Friday, January 18, 2013

Everyday heros

Many years ago, when I was new to nursing and HIV was not as well understood, I had a patient who was HIV+. I remember that patient not because I was scared of him, but because of the attitude so many of the staff members had about him. I remember that the support staff was running around growling that he was a "double glove" patient and the other nurses were not really much better. I remember telling at least a few people, very angrily, that the entire reason we WEAR gloves is because anyone we encounter could have something in their blood we could contract. The only difference about that patient was that we knew what he had before we entered his room. I remember when that man was ready to be discharged, I was the only person willing to handle his care so the poor man could go home.

Back when I had my only known HIV+ patient, I also had a very young baby brother we had recently adopted. My baby brother entered our family because his adoption agency could not find anyone else willing to adopt him. When his birthmother went to seek prenatal care, she lived in a state that autmoatically did HIV testing. She found out she was HIV+. When my baby brother was born, he tested positive for the virus as well, despite his birthmother taking AZT through her pregnancy.

My brother does not have HIV. A newborn baby will carry it's mother's antibiodies for up to 18 months before they will convert to negative on the antibiody test. The antibody test is merely the body's attempt to fight the virus. The antigen test shows whether the actual virus is present in the body, and my brother never tested positive for the antigen test. Most families were simply too scared to even try to take that baby into their homes.

These days, I've seen a movement in adoptive circles that has swung too far the other direction. I've seen a lot of adoptive families who espouse that HIV no longer kills, that it's merely a nuiasance disease and that it has little to no impact on a person's life. It's true that patients are living longer, but it is not merely a nuisance disease.

Today, I had my second HIV patient ever. The first thing I learned is that the treatments for the virus today has been whittled down to one pill. That, for the record, is absolutely amazing to me. The second thing I realized is that this patient, who was suffering complications of the disease, who found out they were having even more complications and the somewhat bad day went reallly bad for them, touched my heart. I can honestly say this patient was one of the sweetest, kindest patients I have ever had the pleasure to work with before. I can also say after seeing how poorly things were going for this patient, I just wanted to hug them. I didn't. I think the patient would have thought I lost my mind.

Just before this patient came into the office today, we had been discussing that while it's true some people just get handed a really crummy deck of cards in life. However, at some point, you still must CHOOSE how you are going to interact with the world and what you are going to do with your life. This patient has clearly choosen to accept some horrible circumstances with a smile and joy. It was a strong reminder to me. I'm glad I had the opportunity to meet this patient and the pleasure of being able to touch their life at a moment in time when they needed to be touched as well.


  1. Have you read "My Own Country" by Abraham Verghese? It's a memoir about the advent of AIDS in rural eastern Tennessee. Your first paragraph reminded me of it.

  2. I have not. Thank you for the recommendation. I'll check it out. Perrhaps the similiaries are that the author caught what was the sad reality of the situation nearly two decades ago with this diease. I would like to believe things have gotten better...and then Kansas goes and passes a law to make it legal to quarantine HIV patients. Still so far to go.