Though today David Rodriguez is home with his partner Douglas Orr and their dogs in California Heights, just a few months ago family and friends weren’t sure if he was going to live.
After months of experiencing fatigue and hallucinations while dropping 20 pounds in weight, Rodriguez was admitted to the intensive-care unit (ICU) at St. Mary Medical Center in downtown Long Beach in March. Lung specialists had previously given him medication, but doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. It was later discovered that Rodriguez, 49, had been sick with walking pneumonia and a bacterial infection had already spread to his brain. Soon after being admitted to the ICU, Rodriguez fell into a coma.
“His lungs were so bad, and he was so dehydrated and everything that, when he went into the hospital, his lungs ended up collapsing on him, and there was a period where he was without oxygen,” Orr said. “They said he would be in a nursing facility for the rest of his life, even if he came out of it.”
Just three weeks later, it was then discovered that, while in a coma, Rodriguez had suffered a stroke, and it was unknown whether he would come off life support. Orr and Rodriguez are partners, but they never married. Orr had to use the power of attorney to be able to receive rights to have a say on whether to withdraw him from life support, even though Social Security officials counted both of their incomes when providing Medicare benefits.
Orr said at one point he felt he was being excluded from the situation.
“That’s why gay people need to be able to get married,” he said “They accepted the fact that I was David’s partner, and after I had a power of attorney, they let me have the say, but doctors wouldn’t talk to me, period, and would totally only talk to David’s family. It was really hard.”
Rodriguez eventually came out of the coma, but he couldn’t speak or move. As he slowly began to recover during rehabilitation, Rodriguez has now gained his speech back, and Orr said he is just months away from walking again. Earlier this month, Rodriguez came home, but he still needs 24-hour care. He still suffers from short-term memory loss, and brain damage may have affected his left side.
But now, Orr said the couple of 19 years is facing yet another shock– the medical expenses that are now piling up. Orr said he might have to put his Bixby Knolls home up for sale to cover the healthcare costs.
To make matters worse, Orr said Rodriguez, who once worked as a freelance writer for various magazines, including a stint as editor for Blade magazine, a publication of gay news, had been unemployed for two years before falling ill and was using stock from his retirement fund as income, which has now dwindled to nearly nothing.
“We think we might have to end up selling the house because I can’t make the payment myself, and he’s not fully going to be able to work for years if he ever does go back to work,” Orr said.
The hope is that Rodriguez will eventually be able to go to a rehabilitation center, but it remains uncertain if Medicare insurance would cover that, Orr said.
Despite what appears to be odds stacked against them, however, there still is hope for both Orr and Rodriguez. Throughout the ordeal, Orr had been updating the local community on Rodriguez’s condition on a regular basis through Facebook. Though Rodriguez was not fond of the idea, Orr said the outreach has since drawn a flood of support.
“I’m a strong believer that nobody can help you if nobody knows what’s wrong or that you have a problem,” Orr said. “David and I are totally opposite in that aspect. And he would just assume keep it quiet and not let anybody know… We’ve been really active in the community for a long time so I just felt everybody needed to know.”
Valerie “China” Boyce, who is organizing the event, said all proceeds are going directly into the Doug and David Benefit Trust at Bank of America. She said anyone could make a personal donation to the trust directly through the bank as well.
“We’ve been quite fortunate to get some great people on a core committee,” she said. “There’s so many people who live in Cal Heights and Bixby Knolls who really want to help.”
For several years, Orr, originally from Washington, and Rodriguez, originally from Texas, have been highly active members of the close-knit Bixby Knolls community, although mostly behind the scenes.
As the owners of the former Four Olives Café, an Italian eatery once located in Bixby Knolls, they opened their doors to neighbors, musicians and artists alike, hosting fundraisers and concerts while building friendships and personal relationships. After creating a buzz in town for nearly five years, the restaurant closed its doors in 2008, and the spot was later taken over by what is now known as Baba Ghanouj.
Orr then came up with the idea to turn an old, abandoned furniture warehouse into an art and community center and became heavily involved with the creation of the Expo Art Center, which he continues to manage on a volunteer basis today.
For the event, local musicians will be playing sets of music from rock to jazz.
Steven Barber, a photographer and husband of jazz singer Cris Barber of The Cris Barber Quartet, which will be playing during the concert, said he hopes the event will provide assistance to the couple that has supported him and his wife for years as artists.
“We got to know them well as people, as neighbors and as, just in general, people who supported the arts,” he said. “Its a very close community. Everybody knows everybody, and when somebody is in a world of hurt like Doug and Dave have been in, we want to be there for them.”
Local restaurants, including Delius Restaurant, Georgie’s Place, Baja Sonora and Roxanne’s, have also chipped in to provide food stations, while artists have donated artwork for a silent auction and opportunity drawings.
Artist Alejandra Vernon, who is donating six pieces for the auction, said she wanted to give back to Orr and Rodriguez, who put on a fundraiser for her after a fire had engulfed her north Long Beach apartment and a large section of the complex.
“It’s truly miraculous that [Rodriguez] has bounced back the way he has,” she said. “I love them both to pieces, and, if there’s anything I can do for them, I wish I could eliminate their bills… He has sowed up so much good karma that it’s all gong to come back to him. Everything repeats itself. I’m grateful for the opportunity to give something back to him.”