`We Need to Talk,' Aids Patient Tells `Awareness' Crowd
Peggy Bradbury St. Charles Post, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
As three young men and one of their mothers stepped to the lectern for AIDS Awareness Day, Daryl Anderson wrapped each in a hug.
Anderson, a biology professor at Lindenwood College, served as host for the event Saturday at St. Joseph Health Center.
Perhaps undone by the gesture of affection, each of the three young men - all of whom have AIDS - was unable to speak for a moment or two afterward.
But talking about the disease was what they had come for. And they wanted the audience to do more than listen.
"We need to talk about this," said Bill, speaking to an audience of 50 or so, some of them teen-agers. "Talk to your friends," he said. "If no one talks about AIDS, people will continue to die."
For AIDS victims, however, talk can be expensive. Those who admit to having the HIV virus that causes AIDS may loose health insurance, jobs and the love and support of friends, relatives and co-workers. Even literature for AIDS victims warns against disclosure of the disease. Each speaker asked to be identified only by given name.
Mothers who have AIDS are afraid to talk about their condition for fear their children will be stigmatized, Anderson said. "What you have is a sick woman trying to take care of her kids without telling anyone she is sick," she said.
St. Charles County's response to the AIDS epidemic has been "woefully inadequate," said Anderson. Information is scarce, and AIDS patients have few resources, like testing facilities, food pantries, transportation and even care for pets while they are in the hospital.
Anderson said that an AIDS victim told her, "One of the worst things is that by the time I make myself a sandwich, I'm too tired to eat it."
Anderson meets with the Positive Living Support Group for AIDS, which includes victims and their care-givers. The group, the only AIDS support group in St. Charles County, meets the first and third Friday each month at the health center.
Anderson said, "Churches need to talk about this more. So do corporations. Some provide help for employees with AIDS, but they don't counsel co-workers about the disease."
Keith, one of the panelists, said some people warned him not to speak at the seminar because it would cause problems for him. He said, "But I thought, `What can they do to me? I've got the ultimate.' "
The men talked about the disease. The HIV virus attacks the immune system, so victims die of infections that the body can no longer fight off.
"Colds. They're deadly to us," said Keith. "When I get a cold, I wonder: Is this the time? Is this the thing that's going to take me, the common cold?"
Bill said, "It's living hell, is what it is. I can't tell you how many friends I've had who've passed away. . . . That's the hard part."
Deanna, Bill's mother, said, "You live on the edge because you don't know from one day to the next what it's going to bring. …