International AIDS Day: The day after


Yesterday was international AIDS day. Here in New York, it all seems so far away. Men just live with HIV, and I don't worry about my gay friends anymore. I was thinking about a letter we got from GMHC in 1985 after we responded to a cardiac arrest for a man with AIDS. I can't figure out how to paste the letter in, but the gist of it was that the director knew so many horror stories of how AIDS patients were treated, he wanted to commend us for our compassionate and empathetic care and extend to us the gratitude of the man's friends and "the community who has suffered the blunt of the ignorance of this disease." I still have the letter. I still can't decide how I feel about it.

1985 February 2

A cold night. Busy./We get sent from Times Square to the Roosevelt Area/for a cardiac arrest. A man lies on the carpet/pink froth draining from his mouth./Pulmonary edema. Essentially, aerated blood plasma/that filled his lungs and overflowed./The EMTs do CPR. Lucy tubes him./His peripheral veins are collapsed so I start a central line/sticking a long needle into his neck/until I hit the internal jugular./Blood flashes back, and I thread the catheter into his heart./We all know he has AIDS./It was the first thing the friend who let us in said./But he wasn't expected to die so soon.

Each of us made a deliberate decision to do the things/we would have done automatically for someone who didn't have AIDS./The patient died. He'd been down for too long./After we pronounced him, we cleaned him up and put him in the bed./Sopped up the blood and mucous as best we could/pulled out the tubes and needles/and tried to make it look as if he'd died a peaceful death./Like we did with all our patients.

I felt proud when I got the letter/But then I felt bad for feeling proud. Why was I proud/when it was just a decent thing to do?/To treat a man like a man/and be kind to the person who loved him?

©2016 Maggie Dubris