Scheff complains that his work has been misinterpreted. "What's the difference between an activist and a journalist?" he said in an interview. "Either you care about the kids or you don't."

Scheff met Thomas and Pascual for his story; she often says that she is very concerned about the accuracy of HIV tests.

A few weeks after the dinner in Washington Heights, Jason Thomas called from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Days earlier, he had come down with a high fever.

Brian Stauffer

"The doctors tell me I have AIDS, and I am going to die. But before I die, I might go blind," he said, crying and sounding terrified.

Later, on a visit to his hospital room, Thomas was propped up on a bed on the seventh floor. He was in better spirits, watching a tiny television hanging from the wall and eating chicken nuggets and a Wendy's Frosty.

"I lost my job today," he said. The fever had started the week before, and his boss had given him a week off work. Then a week became two, and he checked himself in to the hospital, a place he knows well.

When Pascual and his godfather, a former volunteer at Incarnation named Ed Akter, arrived with more food, the nurses had required them to wear masks, in case Thomas had tuberculosis. "Those masks make me feel even worse," he said.

One night, Akter met with the on-duty physician, who explained that Thomas had a bad case of sinusitis. Because he was HIV-positive and had a compromised immune system, the doctor explained, a common case of sinusitis could lay him up in the hospital for days.

Thomas was being encouraged to start an AIDS drug regimen, but he didn't want to.

"Please tell the doctors to stop telling me that I'm going to die. That's ridiculous. They just can't say that to a person," he said. "You people don't have to live with this. I wake up with this every day. I don't care if you are a grown man or a baby—you just don't tell people that they are going to die."

Experiencing a headache, he asked someone to close the blinds. "There's not that many people as strong as me," he said. "Some people, they die real fast. I fight to the end."

Thomas told Akter that he had asked his doctor about medications. "Why can't I be a good pill swallower?" He paused and then sat up in bed. "Look, I want to live a long life, just like anyone else. I was born with this, and I didn't ask for it."

After he was discharged, Thomas went to Akter's house in Montclair, New Jersey, to recuperate for a week. (He had lived at Akter's house for a couple of years when he was a teenager.)

The headache took a while to go away. Soon after, he went to his doctor and began taking medication.

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