Remember pre-protease America, when countless PWAs staked their survival on crystals, funky diets and pushy New Age personalities? These days, AIDS deaths are way down, PC types call alternative therapies complementary, and lipo-licking cosmetic surgeons have heaved self-hyped “healers” like Louise Hay off the HIV A-list. So much for malarkey that explains CMV blindness as “When there are things we do not wish to look at, our vision may begin to fail.”
But a few holistic holdouts are still deep-breathing unconditional love. Meet Sunshine Wohl, who recently opened Chrysalis Community, a free home for ailing PWAs in a farmhouse on 108 acres in Pownal, Vermont. “I believe hugs and laughter do wonders for the immune system,” Wohl told POZ. Chrysalis has no license to provide medical care, but Wohl said it will explore “spontaneous healing” through tai chi, yoga, chanting—and a pottery studio.
Wohl, who answered “ageless” when asked how old she is, may seem loopy, but she’s seen AIDS up close. After it took her brother John in 1987, she spent years volunteering with PWAs in hospitals, “where I learned that my true ability is helping people pass in peace.” Still, she doesn’t want to promote Chrysalis as a hospice. “Early on, a board member brought me a walker. I said, ‘No walkers here!’ and threw it out.” Indeed, with only two wheelchair-accessible bedrooms, Chrysalis requires “ambulatory” residents. Wohl said she hopes one day to house 30 to 50 (go to chrysaliscommunity.org). For now? “I have invisible guests.”
Can Wohl’s way work? Laine Lucenti of Vermont’s Department of Aging said she’s doing nothing wrong as long as “there are no staff in the home providing services.” But there’s the catch, said Kendall Farrell, head of Vermont CARES: “If residents are at the end of life, I find it hard to believe that [medical workers] wouldn’t be a fixture.” Deborah Kutzko of Vermont's HIVer-serving Comprehensive Care Clinic concurred, saying the chronically ill need “access to a professional nurse who can make sure their morphine is working, there’s nutrition, they’re comfortable.”
Wohl counters that she has ties to local doctors and a hospital, so all residents can access the “highest standard” of care. She just can’t abide the idea of too many needing it all at once. “Even giving myself that slight image is putting it in my cellular memory,” she said, “and I believe just the thought can create it—so I don’t want to think of it.”