November 29, 2018

Loss and renewal after AIDS: Why I care

After losing his partner to AIDS, Rusty Myers, a palliative care social worker, found his calling in caring for patients facing terminal illness.

For many of us, our journeys have taken circuitous routes that have eventually brought us to the work we do at Kaiser Permanente. My story began with significant loss and pain, which led to resiliency, and brought me to the work of hospice and palliative care.

In 1984, I had a successful graphics firm in San Diego. AIDS was a growing epidemic at the time, but the city was in complete denial. It was considered a Los Angeles or San Francisco problem.

At the church I belonged to, seven of us, most with little or no experience in counseling, started the first AIDS support group in San Diego. We had seen more than 25 percent of the male congregants either dead or dying. It was a difficult jumping-off point for me, but I discovered I had a passion for working with patients and their families facing a terminal illness.

Finding my calling

Rusty Myers and his partner Wayne.After his partner's death in 1988, Rusty Meyers (right) found a growing passion for end-of-life care.

My partner, Wayne, died of AIDS in 1988. The loss quaked my life, so I decided to move to Seattle for a new start. I was hired by the Washington State and, later, Seattle King County HIV/AIDS Epidemiology departments, centering my work with people living — and dying — of AIDS. This experience honed my therapeutic skills and a growing passion for working with people nearing their end of life. As much as I loved my work, after 12 years of HIV/AIDS, I needed a change. I wanted to work in hospice.

I graduated with a master’s degree in social work from the University of Washington in 2004 and was immediately hired by Providence Hospice of Seattle. At nearly 50 years old, I truly had found my calling. I worked in hospice care for six years, which led me to palliative care in the hospital setting with Group Health (now Kaiser Permanente).

Passion and healing

In 2013 I moved to Portland, Oregon, to be with my beloved partner, Henry, and joined the palliative care team at Westside Medical Center. One of the many joys of my work has been the passion that others give to their work in this beautiful and healing facility. It is obvious that the staff members here, in all positions and from all walks of life, each hold a story that has led to their career path. The collective fabric of the medical center is a quilt of giving, respect and compassion.

November 1, 2019, will be my last day before retirement. After more than 30 years of working with people facing life’s end, I know there will be a profound, personal void as I walk into a new unknown. But given the past journey that opened me up to new self-awareness, I have no doubt that the next chapter of my story will be equally rewarding.