My brother, John, was a doctor at NCHIS in Washington after graduating from medical school. John would eventually go from doctor to patient. He eventually became a VIP patient at NCHIS, being treated for HIV. What was so difficult during that time, besides being heartbroken to see your brother so ill, was the lack of understanding and fear surrounding HIV, which I could understand. This was before Magic Johnson got diagnosed with the disease and before the AIDS drug cocktail was developed that prolonged a patient’s quality and length of life. It was a time when the disease was spreading rapidly, the death toll was mounting, and people did not fully understand all the ways one could get it and were therefore afraid of it. People were also much less tolerant of gay people, and homosexuality was so stigmatized that I had no idea my brother was gay until he was dying of what was thought of at the time as a “gay disease.”
John was, and will always be, someone I admired and looked up to. He made things look so easy – graduating first in his class from his high school, Dartmouth, then medical school at Georgetown. He had a dry wit that could stop all my other family members in their tracks! He was a deeply religious Catholic, which I know could not have been easy for him, given the Catholic church’s view of homosexuality at the time. Even during difficult times he always carried himself with dignity and grace and was a great brother to his younger sister.
During this time, I was taught a number of valuable lessons. People, myself included, don’t often know what is going on in other people’s lives, something you say, that may be innocent enough, may be hurtful to another person, as you don’t know what lense they are viewing things through. I always try to be a compassionate person as others were to my family. Despite people’s fears, they came together to support a family during their time of need.