Volunteering (2)

Of all my time spent in helping others, my five years of working with AIDS patients made the deepest impression on me.

It was the mid-eighties. Gay men were dying from an unknown disease called Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. No one knew how the disease was transmitted. As a result, people were afraid to touch AIDS victims. Men were literally dying on the street because no one would go near them. I couldn’t stand by and do nothing. So I volunteered to help.

I knew there was some danger—we didn’t know how much—that I’d contract AIDS from contact with the victims. But I had to do it anyway. I considered that I’d risked my life on the battlefield to help others. If I had to risk it again to help those who were desperately in need of help, I’d do it again. But I had to seek the permission of my wife. If I came down with AIDS, so would she. She encouraged me to go ahead.

Several years later, we learned that AIDS was transmitted by bodily fluids. I was safe. But among my duties was to give my patients injections. Once, after administering the injection, I accidentally stabbed my thumb with the needle. I was lucky. I didn’t come down with the disease.

I took care of AIDS patients for five years. I had seven, all gay. They all died. I loved each one of them as my brother and grieved over each death.

By the end of the 1980s, science had begun to find ways to prevent men from dying of AIDS. The crisis was over. I moved on and volunteered to work in a hospice where I took care of the dying for the next seven years.

More tomorrow.

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