Facing Discrimination In A Hospital At The Height of the AIDS Crisis.


I’m Doug Rice, I’m from Rochester, New York. Robert and I met in 1983 at a record store
I was working at. He came in as a customer and I’d just gone
to a Talking Heads concert because I was really into them and he was at the same concert. But we didn’t know it but he saw my t-shirt
so we start talking. We started seeing each other and moved in
fairly quickly. After about a year in Rochester, I was young,
22 maybe, and just wanted to start my career in sound engineering. I was mixing sound for bands and things, and
I wanted to come to New York and learn how to do it really. And so I did, and Robert moved down also. We moved to Williamsburg because I could still
run fast and you had to run fast back in those days. And life was good. The 80s was a rough time for a lot of people
in our community and by the late 80s Robert had contracted HIV. And you know this is before, the only thing
around was whatever that first horrible treatment was. So periodically we’d end up in the emergency
room, go to St. Vincent’s right in the middle of, right by Christopher Street there, probably
the gay-friendliest hospital around. We go to the emergency room, go and see the
triage doctor. I’m sitting with Robert and at that point
he had AIDS Dementia Complex which is kind of like Alzheimer’s. I don’t think it happens much anymore with
the medicines that are around but it’s part of the natural progression for a number of
AIDS patients back in the day. And if anyone, if you’ve ever cared for an
Alzheimer’s patient, it’s a little bit of a ride. In any case, so we’re down for I don’t know
what the emergency was but we were at the Emergency Room for whatever was happening
that weekend, and went into the triage with the doctor and the doctor’s interviewing
Robert, “Do you have a history of this, a history of that, this?” And, you know, Robert had dementia and he
was, I don’t know if he was making things up but he wasn’t accurately representing his
history in a way that could hurt him and of course I’m his lover and I really want him
to be treated properly. And so I start correcting him to the doctor
and the doctor looks at me and goes, “Who are you?” And I’m like, “Well I’m his boyfriend.” And he’s like, “Well, are you related
by blood?” And I was like, “No.” He was like, “Then you have to leave.” And he called security and had me escorted
out. He continued to interview Robert and treat
him based on his dementia-enhanced history. And that sucked. I don’t remember how it ended. We got through that afternoon and the next
day I could speak with his Primary Care Physician and everything got back on track, so you know,
it was a one day little hiccup. So there was no major repercussions but other
than that scariness of a) getting thrown out of the freaking hospital for helping. That wasn’t that uncommon. There were sometimes I would spend the night
in the hospital and sleep next to Robert in his bed, and other nights at eight o’clock
the nurse would come in and say, “Get the Hell out of here, who are you?” depending on the compassion of the nurse. And that’s what happens when you leave decisions
like that up to the whim of whoever’s working that night. I don’t think people realize how fucked up
everyone is. I mean, you know, you go to the hospital for
help. You have someone with dementia giving a history
and you have a doctor who, I believe, clearly saw it was dementia and he didn’t want to
deal with the faggot in the room. I think the takeaway here isn’t that this
has changed. I mean the world has changed, some areas have
changed, but I can guarantee you any place that allows choices by individuals that aren’t
following some sort of protocol like Kim Davis, there’s a lot of situations where individuals
wield a lot of power and if those individuals are willing to abuse their power for whatever
reason it can seriously impact your health. When you’re alone in a room with a doctor
or a nurse practitioner, if that nurse practitioner doesn’t like something about you and also
doesn’t take her medical license seriously enough to actually treat you rather than judge
you, I’m sure that happens every day all over America. It’s still happening in New York I bet,
but less or at least less for gays. I guarantee it’s happening a lot to someone.

8 thoughts on “Facing Discrimination In A Hospital At The Height of the AIDS Crisis.

  1. "Treat you rather than judge you". And they have the nerve to call themselves medical "professionals". That "hiccup" was fucked up.

  2. I hate the fact that you can't be with someone in hospital if you're not related to them. I guess that's where marriage or something comes in useful because in that way, you are related, but you should be able to be with them in any case.

  3. Doug…First, I love your shirt. Second, despite my name, I'm male (a YouTube problem years ago) and had a somewhat similar experience. My partner's mother died and we rushed a two hour drive to the hospital in Philly. He was about to be taken to the morgue to see her body and he wanted me to go with him. It was a Catholic hospital and the nurse refused to let me go with him. Now, this is about 4 hours after his mother died and we have to fight a nun who will not give in. My partner got into a shouting match with her, the noise brought an administrator who, at least, wasn't dressed like a nun. She tried to calm him down but would not let me accompany him. (We'd been together around 20+ years by then.) That didn't calm him down and it got me started, too. All four of us were yelling and passers-by were listening. The second administrator understood how not-good this looked and finally allowed me to go with him. Meanwhile, here near the edge of the earth, we have never had a problem with the doctors or nurses at our local med center. The differences between a big city religion-based hospital and a no-name hospital in the sticks appear to be human-centered, as you said. Thanks for that. And did I mention I love your shirt?

  4. Shocking, depressing and moving, but not terribly surprising ( sadly ). Thanks for sharing. I have faced homophobia in the U.K. NHS myself, so I guess it's still a big problem in many places.

  5. I applaud you for saying what you said. I and everyone I know go to doctors with explicate trust. A lot of them are ass holes and are lives are in their hands. You really have to look out for yourselves and educate yourselves at least to some degree. Doctors and Nurses are not the end all and be all. They are just people with jobs.

  6. Somehow I missed this and just saw it. Hold on, are you saying St. Vincent's Hospital in the village did that to you? Seriously? Strange, cause I volunteered and watched many of my friends die there from '79 on. These eyes saw nuns give out condoms and these hands fed and groomed many. In fact, later when I was stationed in California, I knew many who became huge in the community re: activism (artists/actors/singers/big shots, that insisted they go back to St. V's for their last days. They took people when Bellevue, the city hospital didn't take them due to not knowing at the time what they were dealing with and how it spread. They fought for the blood tests and other rights… and guess what, if you didn't have a dime, they took you… another reason why they're closed. Strange… stories like this caused the young ones, that didn't know their history, how GMHC started, that Arch. of NY O'Connor and Mother Teresa started the first AIDS respite places, protested St. V's… now they're crying because it closed, wondering where they will go now. Just the fact it was close to ground zero should have kept it open, should that area be attacked again, instead of racing across to Bellevue. The kicker, Christine Quinn, first noted lesbian politician, who everyone helped get in… sold all out to real estate for the property. So be real and say it depended on the person. Who, during the crisis and what was known and unknown, let's you sleep in the bed with your lover?… let's be real okay and not slap the gift horse in the mouth. Also, look, we all know the legal documentation stage we didn't get to until recent years. As far as they know, you could have drugged him or anything, they have to protect themselves as well. I think our problem back then is we wanted what we wanted right now, regardless of anything or anybody else … Rightfully upset as the public thought 'well you got yourself into that situation, you deserve it'. I'm glad the community pushes to get the kids… and adults to get tested, maintain and be less reckless than we were. I'm just sad this will be the takeaway everyone gets of this hospital that helped so many.

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