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The Day that AIDs Became Personal

Updated: Feb 27

by Katy Hoover RN

Photo of a nurse wearing a surgical mask.

I was an LVN working staff relief. It was the beginning of what would eventually be categorized as the AIDS pandemic. It was the early 1980s at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California. When I arrived for my shift, I was assigned to the medical floor where I had worked many times before.

I was very comfortable walking into staff report. I received my assignment, but before we started our separate report, the nursing supervisor addressed us all,” We have AIDS patients on the floor, and I want to remind you that we do not know how AIDS is transmitted, so you will need to mask, glove and gown before you enter any room.”

This was the beginning of what would be known as universal precautions. I had cared for a few other AIDS patients, so I was comfortable with my own compliance regarding these new precautions. I also was not in a risk group.

My personal report started with the two of the patients that I was assigned to who were already on the floor, and then on to the patient who was being brought to his room as we were in report. I was told, “We’ve had him before, he's so sweet. He's young and has just been diagnosed with AIDS. He was in a car accident on the way to his own wedding rehearsal just a few years ago, when he almost died. Now he has AIDS from the multiple blood transfusions he had received. He is really sick."

I started my shift and when I saw that my new patient was in his room, I walked over. His chart was at the foot of the bed, so I picked it up just as I was pulling back the curtain and there I saw my high school friend James!!!

I felt SLAMMED by such emotion, that I walked out of the room in tears. I went to the break room to cry and figure out what had just happened to me. As I processed the recognition of my old friend, the tragedy of his health, and the reality that if it could happen to him, it (AIDS), COULD HAPPEN TO ME!

Had I been exposed? Would I take AIDS home to my children? Did I take precautions perfectly? I examined each question and knew that this was my friend, James. I knew that I felt compassion for his tragedy, and that I had not done anything that would expose myself or my children. I was his nurse and today, during my shift I could make his day better.

I returned to his room. I apologized for running out and I started his assessment, identifying his symptoms and the physician's orders. I told him that I would do what he needed and then I would go to take care of my other patients; but after that, I would have time to return and catch up if he felt up to it.

I did return, and it was wonderful to be re-acquainted with this amazing, courageous man. He still had a sense of humor and yes, a sadness at the reality of his circumstance.

I never saw James again.

But I was reminded of him when Jennifer told me about:

The Nutcracker is Already Dancing – The HIVs and the HIV-Nots, by Dr. Cary Savitch-

the infectious disease physician who was the expert on AIDS during our careers.

Photo of a book about HIV / AIDS in the early days of the virus.

Hey all! Jenn here. In my book, I talk about the early days of AIDs and how we all struggled to understand the unknown virus until one doctor had the courage to speak up about a subject that was, at that time, a social taboo. His book is a great read!

Get your copy here

Photo of a book about dealing with grief after the death of a loved one.

A special shout out to Katy for submitting this story; it is truly an off-the-chart story because we don't document the intense feelings we experience when caring for some patients.

Katy Hoover has written her own book of poetry accompanied by her very own photography. It's a lovely little book that she wrote after experiencing the tragic loss of her son. It's a great read for anyone who's lost someone...

It's called: Changing Tides Poetry of Love, Loss and New Life

Pick up your copy here

Published by Jennifer Tipton / This post may contain affiliate links.

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