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The Zombie Curse: A Doctor’s 25-Year Journey into the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic in Haiti
ing debility of the patients or because of fear of contagion. Boarding homes and nursing homes frequently refused to take those who were too ill to be cared for by their families. Our wards became “God’s waiting room.” One poor patient with Kaposi’s sarcoma spent four months waiting to die on my ward service, simply because he had no place else to go. During all but the final week of that hospital stay he was alert and capable of caring for himself.
Pressure was increasing from two directions to try to get me to move Margaret’s practice. From the clinic administration I would hear about alleged complaints from the private patients about sharing the waiting room, examining rooms, and bathroom with AIDS patients. Are the examining rooms wiped down with alcohol each time after they’re used? Are the toilet seats disinfected? And thank God we have disposable speculums! These objections were easy to deal with. I told the administrators that there was no evidence a person could get AIDS from just sitting where someone with the disease had sat. Margaret was taking care of a problem no one else was willing to face and that was not going to go away. Yes, I agreed, thank God for plastic speculums. (It’s hard to believe now, but disposable speculums were still an innovation at Jackson Memorial Hospital in the early 1980s!)
It was more difficult for me to deal with complaints from fellow faculty. They had known of our study from the beginning. They were friends. They were working for the same goals that I was. They cared about our patients. They told me that this was no way to run a private practice. The AIDS patients were never going to be a central part of our job, which focused on teaching general medicine. Private practice development was more important. If I wanted the private practice to succeed, the AIDS patients would have to go. One faculty member, who is usually calm and unflappable, was particularly upset. “This office has become Miami’s answer to the Turkish baths. Fanny found two gays fondling each other behind the door to her office. How would you feel if you were a private patient sitting in our waiting room and were surrounded by all these homosexuals?