HIV/AIDS

I have been there upon “The Road Not Taken” most of my life. And perhaps I should say it began with meeting Robert Frost when I was about 15 and then ended with turning my life around through many acts of traveling those roads that few others will take. Those roads have always been exceptionally rewarding. Too many fear the road not taken. Their lives meanwhile stifle. Oh, I always feared that road, but I also always plunged right in holding my nose so as not to drown. So not quite knowing if I am doing the right thing regarding the poetry prompt, I shall use for my allusion Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. C.K. Williams often uses two lines repeated to create his poetry. It is a form I enjoy.

The Oxygen Concentrator

One evening I got a frantic call from Chicago, the boss said
The drivers had refused oxygen delivery to an AIDS patient

It was 1986 HIV/AIDS was “a road not taken” by many
But I could not refuse this fork in the road

I was incensed by the refusal of care to anyone
Everyone who is ill deserves proper care

I carried the heavy equipment
Barely managing it up the steep stairs

I knocked upon the door was greeted by a frantic mother
Horrified that no one would come to the aid of her son

No one would touch him no one seemed to care
What is this world made of I thought to myself

I had heard the stories and I understood
The need for impeccable and sanitary care

I went to the bedroom to greet her son
He was under a tent clutching tissues sobbing

I opened the tent removing the sides
I administered the equipment and gave my instructions

I provided education
I spoke of sanitary habits and their necessity

When done I sat upon his bed and we had a long hug
I feared nothing knowing that the contact allayed his fears

His fears were lessened for someone cared
I knew at that moment what my future held

Days later I became immersed in the world of AIDS/HIV
I would do this for thirteen years with a few off for burnout

This aspect of my career gave me significant reward
It was nothing less that a career of love

Robert Frost died in 1963. He was the first poet whom I have ever met. He sat down next to me on the tail gate of our dark green station wagon once the horse trailer had been unhitched and started speaking to me. It was a hot Vermont August day in 1961 and we were rooting around in boxes for bottles of water for ourselves after a long ride on the horses. We found nothing but warm soda. Yuck! I was so thirsty. Robert Frost has many famous poems however, where I hail from “The Road Not Taken” is perhaps his most famous and the poem that inspired me today.

I was introduced to C.K. Williams in 2008 when I came to university to finish my masters degree. I am very fond of his work and I love his manner of writing two lines together. I had been assured that I was up to date on all of my credits in 1998 when I had finished them. By 2008 when I returned to do my thesis that had changed and I was required to take 9 more. I chose to take them all in Creative Writing. What fun that was!

Placed at Into The Bardo relating to “Allusion.” It is also placed at dVerse as a subject not to discuss.

30 thoughts on “HIV/AIDS

  1. The way AIDS was seen in the eighties was scaring… there has recently been a drama serie on Swedish TV called “Never dry the tears without the gloves” (losely translated) I can see that sentiment in your words… and amazing paralell to Frost… Thank your for sharing this

  2. This got me to the core. I was nursing in SF during these years. We knew so little about AIDS, suited up like we were going to the moon. How horrible. In ’89 I was privileged to be nurse manager of one of the first AIDS units in the City…eventually went into home care and worked on the IV team, mostly with AIDS patients. Those were years of uncertainty and so much blame on the part of “righteousness.” (Another coincidence, I managed an O2/DME company for a few years). It pains me to think of what these, for the most part, young and talented people had to endure in those back then, even now. God forgive those who were not willing (or afraid) to care. And kudos to you for doing so. Thank you for this.

    • Victoria, thank you so much for the work that you did. My AIDS work provided me with so much more than I gave. I believe, and it sounds like bragging but I really think that I had the best pentamidine program in the world. I am very proud of it. As an RT providing a breathing treatment properly is a no brainer. But what I added to my program was crisis counseling for patient and family and lover, a lending library and basic social work. By social work I mean that I made sure everyone had a good doctor, services needed and learning about the disease. I called the SF and NYC hospitals to see what they did in their pentamidine programs. They administered medicine only. Thank you again.

      • Liz, I thought twice about bringing up my connection with AIDS also, for the same reason as you, but to me there’s still fear and judgment and I think it’s important to let it be known that these lives are precious in the eyes of the Creator and that love comes first. My very first AIDS patient was, by the way, a woman, a nurse who worked in the same hospital as I did. She acquired it from a blood transfusion before we understood it. And good for you for developing the respiratory approach in your community!

        • I was truly blessed. I had a great boss. I worked in a huge university hospital … you know the kind, you get lost in it. I had worked there in 74 too and during orientation was told that there were 15 miles of corridor to navigate. Anyway he left me alone until doctors in the community who treated AIDS patients contacted the hospital administration to convey that their patients loved this program and me. They could not understand why. My clients brought me gifts (and you know that you cannot accept gifts – I was allowed to do so for obvious reasons). Anyway the president of the system wished to meet me and visit the program, so my boss conducted that visit. My program was also written up in an RT magazine. On another note my mother was incapable of hearing about the program without uttering words of revulsion.

