark Jacobson shares the complicated process of discovering the causes of an unknown epidemic, while showing the relationships between doctors who did that work. Jacobson takes us on a journey with the doctor’s ands we learn about their families, their personal lives and those that they treated. We are there when a doctor talks to a patient as he hopes that he can understand and discover what is wrong with that person. We get a sense of what it was like to be a doctor waiting for the results of a test. We feel their frustration of not knowing what kind of illness the doctors are working with.
Kevin who comes from Boston becomes the leading expert on this disease. His mother and father still live in Boston but Kevin’s father gives him no support, in fact, he doesn’t speak his son because of his sexuality. Kevin found love elsewhere, particularly with his partner Marco and he is being noticed and respected in the medical community. Kevin shows us that when there is no love at home, it is possible to find it elsewhere. I find it impossible not to love Kevin and share his happy moments. Losing his dad as a friend made him channel himself in other directions but mainly into his work and his love for Marco. (To a degree, I found myself indentifying with Kevin from the familial aspect and especially regarding his father. When I left the States to move to Israel, I never saw my father again and there are moments that I regret that but I have learned to channel myself in other directions. I was also lucky enough to miss the AIDS epidemic that ravaged this country. Israel had a few serious cases but nothing like what went on here).
We see that Kevin’s determination to be a good doctor pay off. Not only was he a good doctor but he also loved his patients and felt that it was his personal responsibility to focus on compassion to support patients to die. All three of the doctors are very real characters and for those of you who lived through our holocaust will certainly be taken back to that time and the stories that circulated about the doctors that went beyond the required to respect and honor their dying patients. I heard many stories via mail and American newspapers that were both heartbreaking and uplifting. It was a terrible time yet it brought us together but at a tremendous price. At a time when no one really knew what was happening, there were doctors who comforted their patients and in many cases that was the most that they could do. Back then; any advancement was major, especially for friends and families who watched their loved ones die.
I found it hard to read this with dry eyes. While the story is universal, everyone will find something very personal here. I still think about and wonder what it would be like if all those who died were alive today.
This is a book that must be read and it cries out to us to do so. We owe that to those who died and to the doctors who cared for them.
The number of men who had the AIDS disease became an epidemic, even a plague. Kevin’s watched his own lover die painfully and was helpless to do anything so he chose to do for others what he could not do for the man he loved. Kevin helped Herb, his colleague, work through his fear that his own son who was gay could get the AIDS virus. Together Kevin, Herb and Gwen wrote articles and applied for grant after grant that would allow them to investigate the causes and find new medicines against the disease that was taking our men from us.
“Sensing Light” is an inside look at the disease and the AIDS crisis in America. We, the readers, know what they were dealing with but they have no idea and that the moment of discovery is a highlight here. We get a look at how the doctors reacted to what was going on but we also read what it was like to be a gay man in American in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Today I went to the Boston Gay Pride parade and I thought to myself as I watched young gay men and women embrace their sexual identities without care that they do not worry about dying or about what others think of them. They also do not know that one of the reasons that they can be themselves is because so many died so that they could be free. We can never allow ourselves to forget that.
This book is a gorgeous tribute to those we lost and those who tried to keep them alive or at least make their deaths peaceful. I was pulled into the book immediately and I know that this is a book that I will read over and over again. I do not want to forget and I will not allow myself to do so. Bravo to Mark Jacobson for making that possible and for doing so in such a beautiful way.