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Al Martinez

Like men at war, they gain as much from their fear as from their courage. : Such Good Friends

January 21, 1988|Al Martinez

Shervin Firouzi and David Lowy have the kind of friendship that thrives on simple pleasures.

They can enjoy a sunset together in silence, requiring no more than each other's company under a sky washed with pastels.

Or they can just sit and talk about women and life and the kinds of music they once danced to.

Real friendship is that way. It asks little. It gives much.

Forget that the two young men are essentially different.

David, at 20, is the son of a successful investor and was attending the University of the Pacific up until May last year.

Shervin, 22, an Iranian, came to the United States 11 years ago and was a restaurant worker most of his life, until July, 1986.

David was a goof-off, a punker, a kid in the fast lane. Eleven traffic tickets, five automobile accidents, one car totaled. Three schools kicked him out.

Shervin was hard-working and serious, without a mark on his record.

But they share an adversity that easily transcends whatever they may have once been. Their lives came together miles apart in blinding moments that made them instantly similar.

Both are paralyzed, and both got that way diving into shallow water.

Shervin can move only his head. Without life-support systems, he would die. He can speak, but with difficulty.

David calls himself a "super-quad"--a quadriplegic with some use of his arms. He breathes without artificial support and talks easily.

They met in a convalescent ward at Northridge Hospital Medical Center.

"We clicked instantly," Shervin said.

"This is a friendship that will never end," David said.

There is a special quality to the ties that bind them, a mutuality laced with elements of both strength and dependency.

Like men at war, they gain as much from their fear as from their courage.

I heard of them through David. He called to complain that his friend, a hospitalized quadriplegic, had been denied full-time nursing by Medi-Cal and, as a result, couldn't go home.

His friend turned out to be Shervin Firouzi.

"It's crazy," David said. "He's got to be on a ventilator or he'll die, but they're calling him stable and won't give him a nurse. That doesn't make sense."

Not until he had laid out Shervin's case did David say that he was in a similar, though less severe, situation.

When I heard about the two men, I was as much intrigued by their friendship as I was by their shared physical constraints.

I visited Firouzi first. He sat on a chin-operated wheelchair, a portable respirator affixed to its back. Bright surrealistic oil paintings lined the walls of his hospital room. Firouzi created them with a brush in his teeth. He wants to open his own art gallery someday.

"I'm never going to be a vegetable," he said. "I'm never going to sit around and do nothing."

"He's different," David had said of his friend. "He's gentle, but there's strength there. He's facing things I'm not sure I could."

The strength comes through, both in Firouzi's attitude and in the bold style of his art.

"I've been trying to go home since last February," he said to me. "I have a sister and a mother I can live with. Medi-Cal will furnish the equipment I need, but not a full-time nurse."

He paused, savoring the irony. "They say I'm not at an acute-care level. I'm not sick enough to go home."

To disprove that, Firouzi talks about an incident in July when the portable respirator on his wheelchair failed in the hospital sun room, and the trachea tube in his throat popped out.

"I couldn't breathe, and the person with me didn't know enough about the machine to fix it. He called for help, and a nurse got the respirator going right away and put the trachea back in. If she hadn't been there, I would have died."

A lawyer has filed an appeal with Medi-Cal on Firouzi's behalf. Meanwhile, with David's help, he has turned to the media to tell his story. David's call to The Times was toward that end.

I met David next.

After his accident, he was given less than a 50% chance to live. Four operations saved him.

"I was obnoxious and undirected before," he said. "The accident woke me up."

David describes Shervin as the big brother he never had. "He's a lot worse off than I am, but he looks out for me.

"When I first got to Northridge, he told me things would be strange but they'd soon get back to normal, more or less. My food tasted weird, for instance, and I kept smelling different smells.

"It was a strange time, but Shervin kept talking to me in that gentle way of his. . . ."

David has been living at home since November. He'll return to school at the end of the month to study finance.

Meanwhile, David champions Shervin's cause even as Shervin acts the part of David's big brother.

They talk every day on the phone and see each other four or five times a week.

"It's not just like a wartime friendship," David said. "It will last." He smiled. "We're too much alike now."

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