Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, October 18, 2000
Schalchlin delivers King lecture from patients' perspective

Steve Schalchlin, the 2000 Jonathan J. King Lecturer, walked to the front of Fairchild Auditorium last Wednesday and began singing. But the shift from podium to piano in the 10th year of this annual series wasn't the only first.

Schalchlin was the first patient guest in this lecture series, which in the past has included a string of nationally recognized academic medical lecturers. He is a musician, songwriter and AIDS activist as well as an AIDS patient whose disease has been under control since he started taking protease inhibitors in 1996.

Schalchlin's performance, which included songs about facing death at a young age, was titled "Living in the Bonus Round," referring to a tradition of final questions on television game shows when "time speeds up and the prizes get better."

"If you're expecting facts and figures, you won't find any," Schalchlin told his audience of several hundred physicians, other caregivers and the public. Instead, he thanked the audience "for being physicians, for caring ... thank you for taking five extra seconds to tell a patient they look really good today."

Schalchlin recalled a nurse who spent an extra few seconds in his hospital room as he lay desperately ill four years ago. She stopped, turned around, and said, "Hey, you're our favorite patient." This human connection, Schalchlin said, helped him rally.

Several of his songs, sometimes expressing the fear and bitterness associated with a fatal disease, came from the 1997 musical he wrote with his longtime partner, playwright Jim Brochu.

Schalchlin began writing AIDS-related songs, he said, as therapy. An Internet diary, which related his experiences facing death, continues as a website ( offering a variety of links, including information for gay youth and a chat room.

Speaking after the performance, Schalchlin said he was weeks away from death when he was selected for experimental medication in a drug lottery. By that time, he said, he was close enough to death to lose a sense of terror and gain a sense of serenity that has stayed with him into his "bonus round." For example, on airliners when other passengers are anxious because of turbulence, Schalchlin said he feels he may still die, "but it's no big deal. Once you face death and return to life energized, you don't fear death again."

Wearing an eye patch that is a remnant of AIDS-related Grave's disease, Schalchlin began his Stanford performance after the audience watched a videotape that has become a 10-year King Lecture tradition. From a giant video screen, the lecture's namesake and benefactor described his mission to help caregivers, patients and their families communicate more effectively as they seek to become more knowledgeable about critical decisions affecting an individual's health care.