AIDS Doctors: Voices from the Epidemic

AIDS Doctors: Voices from the Epidemic

AIDS Doctors: Voices from the Epidemic

AIDS Doctors: Voices from the Epidemic

Synopsis

Today, AIDS has been indelibly etched in our consciousness. Yet it was less than twenty years ago that doctors confronted a sudden avalanche of strange, inexplicable, seemingly untreatable conditions that signaled the arrival of a devastating new disease. Bewildered, unprepared, and pushed to the limit of their diagnostic abilities, a select group of courageous physicians nevertheless persevered. This unique collective memoir tells their story. Based on interviews with nearly eighty doctors whose lives and careers have centered on the AIDS epidemic from the early 1980s to the present, this candid, emotionally textured account details the palpable anxiety in the medical profession as it experienced a rapid succession of cases for which there was no clinical history. The physicians interviewed chronicle the roller coaster experiences of hope and despair, as they applied newly developed, often unsuccessful therapies. Yet these physicians who chose to embrace the challenge confronted more than just the sense of therapeutic helplessness in dealing with a disease they could not conquer. They also faced the tough choices inherent in treating a controversial, sexually and intravenously transmitted illness as many colleagues simply walked away. Many describe being gripped by a sense of mission: by the moral imperative to treat the disempowered and despised. Nearly all describe a common purpose, an esprit de corps that bound them together in a terrible yet exhilarating war against an invisible enemy. This extraordinary oral history forms a landmark effort in the understanding of the AIDS crisis. Carefully collected and eloquently told, the doctors' narratives reveal the tenacity and unquenchable optimism that has paved the way for taming a 20th-century plague.

Excerpt

The year 2000 is a remarkable moment to look back on AIDS in America. Almost 20 years have passed since the first cases that signaled the epidemic's onset were reported by federal health officials. The years were filled with great suffering, especially in gay communities where young men in the prime of life fell victim. Simultaneously in some cities, later in others, that suffering was experienced in the poor African-American and Latino neighborhoods where intravenous drug use served to fuel the spread of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection. Drug users infected each other and, in turn, infected their sexual partners and their babies. Over the course of the epidemic years, more than 400,000 men, women, and children died. It was this terrible world of AIDS-related suffering that framed the lives of doctors who came to care for those who were afflicted. This book is about their experiences and their memories.

Striking therapeutic achievements -- the discovery of powerful antiviral drugs -- in the past five years have radically transformed the threat posed by AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). People infected with HIV live longer before they develop symptoms of AIDS. Those who become sick can have their illnesses controlled, thus prolonging their lives. Death, which so marked the epidemic, is no longer a constant presence. While infection continues to spread and individuals continue to fall ill and succumb, the sense of crisis has abated. Memories of what it was like to confront a grim, disfiguring, contagious, and lethal threat at a time when medicine was all but powerless have already begun to fade.

In this oral history, we have sought to capture an important perspective on the epidemic's course before it is lost, to preserve the memory of a long and dreadful period for those who may come to look back, uncomprehendingly, on what it was to be a doctor caring for those afflicted by AIDS in the epidemic's first two decades.

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