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Interview with Jeff Gavin

Gavin, Jeff
Engelbrecht, Michael
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming Obstacles; Relationships with People and Places; Then and Now; Tolerance and Respect
Jeff Gavin recalls the tragedies that he and his family went through as he contracted meningitis and almost died. He also talks about his sister's death from lymphoma.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Michael Engelbrecht interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
JG (Gavin, Jeff): Thanksgiving I was hanging out with my friends on a Friday night, OK, to give you a little background. You know, we just went to the movies, or whatever, and then the next night I went to work. I was working at a nursing home. I was washing dishes and cleaning pots and pans and stuff like that. So and then all of a sudden I got this massive fever. Which, you know, when you get a fever you don't realize you have a fever at the time, especially when you're that age because you don't know exactly what the symptoms are.
ME (Englebrecht, Mike): Right.
JG: But I felt like crap. I was aching all over and it just hit me like that. Within five or 10 minutes. I just felt terrible. So then I called my mother to pick me up. I had driven there but she had to come pick me up; that's how bad I was.
ME: You couldn't drive.
JG: I couldn't even drive. I was that sick but within a half an hour, I would say that was. So she took me home. And, uh, while she was taking me home I got this pounding headache. I felt like somebody was hitting me in the head with a rubber mallet. You know, just a thud like this thud, thud, thud, maybe a little slower than that. [Laugh] But it hurt. So she took me home. I went to the doctor, the next day was Sunday morning and I was in bad shape. I was terrible. I was just like half-conscious, just in a lot of pain. Well actually, I was fully conscious but I was just in a lot of pain. So I looked really weird. So I go into the doctor's office, you know, back in high school days I thought it was cool I had the black leather jacket and all that. [Laugh] The long hair.
ME: Fonzie
JG: No, I had long hair, didn't look exactly like Fonzie. It was the heavy metal thing. Uh, so he asked what drugs I'm on, you know, what I had O.D.'d on? Nothing, nothing. trying to tell him I was just sick. So he examines me, and all that, sends me home with my mother, and he had given her instructions on what to do if anything happened to me. So as it turns out something happened to me. I, lying in bed I passed out while I was lying in bed I fell out of bed, or something. I think my parents heard me hit the floor. So they come in, so my father and my sister take me to the hospital.
ME: So did the doctor know what was wrong with you?
JG: He had an idea what was wrong with me but he didn't want to tell my parents because he didn't want to get them in a total panic.
ME: Oh OK.
JG: Ah. So they take me to the hospital and I bang my head a couple of times on the way there. I bang my head on the car door. [Laugh] I don't remember any of this.
ME: No wonder, no wonder you felt like a mallet was hitting you. [Laugh]
JG: Yes. And I don't remember any of this. The last thing I remember was, you know, being sick Sunday morning. After I got home from the doctor's I don't really remember anything after that. So, you know, I hit my head on the car door. My sister told me that, at the time, that I let out a huge [laugh] scream which I don't remember. And I remember while my mother was driving me around, every time she would hit a bump, you know, that was like the mallet would, ah, increase the pain level about four times. It was a fun trip.
ME: I'm sure it was a real fun for your family.
JG: Yeah, oh it was horrible for them. So I wake up three days later. And it turns out that I had meningitis.
ME: Humph.
JG: I almost died during that three days. You know, all these things my parents had to call my school and everything and tell them I was in the hospital practically dying. So it was actually a lot worse experience for my family because, you know, they had--
ME: You were passed out half the time.
JG: Right, they had to go through wondering for three days whether or not I was going to live. For a couple of days maybe not three days for like a, I guess, maybe like a 24-hour period or what ever.
ME: Right, uh-huh.
JG: I could have lived or died or I could have had some major damage done to me.
ME: Oh really like permanent stuff could happen?
JG: Because meningitis effects your, uh, the lining of your nervous system.
ME: Oh OK.
JG: And your brain, which is called the meningitis, it gets swollen and that is what caused the pain. You know, that is like the throbbing pain it's like a swelling or whatever. So then all my friends had to get throat cultures because it's very contagious.
ME: Oh really.
JG: Anybody that I interacted with at school had to get throat cultures.
ME: Now where were you working in the beginning when you started washing the dishes in a restaurant?
JG: In a nursing home.
ME: In a nursing home OK.
JG: Right so I was doing dishes.
ME: So did they have to test the nursing home people?
JG: I'm sure they did yeah. And I never worked in a nursing home again after that. I kept telling that I was going to come back.
ME: They didn't want the outbreak monkey to come back. [Laugh]
JG: I kept telling them I was going to come back but then I never did. So. OK now another family tragedy. [Laugh] In 1992 my sister, the same sister that drove me to the hospital when I had meningitis with my father, she got cancer in 1992 in 1991 in April of 1991 she was diagnosed a week after my niece was born.
ME: Now is that her daughter?
JG: Yes.
ME: OK so she had a baby and a week later she is diagnosed with cancer.
JG: Yeah.
ME: Cancer of the what?
JG: She had lymphoma.
JG: It was throughout her body. And the way it happened was she her arm went numb. They were examining her and trying to figure why her arm went numb. And what they figured out was that it was a tumor so the tumor was pressing against a nerve, which made her arm numb.
ME: Oh. OK.
JG: So but then a year later she died in June of '92 with the cancer.
ME: Uh-huh.
JG: And so those three weeks before she died was like, you know. The whole time was a terrible time.
