aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

Remembering the dead

It was Worlds AIDS day this week. A little over 20 years ago, I worked in a hospital in the admitting department. It was not a job I wanted, but it was a job I needed after I had been laid off. I had to wear a polyester uniform - just like the folks at Mr. Steak's - only blue instead of brown.

AIDS was just hitting Portland and at the time it was always a death sentence. The hospital I worked at had a doctor who was seen as an expert. One time, I figured out I had probably seen one-fourth of the men with AIDS (at that point, it was all men, 99% gay and 1% hemophiliac) with AIDS in Oregon. It was horrible. These young men would come in, their clothes hanging on them, coughing these terrible racking coughs. Most of them had this opportunistic infection called pneumoncistis carnii. Most of them died right away.

Staff at hospitals were nervous, still not sure they believed the transmission routes were all known. People with AIDS were given wristbands that read BFF for blood and body fluid precautions. Housekeepers handled their linens with gloves and masks. Up until that point, clinicians had only sometimes worn gloves, but now they had to get used to the idea that anyone might be infected. The nervous joke at my hospital was "Who gets AIDS?" "The Four H's – Haitians [for some reason a lot of Haitians had it], hookers, homosexuals, and house staff." [The hospital is called the "house."]

I remember an HIV positive priest, which was kind of a shocker. I guess we had believed that priests really were celibate. And a man who asked me what his armband was for – he had hemophilia – and then figured it out. I remember his sad eyes. I heard later both he and his wife died. There was a gorgeous blond electrician with a low-slung leather toolbelt who walked though the lobby so often I thought he worked at the hospital. We started talking one time and I asked him. He said, "I have a lot of appointments here." We looked at each other and I knew.

The person I still remember the most was this guy in his mid 20s who was a hairdresser. He was sweet and very good-looking. I took him up to his hospital room. On the way there, he asked me, "What am I being admitted for, anyway? The doctor didn't say." I knew it was for AIDS, but I wasn't going to be the one to tell him he was terminally ill. I stammered, "Oh, he just wants you to be rehydrated."

All those men I knew then must be dead now, and have probably been dead for years. People died quick from it back then. And still are, in poor countries.

Please use condoms.

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