Ryan White Voices
Peter Gordon: Transcript for “Redirecting My Life to HIV Care”
I was working as a car mechanic back in 1982, and saw one of the first, saw The New York Times description of the first cases of [Pneumocystis pneumonia] PCP that had been identified in Los Angeles and New York. And, a year or so later, I loaded up the trunk of my car and headed off to a state university at Stony Brook in New York. And I sort of redirected myself, not so much because of that one article, but I remember being struck by the report and I come from a background where I wanted to be sure that contributions I made with my life could not be altered into producing a better bomb or something.
Early on people didn’t know what the etiologic agent really was of HIV and I can remember when I would attend rounds back in the eighties, early eighties—individuals—it was difficult sometimes to identify a cadre of nurses, or clinicians and other care providers, who felt comfortable caring for people living with HIV. In this case, it was children who were admitted, because they weren’t sure how the disease was spread. I watched, and rotated here, on rotations that were established for the medical residents, one that was specifically to care for people living with the virus who were admitted into the HIV service. It was busy every week, it got busier every month—it got busier.
The epidemic of tuberculosis, you know co-located here in New York, and by the mid-1990s, um, certainly by ’93-’94, many, many, many, many patients, 30-40 patients at a time, were on service, on the inpatient side. Many of them at times at risk or coinfected with tuberculosis. Resources were stretched absolutely to the max and people, if you managed to patch them together to get them to the outpatient—this was pre-combination antiretroviral therapy—you would watch the cohort of patients that you cared for one by one pass away.
You learn a lot about life when you think back on the people who faced this prospect, that of, in many ways a certainty of, of death with a remarkable grace and bravery. To this day, I think about a number of people who just missed, by a matter of years, you know, an opportunity to what we now know will be, hopefully, full and healthy lives.