ME: ( ) So as soon as diagnosed it did they pretty much say that, "there was not much we can do because it is all over her body".
JG: No. She went through chemo she went through everything she went through chemo, ah, radiation.
ME: Drugs?
JG: Yeah you know she fought it the whole time. She never thought she was going to die.
ME: OK good, good.
JG: She never had that idea in her mind I mean like right up to a month or two before she, uh, passed away she was doing math homework, I was helping her with math homework. Yeah, she never thought, she never gave up.
ME: She was a fighter.
JG: Right, basically. That's how you can say it. She never gave up and, you know, she went through all the treatments, and then, well, then a funny thing relates to that story like, well then the whole story is not funny. [Laugh] But we had, the two or three weeks before, we wound up, going to the hospital a lot, we knew her time was short. And then, every time I wound up driving into Manhattan, you know, we lived on Staten Island, so I was driving into Manhattan, and every time I would park on the street, I would get a parking ticket. It was like a guarantee. I should have learned. I should have just parked in the parking garage, but the parking garages were like anywhere from $14 to $24 a day.
ME: How much is a parking ticket?
JG: Well I think that a parking ticket at the time was maybe $25 or something like that.
ME: So it wasn't that much difference.
JG: It wasn't that much difference. But it could have been, I mean, some of them were like $50 I think. But this is meter parking and, I mean, if you went a minute over you had a ticket.
ME: You mean there was someone there waiting for it to go a minute over.
JG: Yeah it was like magic. Yeah this is how efficient the people were that were giving the tickets out were, uh, so that was fun. You know driving into Manhattan getting a ticket.
ME: How was it on the family to see, just to know that the end is near. I mean because you all live there together in the same basic area right?
JG: Right we all, most of us live on Staten Island. My sister lives, my other sister lives in New Jersey. She was living at the same place at the time, uh, you know, it was sad of course it was also, you know, it was a binding experience my family did become closer after that, you know, because you know united in tragedy I guess you could say.
ME: Sure.
JG: Ah.
ME: Did different people tend to handle it differently? How?
JG: Oh yes, definitely a wide range of reactions, you know. You know, you know, one of my brothers was real upset, you know, ah most of us were pretty mellow like, you know, we weren't really, at the time, we weren't really outwardly trying, you know, we really didn't show a lot of upsetness.
ME: Right.
JG: Because everybody was trying to show--
ME: Trying to help her out.
JG: Right and help everybody else out.
ME: How long, I mean did the doctor just come and say she has got about six weeks left or one of those kinds of things did, did you know?
JG: Yes, yes.
ME: Pretty much.
JG: Well they said in April they said that she had, she had about three months which would be like July towards the end of July, I think. But it, uh, turns out she died right in the middle of June so she actually died before the time that they gave her.
ME: Uh-huh.
JG: They gave her three months, but she only lived about a month and a half.
ME: Did she know that? Did they tell her directly?
JG: Yeah I think they did, um.
ME: I just can't imagine someone saying you have three months to live.
JG: Well you know, I don't think, did I don't think they did tell her that. They told my brother-in-law, you know, whom we are still very close to.
ME: Oh that was her husband.
JG: Right, yeah. He is living in Manhattan now with my two nieces, you know, my family is still very close to them. You know I consider him you know just as close as any of any of my other relatives.
ME: Sure.
JG: My in-laws or whatever.
ME: Sure.
JG: You know, there was never any, like severance of relations, you know what I mean?
ME: Yeah.
JG: Um, you know, because of that. Anyway so him and my two nieces still live in Manhattan.
ME: How old are the little girls now?
JG: They're, ah, man. Well one is eight, no, well she is nine and the other one is 11.
ME: So she never knew her mom, man.
JG: Well she was about a year old when my sister died. A year and two months old so she really didn't, no she never really go that close to her. She only saw her about half that time you know during that period. So she was, you know, like we kept her at my house a lot. And my other niece she stayed at my father in-law's family a lot. Ah, let's see. Another funny story was related to that my other niece, the older niece, she was three at the time she still had her pacifier and everything. I got to share a room with her this is fun she was a cute as a button. But, uh, she would wake up at night sometimes going, "Mimi, Mimi, Mimi."
ME: Now is that "Mom"?
JG: No, she had a pacifier she called, ah, "Mimi." So her pacifier would fall out of her mouth at night so she would just wake up. It would be right next to her she wouldn't just grab it a stick it in her mouth she would go "Mimi, Mimi." So I had to get up a put the pacifier in her mouth it was really cute.
ME: [Laugh] Just so she would go back to sleep. [Laugh] That is really funny.
JG: It was really sweet.
ME: Uh, I can't imagine having to tell a three-year-old that mommy has gone to Jesus.
JG: Right.
ME: Or whatever.
JG: Right. Well my brother-in-law had that pleasure.
ME: Yeah.
JG: But, you know, I mean she was upset, but she wasn't, well she was upset.
ME: Right.
JG: But I don't know if it totally hit her, you know what I mean?
ME: If she had been about five or six it probably would have been very different.
JG: Right. But she would go through stages where she would be upset, you know, like she would realize, I mean she realized what happened, and, of course now she is really aware.
ME: Yeah.
JG: But at the time, I guess, you know, I guess she would forget, you know, and sometimes she would remember.
ME: OK, I see, interesting.
JG: I guess, you know, but.
ME: Well I think we have got enough. Thanks a lot.