I was a young nurse in the mid-late 80’s when AIDS was really exploding. I’d hear some really snarky comments about ‘well, those guys deserve it’. Really? Who “deserves” a long, painful death with dehumanizing side effects, and nothing that can change the ultimate outcome? Those early years were rough. We didn’t even have gloves in every room- there was a box at the desk. The AIDS patients, or others with specific infections, had yellow carts outside their rooms with PPE. Otherwise, hand washing was as high tech as we got.
I grew up in an evangelical church, and know the stand on homosexuality from that arena. There was no looking at the person aside from the actions that caused some to contract AIDS. I got to know some of the AIDS victims (and yes- they were victims of a disease that is incredibly cruel). Not everyone who got AIDS back then (and certainly not now) was gay. Hey, church- love others, right? Or just ‘some’ others? I moved from my childhood state as soon as i had my paper license in hand, waiting a few months after taking nursing boards- 1000 questions divided into 2 days of morning and afternoon groupings of 250 questions. Less than %60 (or 600 questions) was failing- and I thought that was abysmal. A ‘D’ got someone a license? Now it’s worse- don’t even ask. And moving away let me meet the people the church would have labelled if they said much at all. And I’m so thankful I did.
I’ll never forget one guy; he’d been with us for several weeks, and was deteriorating. The family wanted him to be ‘comfort care’, no heroics; the doctor wouldn’t write the order. Now this guy was lucky to have anybody around at all. Most of them were alone after all of their ‘friends’ and ‘family’ bailed out on them after their diagnosis. The nurses were their only contact with other humans. Anyway, one night this guy stroked. It was bad. The doctor still wouldn’t write the ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order, so if he had started going south (even more) we would have had to ‘code’ him. I talked to the doctor, who was great with AIDS patients, and normally very realistic with prognoses. He still thought this guy would pull through, at least this time. The nurses knew he hadn’t had a seizure as the doc thought; the period of symptoms after the ‘seizure’ had lasted too long.
The night after the stroke, this patient started to look worse (hard to do). His nurse that night was doing all she could to keep the guy from trying to take his last breath. There’s not much to do, really , but hope- and try nudging the bed now and then trying to stimulate a breath. The family was pleading for us not to do anything, and the charge nurse was on the phone to the doc, letting him know that we were going to have to proceed with a code very shortly if he didn’t give us the order to let him go in peace. Well, it got worse, and his nurse was to the point of putting a back board behind him (a hard, thick plastic board that provides a surface that allows chest compressions to ‘work’), and I was grabbing an oral airway (to keep his windpipe open until the code team got there and put a tube into his lungs)…we were literally seconds from starting a ‘Code Blue’. As his nurse, parents, and I exchanged helpless glances, the charge nurse came in and said “We’re done.”, waving the written telephone order in one hand. Everybody in the room exhaled a huge sigh of relief. The patient was pronounced dead within a minute or two. And the family was the one around him instead of ‘strangers’ pounding on him when he took his last breath. I still have a basket that the family had left full of candy…reminds me of him, and his incredible parents. That night was one that haunted me for a long time. I was 24 years old, and learning some really intense lessons.
The guys were almost always with us for months, or if at the other end of the diagnosis, for days. For those who were ‘part of our gang’, their rooms became our break rooms if they were up to it. It was time that they could spend with another human being who didn’t want to give them some horrible medication or do some type of unpleasant treatment. Smoking in hospital rooms was still allowed, so we’d go in and have a couple of cigarettes, and a Coke, and just shoot the breeze for a few minutes. Just as humans.
Then there was the heterosexual guy who was in bad shape with AIDS. He wasn’t going to live (as was the case with %100 of AIDS patients in the early days). His wife had contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion after giving birth to their baby, when she hemorrhaged. The wife and baby were already dead. Blood supplies are tested now; they weren’t back then.
The guy who was transferred to us from ICU was really sad. I was helping his nurse get him settled in the room. We were adjusting blankets, the TV, and making sure he had the urinal nearby. He couldn’t speak well, but nodded when he understood what we were saying. Very pleasant guy, with considerable AIDS related brain damage involving speech and processing thoughts. Anyway, his nurse and I had finished getting him settled, and left the room. We had gotten about six feet down the hallway when we heard him cry out “Oh, no. Oh, no.”, so we immediately u-turned and went back in to the room. The patient had wet the bed. He didn’t have the ability to react to the need to urinate and reach for the urinal anymore. When we got him up to the chair by the bed, so we could change the linen, he kept saying “I’m so bad. I’m so bad.” It was heartbreaking. He was so ashamed. No, sweet man, you’re not bad. The disease is a cruel beast. I still remember helping him in and out of a chair with dark green vinyl.
People can be all judgmental all over the place. I don’t see anybody around me who even comes close to having the right to damn someone for their actions, or who they love- we’re not here to judge. The Bible says (John 3:17) that “God didn’t send his Son to condemn, but to save”. If you are all superior on that front, there’s a preacher in Kansas you might enjoy. He’s at a church with ‘Westboro’ in the name. You know- the bunch that pickets military funerals? For my fellow Christians, I’m not asking anybody to put blinders on and ignore the Bible. In fact, I’m asking you to live it. Hate is a choice. But so is love. And it’s action. Prayers are great, but DO something. If you have to start by just saying ‘hello’, start there. If Christians won’t step up and SHOW compassion, and not be someone stereotypically stuck up yelling about their Christianity, who will? If the first thing you think of when you are reminded of a particular group of people is ‘well, the Bible says…’ and some form of judgement, then love isn’t the first thing on your heart. I’ll pray for you.