Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome: AIDS


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     AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a blood born disease that was first recognized in America in the early 1980’s, around the time Rock Hudson passed away. It is believed that it was first passed thru to humans by monkey’s in Africa. “The battle between humans and disease was nowhere more bitterly fought than here in the fetid equatorial climate, where heat and humidity fuel the generation of new life forms. One historian has suggested that humans, who first evolved in Africa eons ago migrated north to Asia and Europe simple to get to climates that were less hospitable to the deadly microbes the tropics so efficiently spread.” (Shilts, 5)
     “HIV may already infect one to two million Americans and spreads to forty thousand more people each year.” (Klitzman, 7) This disease wreaks havoc in places like Africa, Europe, South America, Asia, and the United States, as well as countless other places around the world. “With Modern roads and jet travel, no corner of the earth was very remote anymore; never again could diseases linger undetected for centuries among a distant people without finding some route to fan out across the planet.” (Shilts, 5)
     AIDS is mainly a sexually transmitted disease, statistically attributed to the homosexual community, that is transferred by people who are unaware they are infected. It can also be transferred between people through tainted blood transfusions as well as the sharing of infected needles among users. AIDS is a devastating and debilitating disease that may not show up for a period of ten years or longer after the original contact. By this time it might be too late to do anything about it , although, there are various cocktails of drugs that could control the disease and extend life for a considerable length of time.
     Western society has been able to arrest the spread of AIDS with sexual education and early testing but where the disease first started, in Africa, almost one third of the population is now afflicted with the disease. In order to combat this problem in Africa, the governments of the western world have shown a concentrated effort by sending billions of dollars in aid to educate and treat people who are infected with this disease.
     AIDS has reached many people from all different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and areas around the world. This is a scary fact considering many of those people could be unaware they are infected with HIV.

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This lack of awareness, which could be averted with early testing, definitely heightens the possibility of almost anybody getting HIV and transferring it to someone else. An example of this lack of awareness, where a man unaware he had AIDS had given it to his wife, comes from “AIDS Memoir, Journal of an HIV-Positive Mother” by Catherine Wyatt-Morley. In this part of her journal, Catherine who was to have a routine hysterectomy was diagnosed with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) – The virus that causes AIDS. Catherine told her doctors “ But doctor, there have been no signs, no symptoms, no warning. I’m married and have been faithful to Tim,” I said, as I looked at my husband, whose beautiful brown eyes were filling with tears, “ I have not shot any drugs. I don’t understand. I don’t know anything about HIV.” (Catherine Wyatt-Morley, 5)
     Once someone finds out he or she has AIDS they do not just have to roll over and wait to die. Some people choose the other route, to get help and fight to stay alive as a functional human being. There might be a lot of stress in your life due to the AIDS virus but there are definitely ways to cope with this and there are many people and groups which you can turn to for emotional, physical, and spiritual help.
     If your way to cope with AIDS is spiritual you might want to turn to the Catholic Church for help. Religion could be the salvation someone needs in order to cope with the stress that AIDS brings. However, this way to cope may not be the right way. “ HIV is also heavily stigmatized and raises a series of moral issues in patients’ and others’ eyes. The Catholic church, political conservatives, and others have long censured homosexuality and sexual freedom, and drug abuse is considered a scourge by almost all of American society. As a result, many HIV-infected individuals feel they have done something “wrong” by being gay, or “too promiscuous,” or using drugs in the first place.” (Klitzman, 8)
     When faced with the prospect of death religion seems to take the burden and the stress off of the infected persons’ shoulders. A confession by a prison inmate in “Being Positive, The Lives of Men and Women with AIDS” shows how he coped with being in jail and having AIDS, a definite stressor, by turning to religion. “ All of a sudden, though, I started getting very religious. I started really believing in God and the Bible. I wasn’t religious when I was young. I was raised in the Pentecostal church. On Sundays my mother would drag me to church with her. I now said to God, ‘Please, I don’t want to die in jail.’ All I wanted to do was be able to die on the outside. I’ve done about seventeen years in prison, by the way, in and out all my life for drugs. All I kept thinking now was, damn, I’m going to die in jail! Didn’t I do enough time already?” (Klitzman, 95)
     People infected with AIDS go through stressful situations everyday not only because of how they feel, but mostly because of how other people treat them and their disease. AIDS patients go to health care institutions and talk to health care workers in order to better their lives and find alternative approaches that they might not be doing already, in order to better themselves. These institutions and workers shape their patients’ approaches on HIV but in the process they can also stigmatize patients. This stigmatization was experienced by Wilma Smith and says it “ hurts the most. They of all people should know better. One x-ray technician, as soon as he saw ‘HIV’ on my chart, put on two masks, two gowns, and three pairs of gloves. He took one x-ray film and then had to do another. So he helped me onto the table—with two gloves on—and then took those off and put on two other pairs. It upset me. Aren’t these people informed?”
     Stigma can also arise from both the gay and straight communities. In order to downplay this stigma there are certain social groups to help. One such social group is a “Body Positive social for HIV-positive people.” Todd Crenshaw explains “Once I got there it was like a gay bar. Everyone was standing and modeling, which I never was really into anyway. Everybody also denied having ARC (AIDS Related Complex), and said they were just HIV-Positive. In the gay community there are ‘positives’ and ‘negatives.’ (He separated the two with both hands in the air.) When I’ve met and told some people I’m positive, a mist comes down in front of their face. I had a date with a guy I met in the gym who had expressed a lot of interest in me. But when I said I was positive, the date just ended right there. He never called me again.”
     The most stressful situation facing people infected with AIDS has to be telling their children eventually their going to die. To me, being on the other side of the AIDS epidemic, this situation is viewed very delicately and is seen in this way through Catherine Wyatt-Morleys’ journal. Catherine, being HIV-Positive, was faced with having to tell her children that she had HIV. She described how it felt, “Oh, how I wish I could tell them, but I have no words to explain this living nightmare, this invasion of the enemy.” It’s bad enough for Catherine that she was infected and now her stressful situation has led her to make the decision whether or not to tell her children. She ultimately decides to inform her children about her situation because her family are the ones who are going to be there to help her through her ordeal.
     In reading “Being Positive, The Lives of Men and Women with AIDS”, “AIDS Memoir, Journal of an HIV-Positive Mother”, and a few chapters of “ And The Band Played On” I learned a tremendous amount about how AIDS effects the personal lives of people it encounters. Knowing about their personal lives and battle with AIDS helped me to better understand what stressors they go through, how they cope with the stressors related to the disease, and who they turn to for help.


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