JCAHO must be coming!
Let’s see what we have…
Two different sizes of washbasins…
Two different sizes of emesis basins…
A bundt cake pan…
A cheese grater…
A salad bowl…
Six cups of varying sizes that you can’t use when you are NPO.
Two urinals, one of which is guaranteed to make any man feel inadequate,
And a nice ice cold metal bedpan with a “pucker” factor so high you couldn’t produce a BM if your life depended on it.
Even our industrious nurse appears to doubt its efficiency!
Paul was stunningly handsome.
About 30 years old, give-or-take.
He didn’t know he was sick.
His initial destination that summer day had been a concert. Three of his friends waited in the car while he ran back into the house for a couple of Tylenol. “Woke up with a bit of a headache,” he had said.
He ended up in ICU.
Per his friends, he came back out of the house, turned, locked the door…
…and had a grand mal seizure.
911 was activated and Paul was taken to the nearest emergency department.
Unlike a regular seizure, he did not regain consciousness. He was placed on a ventilator and in full isolation in the Intensive Care Unit.
CT scans were relatively primitive in the mid 80s, maybe it showed up on a regular x-ray.
It’s hard to remember after twenty some-odd years.
He had a brain infection.
Multiple cysts noted.
It was a rare opportunistic infection.
The sign of a depressed immune system.
Paul had AIDS.
Just the fact that Paul was in full-blown isolation tells you something of the mindset of health care providers in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.
It wasn’t because he was immunosuppressed, it was because the staff was afraid.
It’s hard to recollect just how much was known about AIDS at the time.
It was known that it was spread by sexual contact, was found in body fluids and was 100% fatal. It had/was decimating the gay community.
Some people in health care were panic-stricken.
One nurse I knew left ICU and went to ER so he wouldn’t have to take care of AIDS patients.
Anyone want to find the logic in that?
The private room. The door shut, always. Nurses, doctors and respiratory therapists donning full isolation garb, including masks and foot covers just to enter the room. Even hair covers!
Good lord, how many diseases transmitted in hair can you name?
Paul’s family and friends never gowned up.
The kept a 24 hour vigil, every day, two at a time the entire time he was in the ICU.
Talking to him. Holding his hand. Filling him in on what was happening outside the hospital.
His family had the hardest time dealing not only with Paul’s condition but the diagnosis and the fact that Paul was gay.
They did not know until Paul’s friends felt they had to know. They didn’t believe it. They couldn’t believe it. They wouldn’t believe it.
All they knew was that their son was dying. Of AIDS.
A family desperately clinging to denial is a painful thing to witness.
For two weeks, Paul never responded. Not to voice. Not to touch. Not to pain.
One day, his friend Alice was at the bedside, holding his hand and talking.
“Are you doing okay?” she asked.
His nurse nearly fainted against the wall.
Evidently the treatment regimen for the infection had worked.
Paul became alert and eventually extubated.
He did have some residual neurological problems and lived out the rest of his days in a county AIDS unit.
I heard that his family never did accept either the diagnosis or Paul’s sexual orientation.
If you have never read “And the Band Played On – Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic” by Randy Shilts, I suggest you buy it and read it. Published in 1987, it is a powerful history of the first five years of the AIDS epidemic.
Get ready. You’ll be shocked. Dismayed. Frustrated. Angry.
You won’t be able to put it down.
You’ll realize how far we’ve come since those early days.
And you’ll realize just how much more we need to do.