The beginning of the end of AIDS? The article with that title jumped out at me last week, as I did my weekly table-of-contents scan of The New England Journal of Medicine. I wasn’t prepared for the flood of emotion that overcame me. The beginning of the end? Could it really be?
For those of us who did our medical training in the late ’80s and early ’90s, AIDS saturated our lives. The whole era had a medieval feel, with visceral suffering and human decimation all around. Death was vivid, brutal and omnipresent.
Bellevue Hospital, where I trained, was one of those city hospitals that felt like ground zero for the plague. Every third admission seemed to be a patient in his mid-20s who looked as if he’d arrived from Dachau or Biafra, with nary a T-cell to his name. Horrific Kaposi’s sarcoma ulcerated these patients’ bodies. P.C.P., a brutal form of pneumonia, strangled their breathing. Fevers and infections plundered every organ system. What few defenses their bodies mustered were pummeled into insignificance.
The utter relentlessness of the disease pummeled the doctors-in-training as well. It felt as if we were slogging knee-deep in death, with a horizon that was a monochrome of despair. Witnessing your own generation dying off is not for the faint of heart. (Read the complete Op-Ed in the New York Times, July 28, 2012)
Danielle Ofri is the author of three books, including “Medicine in Translation: Journeys with My Patients,” which is about learning the individual stories of patients. She is an Associate Professor of Medicine at New York University School of Medicine and editor-in-chief of the Bellevue Literary Review. Her newest book: “What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine” will be published by Beacon Press in 2013.