on day-to-day life on the hospital wards. Panic was spreading among the hospital personnel. It seemed as if everyone was worried about being infected. Some nurses refused to bathe patients with AIDS, transportation workers refused to move patients with AIDS, and in some cases residents avoided caring for AIDS patients. I would be embarrassed to enter elevators and find patients who obviously had AIDS going to the x-ray department or some other part of the hospital being transported by people wearing surgical gowns, masks, caps, gloves, and booties. In defiance, I made an effort to talk to these patients if I knew them, wish them well, and touch them as we parted company. Walking down the corridors I would overhear nurses’ assistants saying to each other things like, “I don’t care if they fire me. There is no way I’m emptying so and so’s bed pan.” I made a point to go up to these groups and tell them not to believe what they were reading in the newspapers. I had touched these patients in the course of examining them as much as anyone, going back to before we even knew the disease existed, and I was still alive and well. Usually my pleas for rationality were met with quiet disbelief.
In the beginning, the hospital gave each patient with AIDS a private isolation room. This was one of the few “perks” associated with the disease. Two years into the epidemic, this policy had to be abandoned, as every private room on our floor was occupied by a patient with AIDS. There were concerns about putting AIDS patients in the same room with non-AIDS patients. There were concerns about putting AIDS patients in the same room together because they might infect each other with opportunistic infections. There were concerns about putting gays with AIDS in the same room for fear of illicit sexual activity. These discussions took place not once but with ever-increasing frequency as the number of patients continued to climb. Eventually economics won out. Any qualms about who a patient’s roommate might be had to be abandoned in the face of the overwhelming number of patients who needed beds.
Finally, there were fears about taking patients with AIDS home. Families of victims couldn’t cope, either because of the overwhelm-