Louisville Magazine

AUG 2015

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

Issue link: https://loumag.epubxp.com/i/544853

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Page 136 of 140

134 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.15 clean needles since the exchange began and collected about as many dirty ones.) Eventually, the county will have to cover most of the cost. Combs pulls up to Whitney and David's house. Josh is on the couch. He only spent four days in rehab, long enough to detox. He hands Combs a sharps container full of needles. He's using again. "Mostly because of this," he says, raising a bandaged hand. He slammed it in a car door and needs something for the ache. David walks into the room with another container. "Tere's 45 (needles) in there. I don't need anymore," he says before disappearing to another room. (He'll tell me later he's not using Opana, just occasionally dissolving Suboxone in a soda can and shooting that.) Whitney sleeps through Combs' visit. "Tat's strange," Combs whispers when back in the car. Usually, it's social hour at their place. Earlier in the day, Whitney lay curled up on her couch, under a white blanket and heating pad David had tenderly placed on her. Withdrawal symptoms had arrived. Her Suboxone strips had run out two days before. Whitney texted Combs, seeking advice. Combs suggested an over-the-counter antidiarrheal. Whitney then texted a friend who has been withdrawing so bad she broke down and got an Opana. Her friend typed back. Whitney placed her phone on her chest, looked up at the ceiling. "Everyone's just going to bed," she moaned. "Trying to sleep it of." Combs is a bit of a snoop. As she drives through Austin, she passes out food or stops to chat, just so she can sense whether folks are taking their HIV medication and following through on promises of checking into rehab. Combs animates when talking about a recent success story. Of the 112 patients engaged in HIV treatment, 11 have gotten their viral loads so low they're no longer contagious. "Tat's just crazy!" Combs says, giddy at the progress. Infectious-disease specialists from Indiana University were treating many of those patients. Her excitement fat-lines. "Now the infectious doctors are gonna leave," she sighs. At one point, word was that IU was going to join forces with Dr. Cooke or open its own independent ofce. A disagreement of some kind between Cooke, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (whom Cooke recruited to his ofce) and IU canceled those plans, leaving Cooke as the sole HIV treatment provider. A clinic run by University of Louisville Physicians in downtown Louisville is one of the only other options. Combs heads for a two-story butter- yellow home where two sisters live. When she reaches the house, there are whispers: "Te kids have been taken." Te sisters plea with Combs. Tey want rehab. "I'm going to be 25 in a few weeks," the older sister, Tara, says. "What can I say I've accomplished? I got no kids yet. My (HIV positive) status — I'm ready to get my whole life straight," she says. "I'm at rock bottom." Tara's younger sister sits near a mattress where two kittens nap in yin-yang pose. Black-and-white photos of her young girls surround her. One of her long legs bounces anxiously. "I need to get in now," she says, visibly upset that her daughters were taken from her. She's hoping Child Protective Services will return them if she commits to a rehab program. Combs hands them pink slips indicating they've tested negative for tuberculosis, a requirement for inpatient facilities. Combs says in the months since the outbreak, "tons" more people are interested in sobering up. "It's probably multiple things," she says. "It's that the HIV has scared them. It's that we're here to help and they didn't know where to go for help before. Tey've grown to trust us. And police are cracking down, CPS is cracking down." Tere's a knock at the door. It's the sisters' brother, who's fostering the kids. Just of work and still in the white jumpsuit worn at a nearby factory, he asks about diapers. Tara's younger sister runs to hug her toddler with sparkly blue eyes, cradling the child's neck, delivering loving pecks on her forehead. As the children leave, a reminder to the brother in charge: "She has diaper rash!" Te younger sister crumples onto the stoop, quiet and sobbing. Tara places an arm around her sister's shoulder. "Everything happens for a reason, sis," she says. "Keep your head held high." T he June sky is the color of a bruise. Clouds burst, drenching the afternoon. Inside the Oasis of Hope Missions on Austin's north side, Debbie Ousley sprays Lysol in a one-room chapel with white walls and plastic picnic tables sandwiched between 12 blond pews. "So mildew-y in here," the 60-year-old mutters. Her husband Jerry slips Christian music into a boom box. "Too loud?" he asks. "It could go down a little," she replies as she pulls Styrofoam plates from a large red bin. For more than two years, the Ousleys have helped prepare a weekly free meal for those in need. Sometimes they feed 25, sometimes 125. At 4 p.m., a 15-year-old and her little brother walk in. Two women follow, piling fried chicken, hamburger buns and potato salad onto plates. Te crowd is thin, so Debbie and Jerry head out to the streets. "We've thought about getting a dinner bell," she says, laughing. Gray-haired with a round, kind face, Debbie is the steely-soft type. She's a hugger, tears up easy when talking about the "hurts" people in Austin sufer. But she won't bend on her beliefs. Ousley has allowed the needle exchange to park behind the mission on meal nights. She knows drug deals play out feet from the chapel. "We've been accused of being enablers," she says. "But Jesus said, 'Feed him.' Not: 'Feed him because they deserve it.'" With tables full, she picks up a microphone. "Test, test. Hi, everybody!" she says, before jumping into scripture. "You know what amen means? It means 'let it be.'" A man stumbles in, bounces from table to table and talks loudly. His eyes are as wet and stagnant as day-old puddles. He's higher than Debbie has ever seen him. She breaks from her sermon, touches his shoulder. "You all right, buddy? You hungry? Quiet down a bit. You're out- preaching me," she says with a laugh. "Go ahead and get some food. We want you to get some food." She grew up with an abusive alcoholic dad. Five siblings have died of cancer. She just got diagnosed with breast cancer. Empathy comes naturally. A handsome 36-year-old named Enick walks in. Before he gets his meal he heads straight to Debbie to tell her he's headed to rehab in Indy at the end of the week. "Wonderful," she says. She wants folks to take advantage of opportunities that have come in HIV's wake. "Tat's one of my fears," she says. "Tat when the dust settles, it will go right back." She ofers Enick gas money for the trip and gives him plastic bags of clothes and toiletries. She and other volunteers form a circle around him and pray. Outside, the storm has lifted, leaving a cool breeze. Boys play basketball. Optimism seems to have choreographed the evening's fnal moments. But Austin is still in the raw stages of healing, the part where no one knows the outcome. I fnd out a week later that Enick didn't make it to rehab. He's in the Clark County Jail because he failed to appear at a court date for theft and criminal-trespass charges. Hope can be such a task. Ten I remember a quote Ousley leans on in cynical times: "If you're drawn to broken birds, don't be disappointed when they don't fy."

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