          This program which I created was ideal for me as I have been very close to the gay community since I was 13 years old. I saw over 500 clients most of them gay men. And most but not all white. This was a time when (and I live in the bible belt) parents were disowning their children (good Christian families of course). My few black gay male clients were quite simply the loves of my life. They were truly rejected by family. It was horrific.

          I was also deeply involved in AIDS related charity work. You speak of your first patient being a woman. I had maybe 2 woman in the program. I also had an ex husband who purposefully gave AIDS to several women. But that is a story for another time. He contracted AIDS in every manner possible. Thanks Victoria for sharing with me.

    • Awe Mary I was the blessed one. I have never done such rewarding work … even after I retired from Respiratory Therapy and opened my own fashion shop. Nothing on earth will come close to this. I loved it. Well, think of it I was being paid to love people in a community that was like a home for me. Hugs!

  3. nice…def there was much more of a scare in the 80s as many did not know what they were dealing with it…i remember when magic came out that he had AIDS it was sucha shock…and it was used as well to scare people or stated it was judgement from god…ugh….a career of love…that is a beautiful think liz…

    • Thank you my friend. I am sitting here counting upon my fingers to see if you were around there 😉 As I said, it was I who was blessed. And I saw many a man who had grown up in very strict Christian families. Families that now rejected them. I did have a very peculiar safety mechanism. At first people did not understand. But, I could NOT go to funerals. It was a pain that I could not engage with. Eventually people knew and understood and accepted that behavior in me.

  4. This is so sad, but I know you touched a lot of lives. We’ve come so far with our understanding of the virus. My husband and I have a good friend who has been HIV positive for more than 15 years. We take the kids over there to see his farm animals (mostly birth of new ones)… I’m not afraid. We do talk about it, though, which I think is extremely important.

    • I am so very glad that you have this relationship with your friend and that you take your kids to see him. This is a genuine expression of love … something we as Christians (well I probably should not call myself that anymore) are meant to demonstrate to/for the ill.

  5. Liz, I think its wonderful that you chose this particular topic. That was a horrible time and one we should not forget … there is much suffering in HIV/AIDS, but there was much unnecessary suffering… suffering that people CHOSE to inflict … this happens all the time, different people and different issues, same story. We need not to forget because it’s the only way to remember what fools we humans can be. Maybe then we won’t do these things again.

    I was working in SF during that whole business and the only media that provided support to these folks and information was the “Bay Area Reporter.” It was awful because every neighborhood you went into – but especially the Castro – people were dying and many looked it, looked like walking dead. Information – not sensationalism – was needed and only the “Reporter” rose to the occasion. So sad. The pain. The paranoia.

    Bravo to you for the poem and your ethical action.

    Thank you for particiapting in our event. Victoria rocks, doesn’t she? 🙂 You too! 🙂

    I hope today finds you feeling better.

    Warmest regards,
    Jamie

  6. Such a terrible and terrifying time…it takes a brave person to stand up amidst such circumstances…thank goodness that fellow and his mother had you. I can’t imagine how they must have been feeling, a little love goes such a long way. People such as yourself forged a better outlook for aids victims. Wonderful poem and how lovely that you knew Robert Frost…wow…thoroughly enjoyed my visit today…uplifting stuff!

  7. “The road not taken” is one of my all time favorite poems and I must say, I envy you for knowing Mr. Frost!
    As for the topic of your poem, as Jamie says, we people can be fools … many times. But it’s good to know that someone like you was on the right place at the right time!

  8. This really got me in the heart, Liz. I was working in the Tofino hospital as a cleaner in the early 90’s and came upon a man crying in his hospital bed. I asked him if I could help him. He said he was cold and wanted a blanket but the nurse wouldnt come into his room because he had AIDS. I was appalled. I got him two blankets, and tucked him in, quietly cleaned his room and carried on. When I went back later to check on him, I was happy to see a kind nurse had come on. She sat by his bed, holding his hand, talking to him, they even were laughing. Just such a difference, when one comes from kindness instead of Self and Fear. Good for you, working in the HIV field. Such meaningful work. And God knows they need all the people with heart that they can find.

  9. What a wonderful story as background to your poem – and a very moving poem. I was a child back then but I remember that sense of fear, of ignorance, of vicious rhetoric, when all I felt was sadness. You are an amazing, brave and loyal person, as well as a talented poet.

  10. I used to work in the fire service, and as an EMR we worked with the medics on many calls to those at home. It always shocks me how afraid people are for themselves, rather than fearful of being hurtful to another person in their fear. This is a really great piece, and I love the backstory. Great poets who inspired you. And bless you for caring.

  11. Inspiring and insightful poem and post. It does seem that it’s fear that causes people to abandon or stay away. There was a campaign last year or so in Singapore, trying to educate folks about the disease and encouraging folks to be more supportive of friend or family member with the disease.

Your words of response are greatly appreciated.

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